UNC Spring Game Preview: The Trenches


Sep 21, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee (2) is tackled by North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Darius Lipford (23), cornerback Malik Simmons (11) and linebacker Travis Hughes (9) in the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Beautiful weather and sunny spring skies can only mean one thing- its time for the UNC Spring Football game! North Carolina’s Spring game takes place this Saturday, and to get you ready, Keeping It Heel will have a position by position preview. Check back all week for more previews of other positions and of the game! Today we continue in the trenches.

Who is coming back?

UNC lists just three defensive ends on its spring roster: Junior Gnonkonde, a sophomore, junior Jessie Rogers and redshirt freshman Dajaun Drennon. Gnonkonde is the only returning contributor after the departures of Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson. At defensive tackle, UNC has a nice rotation of upperclassmen in Ethan Farmer, Shawn Underwood and Justin Thompson, all of whom will look to provide the push in the middle of the defense. Continuing with the defense, the Heels have some really good, young options at the bandit position. Senior Norkeithus Otis is due for a healthy season, Darius Lipford and Shakeel Rashad have looked good at times and sophomore Mikey Bart finishes out the group that probably has the best collection of names of any position for UNC.

Continuing with the offensive line, the Tar Heels are hurting this spring after the loss of James Hurst and surprising early departure of Russell Bodine. Sophomore Lucas Crowley should do just fine at the center spot, but it gets a little cloudy from there. Caleb Peterson and Landon Turner are UNC’s best returning options at guard, while John Heck should be better at right tackle. Left tackle is basically true freshman Bentley Spain’s jobs to lose. Kiaro Holts will provide depth, and redshirt freshman RJ Prince has looked good this spring and could push either Spain or Heck for a starting job.

Who is new?

UNC signed four offensive line commits in the class of 2014. I already touched on Bentley Spain, but Josh Allen and Jared Cohen could step in during the fall workouts and add depth to the offensive line.

Defensively, Jeremiah Clarke is UNC’s highest ranked recruit on the defensive line. The Tar Heels secured a trio of DL commits, rounded out by Tyler Powell and Robert Dinkins.

What areas should be improved this spring?

On the defensive line, UNC needs to find ways to get after the quarterback after losing its best pass rusher in Kareem Martin. I’m looking for the Bandits, like Otis, Rashad and Lipford, to step up and live in the backfield next fall. Getting after the quarterback will also make things a lot easier on the thin linebacking core and young secondary.

With the loss of Russell Bodine and James Hurst, I want UNC to develop versatility and depth this spring. UNC needs to be able to shift and switch around its offensive line as injuries occur. With such a young group, the Heels need to also develop depth so that if a younger starter struggles and isn’t ready, someone else is there to take his place.

What number in particular should I be looking for on Saturday?

Number 75: Bentley Spain

Freshman Bentley Spain enrolled early to have a chance to secure a starting spot for next fall, and a strong performance in the spring game would go a long way in doing just that. Watch if Spain can handle stronger, bigger pass rushers like Jesse Rodgers and faster players like Shakeel Rashad.