The 2021 season was a disappointment for the Tar Heels. They entered the season with high expectations and a top 10 ranking, only to finish the season with a 6-7 record. This led to shakeup on the coaching staff, out at defensive coordinator is Jay Bateman and in is Gene Chizik in his second stint in Chapel Hill, having served as defensive coordinator for two seasons, 2015 & 2016.
The Tar Heel offense didn’t lack for explosiveness last season, finishing sixth in the country in plays over 20 yards, they had 73 of them. The Heels finished top 20 nationally in many offensive categories.
The biggest loss for the Heels is Sam Howell, a 5th round pick by the Washington Commanders. He left Chapel Hill with his name all over the Carolina record books. Howell did have a less successful 2021 than he had in the previous seasons. Howell’s numbers declined, but he did more with his legs than in previous seasons, finishing as the 2nd leading rusher for the team. The two players most likely to replace Howell are sophomore Jacolby Criswell, who has played in some spot duty so far in his career, and freshman Drake Maye, who was highly recruited and is the younger bother of Tar Heel hoops legend Luke Maye. The other big loss for the Heels is running back Ty Chandler, the Tennessee transfer put together a successful season last year, rushing for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns. British Brooks looks to have the first crack at replacing Chandler, the Heels also signed two four star running backs last season in George Pettaway and Omarion Hampton.
The Heels return their top three leading pass catchers from last season. Josh Downs set multiple school records last season on the way to a 1st Team all ACC selection. He had eight or more receptions in eleven games last season. The 2nd returning pass catcher is wide receiver Antonie Green, who’s numbers look pedestrian compared to Downs, but still averaged 19.7 yards per reception and had 5 touchdowns. The 3rd leading receiver is tight end Kamari Morales, who contributed 5 touchdowns last season and will be the starter at tight end.
The Carolina defense struggled last season, finishing ranked 105th nationally in scoring defense and 80 or worse in rushing, passing, and total defense. They also allowed their opponents to have a quality possession on 55% of their possessions, ranking 108th nationally. This short coming cost Jay Bateman his job, beginning the 2nd tour in Chapel Hill for Gene Chizik.
The Tar Heels return most of their defense from last season. Their big loss is Toman Fox, and outside linebacker who led the Heels in sacks last season with 8.5. There are a few options to replace Fox, UVA transfer Noah Taylor, fellow senior Chris Collins, or junior Desmond Evans.
The defense struggled last season, but most of the starters return and will have a chance to develop. UNC has recruited well the last season, especially on the defensive line. The jewel of last years class was 6-5 360 lb defensive lineman Travis Shaw. The Greensboro native was ranked the 20th overall player in the country and the number one ranked player in the state of North Carolina. The Heels leading tackler, linebacker Cedric Gray, returns to be a leader on the defense. They have one of the better corner duos in the conference in juniors Storm Duck and Tony Grimes. Senior Cam’Ron Kelly is a returning starter at safety.
Punter Ben Kiernan returns, and KOS Jonathan Kim looks to take over the place-kicking duties. Josh Downs is a dynamic return man.
The Heels have questions at quarterback and offensive line that need to be answered in order to keep the offense as explosive as it has been in past seasons. If Chizik has the same impact on the defense that he had in his last go round, the Heels will be a force to be reckoned with in a chaotic Coastal division.