The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, June 17, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Storylines and takeaways from UNC football training camp

The Tar Heels take on Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Sept. 3.

But UNC also had to replace 16 seniors this offseason and develop more depth behind the first unit.

And the Tar Heels will be tested immediately in their Sept. 3 showdown with Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Here are the main storylines and takeaways from training camp and how the Tar Heels have answered some of their most pressing questions on both sides of the ball.

The rise of Jalen Dalton

North Carolina appears to have found its complement to talented defensive tackle Nazair Jones on the defensive line.

Sophomore Jalen Dalton, a former four-star recruit, seemed certain to redshirt a year ago. But that quickly changed.

“All of the sudden, week one we are looking at him saying, ‘This guy might have a chance,’” said defensive coordinator Gene Chizik after an Aug. 9 practice.

“Week two, week three — by Wake Forest (in week six) he’s starting, and we never looked back.”

Dalton played a lot of snaps in the 2015 season, especially against a pair of tough late-season opponents in Clemson and Baylor. But it was a challenge for him to adjust to the speed of the college game as a first-year player.

“Coming out of high school, the game is much quicker,” Dalton said on Aug. 9. “Bullets flying, guys are stronger. But this year, I’ve finally got things under my belt.”

If Dalton wasn’t ready for that big of a role in the defense a season ago, he looks ready now.

After a strong spring and training camp, the former defensive end has moved inside to defensive tackle — a move that Chizik said will help North Carolina put its most talented and physically-gifted players on the field in 2016.

Combining Dalton with Jones, who are 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5, respectively, certainly does that.

Expect a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage and a more dynamic UNC defensive line against the pass and run.

Shaky secondary

Behind M.J. Stewart, Des Lawrence, Donnie Miles and Dominquie Green — the likely starting secondary for the season opener against the Bulldogs — the Tar Heels have a lot of unanswered questions on the defensive depth chart.

North Carolina lost seniors Sam Smiley and Malik Simmons and suffered some attrition within the position group when two key contributors — Brian Walker and Mike Hughes — left the team within a couple months of each other during the 2015 season.

Somebody has to replace them, and there’s been a position buzz around a trio of underclassmen who could see the field this fall — Myles Dorn, Patrice Rene and K.J. Sails.

“(Dorn and Rene) have really been making plays with the defensive backs,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said on Aug. 18. “And I think they will be able to help us out this year.”

And after the team’s scrimmage on Aug. 15, Donnie Miles gave a shoutout to K.J. Sails.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“My boy K.J. over there had a pick today, so that was nice to see,” he said. “One of the young guys get his hands on an interception.”

Dorn, Rene and Sails are all true first-years, though Dorn enrolled early and saw plenty of action in the spring game.

And with North Carolina using multiple defensive backs in its nickel and dime defensive alignments, don’t be surprised if the trio of first-years makes an impact right away.

Trubisky’s team

It’s kind of easy to overlook, but North Carolina has a new starting quarterback this fall.

Former starter Marquise Williams has moved on to the NFL, but the next man up is Trubisky — a familiar face to Tar Heel fans.

Trubisky has been knocking on the door for two years now, throwing 78 passes in 2014 in a quarterback timeshare with Williams and 47 passes in 2015 in a backup role.

The team is his now, and what came up over and over in the Tar Heels’ training camp is how much respect and comfort Trubisky’s teammates have with their new starter.

“There’s not much of a transition,” senior center Lucas Crowley said at UNC’s media day.

“Last year when they would rotate and stuff, we never really noticed. They were both good and we had faith in both of them.”

Junior running back Elijah Hood didn’t notice, either.

“There were plenty of times where Mitch was running with the (starters), so it’s really not that much of a difference overall,” he said on Aug. 18.

“He’s been here for three, four years now, and he runs with the ones in practice all the time. So we are really comfortable with him.”

With so much talent returning at skill positions and along the offensive line, Trubisky is prime to have an impressive year.

“Mitch has a tremendous amount of respect from the team ...” said Coach Larry Fedora at ACC Football Kickoff in July. “They all saw the talent Mitch had early on. And Mitch wasn’t the starter, but he prepared himself week in and week out like he was. So when he did go in the game, he made plays, and they knew they could count on him.

“So it was just natural when Mitch became the starter. It was like, ‘It’s go time.’”

@bauman_john

sports@dailytarheel.com