TarHeelIllustrated - Heels Set To Open Fall Camp
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Heels Set To Open Fall Camp

UNC begins the 2021 campaign on the practice field Thursday morning, so what are the points of emphasis this month?
UNC begins the 2021 campaign on the practice field Thursday morning, so what are the points of emphasis this month? (THI)

North Carolina’s football season is here.

Perhaps more anticipated than any year since Mack Brown’s final team during his first stint as head coach at UNC in 1997, the excitement for this coming campaign is already high, and as the opener at Virginia Teach nears, could reach a fevered pitch.

For the Tar Heels, they will hit the ground running Thursday morning at the Koman Practice Complex for the first of 22 scheduled practices before the Tar Heels dive into game week preparing for the Sept. 3 date with the Hokies.

UNC is coming off an 8-4 campaign that included a 62-26 rout of then-No. 10 Miami on the road and a loss to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl, the program’s first major bowl appearance in 71 years. UNC finished ranked No. 13 in the final CFP poll, and with 21 of the 22 starters versus the Aggies back, expectations are high for the Tar Heels among the local, regional, and national media.

ACC Media picked Carolina to win the Coastal Division and junior quarterback Sam Howell was tabbed the league’s Preseason Player of the Year. While the Associated Press and coaches’ polls have not yet been released, most other preseason rankings have the Tar Heels in the top 10.

But Carolina, which has 50 scholarship redshirt or true freshmen, is pushing the narrative it must deflect the outside chatter as one of its primary missions.

“We have some great older players that are leaders…,” Brown said two weeks ago at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. “Then we've got a bunch of young guys. The young guys have to grow up. We've been circled by everybody in this league.”

Super senior outside linebacker Tomon Fox, who has played 2,517 snaps as a Tar Heel, said the team has a unified focus.

Building more depth up front is a primary point of emphasiss for UNC this month.
Building more depth up front is a primary point of emphasiss for UNC this month. (ACC Media)

“We just try and not listen to it,” he said about the hoopla. “We're all about work here at Carolina. We let people talk, we'll hear them out. Once it's time to go out on the field, we put all that aside and focus on who is in front of us.”

The NCAA once again altered rules regarding fall camp for this year. The Tar Heels will be in shorts the first three days, shells the next two, and can finally have full contact in the sixth practice. Teams must also cut back on scrimmaging and hitting.

“Those new rules have less hitting in the fall, so there are more shorts, and you have less opportunities for scrimmages,” Brown said. “They can’t be as long and you can’t do as many of them.”

With camp here, and the hype somewhat unavoidable given the prolific nature of social media and the growing buzz around campus, Brown has emphasized the focus for his team are the first three games of the season, which include visits from Georgia State and Virginia. Meeting others’ or their own expectations won’t matter if the Heels don’t get off to a quality start. An emphassi this camp is to get ready for that stretch so they can learn, improve, and move forward.

So, the goals for this month?

UNC Coach Mack Brown says determing who will back up Sam Howell is vital during fall camp.
UNC Coach Mack Brown says determing who will back up Sam Howell is vital during fall camp. (Jenna Miller/THI)

“It sounds like a broken record, but depth – quality depth,” Brown replied, when asked about the program’s focus for August. “I want to finally in our third year get to a point where we can roll some people, especially on both lines of scrimmage, without seeing any drop off at all.

“And that’s really, really important for us to get to the next step. I thought we did get beaten down in the fourth quarter by the to top-five teams (Notre Dame and Texas A&M) that we played, and we can’t do that.”

Also:

*Start winning games on special teams. “One of the great advantages you can have as a college football team is special teams if you’re really good at it because a lot of people are not really good at it,” Brown said.

*Clarity about who the backup quarterback will be behind Sam Howell. Will it be Jacolby Criswell or Drake Maye?

*What will be the running back rotation when they head to Blacksburg?

*And “who are the wide receivers that you’re working with, because we’ve got numbers, but we don’t have experience in some of those guys,” Brown said. “And we’ve got to separate them and make sure we cut it down to who we need to be working with to go to Virginia Tech.”

The Heels take the field just before 10 am Thursday and will mostly practice in that slot until classes begin Aug. 18, which they will then move practices to 8 am.