After the 85 plays of the Spring Game were complete, Tez Walker briefly shared his thoughts on the 2023 North Carolina football team:
“We look pretty good,” the transfer wide receiver said.
Walker, for one, did look good. The junior transfer from Kent State tallied the first score of the game off a 35-yard touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Drake Maye.
Walker's performance, along with contributions from other new members of the team, was the storyline of the scrimmage. North Carolina was able to test out its revamped offensive personnel and improved defense, two areas left in the air following the offseason departures of several key contributors.
Alongside Walker, junior transfer Nate McCollum also flexed his talent, running into the end zone for a touchdown after a 37-yard pass from Maye. The two receivers were brought in to fill the shoes of Josh Downs and Antoine Green — a challenge they seem ready to meet.
“They’re so much like Josh and Antoine, it's really kind of freaky,” head coach Mack Brown said. “They fit the same mold as those two.”
Just like their predecessors, Walker and McCollum are already building chemistry with Maye, something that was reflected in their performance on the field.
“One of the main reasons these two are here is Drake — he recruited them,” Brown said. “They came here because they believe in him. He’s out there throwing with them every day.”
Given the scrimmage conditions, Maye was not the only quarterback to take the field on Saturday. North Carolina played all five of its quarterbacks, which served as a good demonstration of the team's depth.
While the new offensive weapons took center stage, the Tar Heels also used the Spring Game as an opportunity to showcase their improved defense.
It was clear that the team has tightened up the secondary, which resulted in a low final score of only 13-3. Both veteran defensive leaders and new additions stepped up to “build the wall” in the secondary and prevent offensive momentum, which proved to be successful.
“We've improved up front on defense,” Brown said. “The defense did very little today for schemes, they didn't move very much and, and still, I felt like that they made a lot of good plays, without scheming. And that's something that we couldn't have done last year.”
First-year jack Jaybron Harvey had a particularly impressive showing for the defense, recording three sacks in the final quarter alone. In addition to young players seeing the field for the first time, leaders like graduate running back British Brooks, who missed the 2022 season due to a lower body injury, were able to get some playing time.
This integration of new and experienced players in the North Carolina defense could bode well in the fall, in what will be Assistant Head Coach for Defense Gene Chizik's second year working with the team in his most recent stint.
With the increased depth provided by offensive and defensive players, as well as the addition of talented young players, the UNC football team has a deep well of talent available to it to lean on come fall.
At the postgame podium, senior jack Kaimon Rucker summed up the prospect of the improved unit with a grin on his face.
“It’s only going up from here,” he said.
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