Sam Howell's supporting cast was impressive in Saturday's clash
Going into the North Carolina spring game, there were some known commodities. One big one in fact. Sam Howell is a good quarterback. A very, very good quarterback.
But with significant offensive skill position losses and the departure of Chazz Surratt off the defense, there are questions that linger about the 2021 Tar Heels. While Saturday's spring affair probably didn't provide a ton of answers, it did give an indication of some fall possibilities.
Here are five thoughts on this weekend's action.
1. Run blocking was outstanding
UNC has all five starters returning up front and they looked like a cohesive unit right from the start. And it really didn't matter which side had the ball, both units were effective on the ground. What that indicates is that even if an injury or two pops up, there should be a capable guy in reserve. It is always a good sign when the most experienced part of the team shows well in the spring game, especially in this case when Carolina's line was combined with...
2. Running backs hitting the hole hard
Yes, for much of the day there were openings. But the running backs also took advantage. Ty Chandler received a lot of attention when he transferred from Tennessee, but holdover Josh Henderson was the most effective runner on Saturday afternoon. The rising junior had 33 yards on six carries and scored a touchdown. Chandler only carried the ball twice and looked fine, British Brooks had a couple of nice runs late, and some younger players flashed potential. While no one knows how the group will shake out in the fall, Henderson's impressive performance could get him into the mix.
3. There are still downfield threats
Did you think that just because Carolina lost Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome they would scale back their deep passing? Think again. Josh Downs rebounded from an early drop by hauling in a deep throw from Sam Howell and Emery Simmons also caught one for a long gain. Add in Antoine Green, who had a nice TD grab, as well as Beau Corrales and Khafre Brown, two receivers that sat out, and Howell should have plenty of weapons.
4. Front seven made some plays
While the offensive line was very effective, the defensive front generated some noise too. Second-year edge player Desmond Evans had a nice sack as did Khadry Jackson. Both saw limited time last year and may have a bigger role in 2021. The most exciting item that came out of the game for the defense was the explosiveness of linebacker Eugene Asante. With players like Jeremiah Gemmel, Raymond Vohasek, and the Fox brothers (Tomari and Tomon) returning, many of the players competing in the spring game will be asked to step up in reserve roles. But Asante will most likely be plugged into Chazz Surratt's starting spot and he looked very comfortable there, at least on Saturday.
5. The early entry freshmen
With a deep corps coming back on both sides of the ball, most of the 12 freshmen that enrolled in January won't be asked to produce a lot this coming season. There were a few, however, that looked like they may contribute sooner rather than later. Caleb Hood is the lowest-rated early enrollee according to 247Sports, but he had several nice runs. Power Echols, Jahvaree Ritzie, Rara Dillworth, and Keeshawn Silver will make an impact on the defensive side of the ball at some point. Of course, quarterback Drake Maye was a focal point for many and, while his stats were not that great, he threw a nice, catchable ball. That being said, no one associated with Carolina wants anyone but Howell playing meaningful minutes at quarterback in 2021.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.