North Carolina wraps up its first spring football practice schedule in two years with the spring game Saturday at 3 p.m. in Kenan Stadium. The impact of COVID-19 forced the Tar Heels to limit their fan attendance for a preview of their most-anticipated season arguably in school history.
Tickets are sold out with the exception of an allotment reserved for student walk-ups.
Here are three questions that might get answered Saturday:
Where are the skill players?
The Tar Heels lost two 1,000-yard running backs in Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, who will both be hearing their names called in this week’s NFL draft. They also lost their top two ball catchers in 1,000-yard receiver Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, who led the team in receptions in 2019.
The Heels were so young at running back that coach Mack Brown sought a graduate transfer in Ty Chandler, from Tennessee. Brown’s philosophy with transfers is to only take a starter, so Chandler will have the first crack at solidifying the starting spot.
But as the Heels showed with Carter and Williams, there are plenty of carries to go around. The battle to be in the rotation will be competitive and likely carry into fall camp.
Receiver appears to be better suited to have replacements step up quickly. Keep an eye on Josh Downs and Emery Simmons, who both played sparingly last season but should see their roles increase this season.
Who’s at quarterback behind Sam Howell?
Frankly, the Heels hope to never need whoever earns the spot as the top backup to Sam Howell this season. Howell is being touted as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and if he lives up to that, UNC should find itself playing for the ACC championship and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff.
But somebody’s got to be No. 2, if not for mop-up duty during games this season then to prepare for life without Howell next season when he’s in the NFL.
Jacolby Criswell didn’t have the luxury of a spring practice last season as an early enrollee, but was able to spend the season learning the system. He’ll be competing with freshman Drake Maye, the son of former UNC quarterback Mark Maye and brother of former basketball forward Luke Maye, to earn the spot.
Where’s the pass rush?
One of Brown’s goals for this season is to be able to get pressure on the quarterback without sending blitzes or it being a matter of scheme. He wants his players to make plays on the defensive line.
Keep an eye out for sophomore Myles Murphy, who by all accounts has had a great spring and stood out as an emerging defensive lineman; and Tomon Fox, who is still much of a hybrid playing both linebacker and defensive end.
How to watch North Carolina’s spring football game
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill
Watch: ACC Network