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The intelligence report: UNC edition

Virginia Tech v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Let us get to know the Tar Heels via the below intel from Tanya Bondurant and Brandon Anderson of Tar Heel Blog. Again, please be aware these pieces were put together during the preseason.

Key Departures:

Antonio Williams - running back

Carl Tucker - tight end

Charlie Heck - offensive line

Jason Strowbridge - defensive line

Aaron Crawford - defensive line

Key Returnees:

Sam Howell - quarterback

Dazz Newsome - wide receiver

Dyami Brown - wide receiver

Chazz Surratt - linebacker

Javonte Williams - running back

Tomon Fox - defensive line

Key Additions:

Myles Murphy - defensive end

Kedrick Bingley-Jones - defensive end

Tony Grimes - cornerback

Desmond Evans - linebacker

Give us an overview of the 2020 Tar Heels.

Going into the second season of the Mack Brown 2.0 era, Carolina football is expected to take a couple of steps forward this season. The offense is mostly intact from last season, and Phil Longo has already expressed how he plans to open the playbook completely in his Air Raid scheme. On the defensive side things are looking good as well, as there are some incoming pieces that should make this defense faster and more athletic than this past season.

In a normal season, the expectation was that UNC would be the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division. Now that they will play teams from both divisions Carolina still has a very good chance to make it to the ACC championship game. A lot of that depends on what the finished product on defense looks like, but it also depends on how well both lines on either side of the ball are able to perform. The expectation should be that the Tar Heels are favorites to make it to the ACC championship game, but the College Football Playoffs aren’t within reach of Mack Brown just yet.

Who are the key players to know on offense?

Sam Howell is one of the best players on the entire roster. Going into his sophomore year, he has proven to be one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the country. Now that the playbook is open, we likely will see Howell run the ball a bit more than he did his freshman year, which will open up various possibilities for the Heels.

Dazz Newsome is coming off a spectacular 2019 campaign, as he finished the season with 72 catches for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns. His partner in crime Dyami Brown managed to somehow surpass his stat line, finishing the season with 51 catches, 1,034 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Both receivers are fast, are great at creating separation from defenders, and are capable of making some spectacular catches.

Finally, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams are the names to know in the backfield. Both players combined for 1,936 yards and eight touchdowns this past season, and are expected to also see their games elevated a bit this season. We should expect to see them utilized more in the passing game, which was an element that was missing last season and should make it even harder to stop this already potent offense.

Who are the key players to know on defense + special teams?

Everything with the defense begins and ends with senior linebacker Chazz Surratt. Switching over from the quarterback position last year, Surratt has been an absolute terror for opposing offenses. He finished last season with 66 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one interception. Barring any health issues, it’s hard to see how Surratt won’t be an All-ACC/All-American player.

Another name worth noting is incoming freshman linebacker Desmond Evans. A bit of a wildcard for this position group, Evans enters the season as the 4th-best weakside defensive end in the country. He has the potential to be a significant contributor for the Tar Heels, though it’s unknown whether or not his pass-rushing abilities will be developed enough to terrorize quarterbacks on the college level.

In the secondary, there’s no shortage of names to look out for. Junior DB Trey Morrison is earning a lot of high praise from Mack Brown, and he is prepared to play five different positions in the secondary this season. Myles Wolfolk started off last season strong, but injury issues kept him from having the season that he was headed towards. Sophomore DB Storm Duck started to show a lot of promise near the end of last season, and finished with 37 tackles, five passes defenses, and two interceptions. FInally, incoming freshman Tony Grimes is arriving in Chapel Hill as the best cornerback in the 2021 class prior to his reclassification, and should be an immediate impact player for the Tar Heels.

What is UNC’s biggest strength?

The passing game is undoubtedly the strength of this team. Sam Howell had as good of a freshman season in 2019 as anybody could ask for, and almost all of his weapons are returning. With the learning curve all but eliminated when it comes to Phil Longo’s Air Raid offense, we should see some truly special things from this group if the offensive line is able to provide the protection that Howell needs.

What is UNC’s biggest weakness?

Offensive and defensive line play may be what hinders this Carolina football team this season. While neither units are necessarily bad, they’re not up to par with the rest of the roster. The offensive line did a serviceable job last season, but Sam Howell still found himself in more trouble than anybody would like. As far as the defensive line goes, the Heels lost Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford to the NFL, which was a sizable blow to this group. However, Mack Brown has had a lot of praise for Ray Vohasek, and he also has confidence in Jahlil Taylor if he manages to stay healthy. Between the two sides of the ball, the offensive line is definitely a bit more of a concern.

Who is UNC’s MVP?

Sam Howell is definitely the key to the Tar Heels’ success. He had a breakout year as a true freshman and will only be looking to build on that with a season under his belt and experienced receivers to throw to. If Howell lives up to the lofty expectations that carried over from his brilliant first season in Chapel Hill, UNC should definitely at least be in contention for a place near the top of the ACC.