First Impressions: Frosh complete first day

Are the Tar Heel freshmen better than advertised?

Untitled Document The first two-a-day practice for UNC freshmen is in the books. What follows is a set of first impressions, qualified by several important caveats. The freshmen practiced almost exclusively on artificial turf. Total practice time, including breaks, totaled only two and one-half hours. The freshmen did not practice in full pads, against upperclassmen, or conduct anything resembling a scrimmage. It might be safer to avoid drawing conclusions based on such scanty evidence, but here are our first impressions of the newcomers to the UNC football team.
  • On football signing day, the biggest news for UNC football was who didn't sign with the Tar Heels, not who did. Several highly-touted high school players either reneged on their verbal commitments, or left UNC as a bridesmaid to their first choice. In retrospect, this was unfair to this class, and early indications are that they may look better on the field than they did on paper.
  • Coach Bunting has indicated that five to seven true freshmen may contribute on the field this year. This range of true freshman contributors is fairly typical over the past several years.
  • The newcomer that was perhaps the most impressive was running back transfer Rikki Cook. Cook, a transfer, was older than the group he practiced with today and running backs are notoriously difficult to evaluate outside of full scrimmages. That being said, Cook looks as if he could play tail back or full back, has great hands catching the ball out the backfield, has quick feet, and unless we miss our guess the staff will find a place for him to play - next year. As a transfer, he will have to sit out the upcoming season, a fact much lamented by head coach John Bunting.
  • Defensive tackles Kendall High and Mickey Rice both appear to have tremendous upside potential, particularly the rangy and agile High. Still, given the current depth at defensive tackle, we expect both of these players to red-shirt.
  • The defensive end group also has a great upside, and one or more of this group may see the field this season. Lewis Burham, who also played tight end in high school, is currently slotted at defensive end. Both Bryan Rackley and Alden Blizzard displayed good potential, with the less heralded Blizzard holding his own at this spot
  • Only two members of the freshman class are currently slotted at linebacker, Victor Worsley and Xavier Rainey (pictured at top), but either one or both may see the field this season. Worsley was fairly solid all day, but Coach Dave Huxtable described Rainey as a "fish out of water" as he began the morning session. Rainey played defensive end in high school, so he is learning a new position as well as adjusting to a higher level of competition. As the morning session wore on, Rainey came on and made some impressive plays. In the afternoon session, he seemed to pick up where he left off, intercepting a pass in the afternoon session. Rainey appears to be a quick study.
  • Tommy Richardson will play this season, and will stick at the safety position at least for the coming season, according to defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable. Richardson may see his most minutes on special teams, but will likely get some snaps at safety as well.
  • The cornerbacks, Cedric Holt and Jacoby Watkins may be the most underrated part of the class. Both appear to have great speed and good instincts for this critical position. Given the depth at corner for this season, both will likely red-shirt but both showed promise for the future.
  • The young offensive linemen will likely all redshirt. Though they also showed good upside potential, this class (Whit Efird, Kyle Ralph, and Chris Woods) will all benefit from a redshirt year as is typical for offensive linemen.
  • One or two of the true frosh wide receivers will see significant playing time this season. The player most likely to get on the field is Derrele Mitchell, who at 6-4, 190 is a tall, rangy target and appears to be slightly ahead of the rest of the receivers at this point. Ian Firestone (don't think we saw him drop anything all day), Michael Gilmore, and Duante Fields all have a shot at playing time this year, though likely no more than two will actually forego a redshirt year.
  • The running backs all appear to be good athletes with potential to excel at the college level, including Mahlon Carey and D.J. Walker. As already noted, however, Rikki Cook stood out among the backs. He was a "Top 100" player coming out of high school, and in this limited opportunity to observe his skills he seemed worthy of that ranking. Given the current depth chart, we would be surprised to see any of the running backs contribute this season.
  • This group of "invited" walk-ons in this class appears to us to be one the strongest we have seen. There are several players in this group that have a good chance of being solid contributors to UNC football down the road. Justin Phillips (TE), Drayton Henderson (RB), Kevin Watson (WR). John Deshields (DB) and Wallace Wright (WR) are a few names to salt away for the future. Though slotted at TE, Phillips handled quarterback chores today (played that position at Northwood High School in Pittsboro, played last year at Fork Union) and also punted the ball - and hit some boomers.

On balance, it appears to have been a disservice to this incoming class to have focused on the players who did not join it. There appear to be several players who will have an impact this season, and many more who have an excellent future before them.

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