Mack Brown following the Tar Heels’ Spring game: ‘We’ve got to be a tougher football team mentally and physically’
When Mack Brown was hired to coach North Carolina’s football program for a second time, he said he wanted his team to air it out and score a lot of points.
While they didn’t score a lot of points in Saturday’s spring game, the Tar Heels definitely took their shots. Between UNC’s three quarterbacks — Sam Howell, Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder — they combined to pass for 313 yards on 29 attempts.
Brown wants to get the Tar Heels back to prominence. The optimism from players is evident. It’s all they talk about.
But after a 2-9 season last year, that will be a tough task. The Tar Heels lacked depth in their spring game, particularly on defense, and could not play a full game. “Carolina” beat the “Tar Heels” 25-24.
But that’s debatable. “Carolina” hit a game-winning field goal that was worth 15 points at the end.
There was good and bad from the spring game. Here are three takeaways:
The quarterbacks showed promise
One of the biggest story lines heading into the offseason will be which quarterback will emerge from the others. All three seem to be on equal footing, although Ruder played the best among them.
Ruder, who is 6-1 and 203 pounds, was 5 of 7 for 143 yards. He connected on a 77-yard pass with tight end Carl Tucker on his first pass of the game. Tucker almost scored, but was chased down by former quarterback and current linebacker Chazz Surratt.
Howell, a 6-1, 225-pound freshman, played well, too. He was 10 of 16 for 131 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception that bounced off the wide receiver’s hands.
Fortin, who started the final game of the regular season last year, was 2 of 6 for 39 yards. The quarterbacks were not available to speak to the media after the game.
Brown said the coaching staff still doesn’t know enough about the quarterbacks, but he said they played well.
“I think all three of them are good,” Brown said. “It’s a difficult offense to learn.”
Corey Bell Jr., who converted from cornerback to wide receiver this spring, had five catches for 67 yards.
Injuries an issue again
There were 14 players that did not play on Saturday due to injuries either suffered in the spring or last year.
Starting running back Michael Carter has a hand injury. Starting safety Myles Dorn has been out all spring, and so has starting defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge.
Injuries were an issue for the Tar Heels over the last two years. The athletic program conducted a study after the 2017 season to find out why so many of its players went down with season-ending injuries. The results of that study were never made public.
But injuries hurt the Tar Heels in 2018, too.
Depth to their front-seven has been Brown’s biggest concern this spring. Four defensive lineman and two linebackers graduated from last year’s team.
Seven of the 14 injuries were to defensive players. Brown said the depth will get better by the summer when those players recover from their injuries and the freshmen come in.
But he said his players must get stronger in the weight room.
“We’ve got too many people that pull a hamstring or have a sore ankle,” Brown said.
Javonte Williams is a future star
Last year, the coaches were high on running back Javonte Williams. They thought he was one of the more prepared freshman in recent years. But he didn’t have much time to shine. He was fourth in the depth chart behind Carter, Antonio Williams and Jordon Brown.
Brown announced last week that he was transferring, which has opened up the door for Javonte Williams to play more. Williams, who said he has gained 12 pounds of muscle this spring, played well in the spring game.
He had six rushing attempts for 51 yards and a touchdown.
“I think Javonte Williams is really good,” Mack Brown said. “He can catch, he can run, he’s 220 pounds. He’s got a low base, he’s really fast, and he’s made some of the bigger plays this spring that we’ve had.
“And he’s got the unusual ability to take the ball off tackle and make four yards, or bounce it outside and make 80.”
Having Williams perform well bodes well for the Tar Heels while Carter returns from his hand injury. Carter missed two games last season with an injury.
Williams said if he is called on this year, which is appears he will be, he’ll be ready.
“I feel like running the ball is going to be a major help to the quarterback and the wide receivers,” Williams said. “So any play can be a big play.”