TarHeelIllustrated - Brown Talks Competition, Depth, Barnes, Chandler & More
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Brown Talks Competition, Depth, Barnes, Chandler & More

CHAPEL HILL – Four practices into North Carolina’s spring workouts, and Tar Heels Coach Mack Brown is pleased with much of what he’s seen so far.

UNC was back on the field Tuesday morning, and afterward, Brown fielded questions from the media. Most of what he was asked focused on various position groups, the early enrollees, second-year players, his thoughts on the transfer portal, a need for a governing body over college football and more.

He also made a point of discussing William Barnes, Ty Chandler, the backup QB situation, depth, special teams, and much more.

Above is Brown’s full Q&A session and below are some notes and pulled quotes from what he had to say:

*Sophomore WR Khafre Brown has a lower body injury and will miss the rest of the spring. Mack Brown said Dyami’s younger brother should be back in the summer but needed the practices he will miss since nobody in the program had a spring a year ago.

*A few other health notes Brown disclosed: RS Fr TE Kendall Karr has been slowed with “some lower body stuff,” Brown said… Junior CB Storm Duck, who missed most of last season with an injury, was back for the spring but tweaked something in his lower leg Saturday and missed Tuesday’s practice… True freshman WR Gavin Blackwell is working his way back after having his appendix removed.

“Hopefully, he’ll be back out there soon,” Brown said about Blackwell. “We think he’ll be back out there after Easter for sure. He’s running routes but he hasn’t had any contact.”

True freshman DL Keeshawn Silver has recently been slowed by a lower body injury, but he is practicing… RS Fr DE Kedric Bingley-Jones isn’t fully back from missing last season with an injury, but he’s practicing and making progress.

*With 13 new players that arrived in January and the five super seniors, there's no shortage of players competing this spring.

“So, we’re practicing hard, we’re being very physical,” Brown said. “We're able to do some things this spring that we weren't able to do our first spring.”

*Brown said a week ago the mandate for the early enrollees is to learn how to practice at this level and learn their positions and to not worry about competing for jobs right now. That remains the message, but in some cases depth jockeying will include the newcomers before spring practice concludes.

That said, the Carolina coach hinted the battle for backup quarterback likely won’t be decided this spring.

“We talked about the second team quarterback a little bit, but we probably won't make that decision till the fall because Jacolby (Criswell) is working now, Jefferson (Boaz) is working now, and Drake's learning what to do,” he said.

*Brown went out of his way to praise RS Jr OL William Barnes. The former 4-star recruit was the prize of the 2018 recruiting class. He was the No. 91 overall prospect in the nation and No. 2 at his position. But Barnes has played just 216 offensive snaps in his UNC career and 165 on special teams, mainly on extra point and field goal units.

Barnes played 41 snaps at guard in his Carolina debut as a true freshman, a game the Tar Heels lost at California. A week later, he played 48 snaps, but an injury slowed him and gained weight was an even bigger problem, so Barnes has played just 127 snaps since.

The Apopka, FL, native was at right tackle during UNC’s practice open to the media this past Saturday, and Tuesday morning Brown had some positive things to say about Barnes.

“William Barnes has had three good days and hopefully today was good,” he said. “I thought it was. So, we need him to step up. When we got here, I think he was 342, and now he's 320, so he's in good shape and he's competing. So, that would be a real plus for us if he gets an opportunity and takes it.”

*Tennessee grad transfer Ty Chandler ran for more than 2,000 yards for the Volunteers but is now battling for his spot on the depth chart in Carolina’s running backs room. Brown reiterated again that Chandler is “fast” but went on to lay out some other positives about him.

“You can tell he's played in the Alabama game, the Florida game, the Georgia game, he's played against Auburn,” Brown said. “He's played in a lot of games, so he's not going to get the big eyes when he walks out on the field for the first time. And he can catch, he’s fast. He's about 209 pounds, so I'm really, really glad that he's here.

“In evaluating the running backs, we really can't yet, it's still too early. But all the guys still have a chance. They're still competing.”

*More depth usually means better special teams, and that’s certainly what Brown is banking on. There are more capable bodies in the program now, that is obvious, and it means with second and third-tier position guys winning spots on the special teams, them being more talented and better will result in improved play from all of the special teams units.

The Tar Heels have spent a lot of time on special teams so far this spring and will continue doing so.

“We’re working really, really hard on special teams this spring,” Brown said. “The addition of Larry Porter, who was a great special teams coach at Auburn, along with Jovan Dewitt, has really strengthened us in that area… And because we should have more depth, we should be able to put better players on special teams.”

Brown said special teams were adversely affected a year ago because of none or minimal spring practice and then the slow roll out into the season due to COVID protocols. Penalties and special teams were affected the most.

“In the spring, you really work on punt and punt return, punt block more than anything else," he said. "We’ve got to start blocking some punts because we haven’t done that since we’ve been here, and that’s an area we can start winning games in.”

*Competition has already been heated in practice. Brown half-joked Tuesday there have been some fights, especially among the lineman, and while that’s not entirely a bad thing, he wants the guys to be smart about it. But the bigger part of the story here is the edge with which the team is practicing.

The spirit in Saturday’s practice in front of the media wasn’t a one-time thing, it has been that way each day, and along with that has come an added layer of team-wide edge. Again, this is very much a positive.

Furthermore, if a player is injured that’s one thing, but missing time means dropping some on the depth chart, so players must learn to fight through some discomfort. It’s football, and having that edge is necessary to compete and excel. Brown says it’s something the staff learns about from the players now, they don’t wait until the fall.

“You learn it right now because it’s not as cool to play right now, it’s not as much fun, it’s not as much hype,” Brown said. “You’ve got to go to work and you’ve got to force yourself into being excited for these 15 days.

“And it’s a really important 15 days. It’s the most important 15 days we’ve had. It amazed me when I was told that only 21 scholarship players have ever been through a spring practice. It’s amazing, and that just shows you how young we are.”

*Jacob Turner contributed to this report.