2021 UNC Football Preview: Tight Ends

Jan 2, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Garrett Walston (84) makes a reception against Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Antonio Johnson (27) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Garrett Walston (84) makes a reception against Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Antonio Johnson (27) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

As the season gets closer, the question remains…How much impact will the tight ends have for the UNC Football program this season?


The grass is green, the skies are blue, and tickets are selling faster than the Scooby-Doo gang solves mysteries. It’s no secret that the UNC football program has taken over a new life after Mack Brown returned in 2018, which has led to snagging high recruits to fill out each position with impactful players.

As the season gets closer it becomes clearer on which impactful players will see the field and today we are tackling the tight end position.


This season Carolina fans may see an uptake in tight ends getting involved in the passing game with explosive offensive weapons, such as Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Javonte Williams, and Michael Carter, getting drafted.

Last season’s tight ends took a total of 931 snaps with 348 of those snaps making their way in the passing game and the other 583 snaps coming from pass/run blocking. A low passing snap rate with the firepower at the wide receiver and running back position resulted in the tight end position only having a combined 274 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

This season the numbers should look much different with offensive coordinator Phil Longo pointing out how the tight ends will be more used in the passing game per TarHeel Illustrated.

“They’ve done what we’ve asked of them last two years, but it will expand,” Longo said.

So, how exactly will the tight ends impact the passing game? First let’s look at who will be lacing up their cleats at that position.


Garrett Walston

Walston is the biggest key when it comes to unlocking the passing game for the tight ends. Fans were excited when it was announced that the 6’4, 240-pound tight end would take advantage of the NCAA rule that allowed seniors to return for another season due to the pandemic. Walston led all tight ends in total snaps (691), receiving yards (255), and touchdowns (2). The blocking that Walston provided gave UNC a huge advantage offensively and is one of the reasons that the UNC football program was so dominant on that side of the ball.

Walston without a doubt will be the starter at tight end, especially when you take into account the experience he has with Howell and the familiarity of the system versus the other tight ends. Not only does Walston provide good pass blocking, but he also has sure hands snagging 29 of the 40 targets he has received.

In short, expect more route running from Walston, as he could be looked at as Sam Howell’s security blanket when it comes to moving the chains.

2020 stats: 19 receptions, 255 yards, and two touchdowns

Kamari Morales

Last season Morales saw the second-most snaps (187) in this position with 113 being run block duties. The once three-star prospect is entering his sophomore season with another year under the books, which will lead to more playing time due to lack of experience from tight ends listed under him. Morales should see the majority of his playing time spread throughout the season, as he continues to learn behind Walston, whose inevitable departure is coming after this season.

Morales only partook in 47 snaps where his route running was on display resulting in 16 yards, two catches, and one touchdown. Despite the low numbers in the passing game, Morales is still key to Carolina’s offense attack with solid blocking using his 6’3, 250-pound frame to get the running game going.

When it comes to Walston and Morales, they will both provide impact and Longo hinted at his expectations for the pair for this upcoming season.

“I think Garrett Walston and Kamari Morales, particularly those two have put themselves in a position where they have established themselves as bigger weapons athletically, and systematically than they have been in the past,” said Longo.

2020 stats: Two receptions, 16 yards, one touchdown.

John Copenhaver

Redshirt freshman Copenhaver is currently listed as the third tight end. Copenhaver was a three-star recruit who was an explosive tight end at Roswell High School in Georgia with 1152 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. In his freshman season as a reserve, Copenhaver appeared in three games, playing a total of 19 snaps that came in run and pass blocking.

Despite seeing 11 fewer snaps than TE Kendall Karr, it was Copenhaver’s training camp that allowed more space between the two for this upcoming season. Copenhaver time may not be now, but in a few seasons we could be hearing his name over echoing U-N-C chants. As of now, his job is to watch and learn, while still being ready for his number to be called.

2020 stats: N/A


When it’s all said and done it could be a tight end position that makes a difference whether or not Carolina’s offense stays at float. The key pieces lost will result in more opportunities for Walston to get more targets with Morales seeing more snaps and Copenhaver waiting for his chance.

It’s already clear that the offense will be more pass-heavy with losing two top running backs and a push to get Howell throwing more than he has the last two seasons. The pass and run blocking from the tight end position will still create space and a clean jersey for Howell, however, expect much more route running versus the prior season.

The only way this UNC football program mimics last year’s offensive success is by involving the tight ends more in passing, which is a move that will be done. The experience that exists with this offense should offer a nice quarterback / tight end duo between Howell and Walston, possibly leading to the returning senior getting a phone call from an NFL team during next year’s NFL Draft.


STARTER : Garrett Walston

BENCH: Kamari Morales, John Copenhaver

RESERVE: Kendall Karr, Nesbit Bryson

Next. 2021 UNC Football Positional Preview: Running back. dark

Be sure to check back with Keeping It Heel as we continue our position previews for the UNC Football program.