Takeaways from UNC football’s first day of practice: ’This is what we do’

Mack Brown’s all black tracksuit and hat contrasted the Carolina blue and white jerseys crowded around the Bill Konman Practice Facility on Wednesday morning.
Music blared from the overhead speakers, but the sharp trill of Brown’s whistle signified one thing: Carolina training camp has begun.
“It’s exciting to get started again,” the Tar Heels’ head coach said. “This is what we do.”
All the energy and excitement that’s built up since spring training now has an outlet, and it was on display Wednesday.
UNC was picked third in the ACC preseason poll, and Drake Maye was named the conference preseason player of the year. Cedric Gray and Tez Walker were both named to the preseason all-conference squad.
Preseason honors are one thing. On-field performance is another. And Maye, while solid on Day 1, also left room to improve.
“We only remember what he misses, because we expect him to hit every play,” Brown said of Maye’s first day performance. “But I don’t think Drake’s changed in any way other than he’s more confident, and he’s more assertive as a leader.”
Building depth
Brown’s biggest goal for this season is to make depth chart changes early and often. He said the Tar Heels are still “thin” at linebacker and the offensive line, two places he expected to have less to work with even before camp started.
“It’s an issue every year, we haven’t been good at it,” Brown said. “And part of it was the transfer portal and part of it has been injuries. But we want to quit griping about those things and get it fixed.”
So to balance the missing depth, Brown has developed his blue team and white team to keep this second-, third- and potentially fourth-string players active and training against starters should those players be needed later this season.
“So we’re going to work more with the white team, which is our second team against the blue team, and alternate those groups a lot more,” Brown said. “So we can get the white team to play against the best players and press themselves and see if they can step up and join the blue team, because that’s what we need by NCAA rule.”
Welcome back
A few players made their return to the field Wednesday, including running back British Brooks, who missed the entire 2022 season with a lower body injury suffered during camp. The graduate special teams player later announced he planned to come back in October, and he had a few chances during team drills on Day 1.
“He’s a great special teams player, and he’ll be mixed with this downhill power running game,” Brown said. “He really fits that mold.”
Brown did confirm that Will Hardy will be out of camp for a few weeks with a lower body injury sustained this past week, but had no worries that the sophomore defensive back would be back before Sept. 2.
“It should be ready for game time,” Brown said. “It’s one of those that, he’ll work as hard as he can, and he’ll get well as fast as he can … So we’re not worried about him not being able to play. And we’re not worried about him not being ready for the first game.”
Ready or not
The Tar Heels have 10 players starting their first practices this week, along with the few that joined spring and summer workouts earlier this year. Brown has mentioned previously how difficult the first four games of the regular season are, but said he told the team they’d only hear about those four teams once.
One of them is South Carolina — the first target on that list.
The matchup against the Gamecocks has also been named the first destination of the season for ESPN College GameDay — not that Brown is focusing on that.
“I told the team last night, I was gonna mention the first four games one time between now and the week of the South Carolina game because we need to get better,” Brown said. “And all four of those teams are good. So if we sit here and talk about South Carolina, now it’ll lose its strength, or place by the time we play. So I told them, ‘We’ve got a four game season and we have an open night, and we’ll start over.’”
A good start
It’s impossible to fully understand how the Tar Heels will shape up after just one day of training camp; it’ll take a few weeks before Brown and his coaching staff have a good idea of exactly what to expect this season.
They’ll balance heat and hitting, reminding players to take care of themselves, go through playbooks and everything else needed to prepare for the season opener.
But, Brown said, Day 1 felt like a pretty good start.
“If you don’t have a good practice in the first one, you’ve got a bad year coming up, because they’re fresh and they’re excited,” Brown said. “But we did have a good practice.”
This story was originally Published August 2, 2023, 4:54 PM.

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