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You asked, we answered. An update on UNC’s QBs, offensive plays, Leaky Black and more.

North Carolina coach Mack Brown: ‘I want our fans to get excited about coming back out for football’

Coach Mack Brown talks about the importance of the Spring game, and how the program is progressing under his leadership.
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Coach Mack Brown talks about the importance of the Spring game, and how the program is progressing under his leadership.

We’re about eight weeks away from the start of UNC’s football season.

When the Tar Heels take on South Carolina on Aug. 31 in their season opener in Charlotte, it will mark the beginning of the second Mack Brown era when the coach returns to the Tar Heels’ sideline 22 years after first coaching there. After two consecutive losing seasons, UNC wants to regain its status as a winning program.

Meanwhile, UNC’s basketball program has consistently finished among the top of the ACC, and wants to get back to a national championship game.

The Tar Heels’ season ended in the Sweet 16 in March. Next season, they’ll have a new team, with new key contributors after their top five scorers either entered the NBA draft or graduated.

With so much change happening at UNC, readers want to know about UNC’s quarterback situation, what the offense will look like, who will be the key contributors on its basketball team next season and how the 3-point line may affect UNC’s style of play.

Here are your mailbag questions.

@JacobTurnerTHI asks: Do you think the Tar Heels role out with one starting quarterback at the beginning of the season or do we see more than one guy given a chance for the first few games?

@jonmalexander says:

It’s possible more than one guy could see action.

All three quarterbacks -- Sam Howell, Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder -- have little to no game experience. Fortin, who is 6-3, 210 pounds, played in four games last year as a true freshman. Ruder, who is 6-2, 220 pounds, played in one game as a true freshman, and Howell, who is 6-1, 225 pounds, is a true freshman this year.

So coaches won’t know how they’ll perform until they get out on the field in a game.

And at the end of spring practice neither of the three quarterbacks battling for the starting spot had separated themselves from the other, according to the coaching staff.

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From left, North Carolina quarterbacks Cade Fortin (6), Jace Ruder (10) and Sam Howell (7) run drills during UNC’s first spring football practice in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, March 3, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

But coach Brown said they plan to play whoever gets them wins.

“They are all three dead even going into camp, so we aren’t taking anything off the table at this time,” Brown said. “We will just need to find the things that gives us the best chance to win.”

So if that’s quarterback-by-committee, that’s what I expect they’ll do until they find one consistent guy.

@JSIMP24 asks: Do you think (Mack) Brown is over recruiting the Quarterback position?

@jonmalexander says:

I wouldn’t go as far to say he’s over recruiting. Quarterback depth is important because injuries can happen just as they did last year. The Tar Heels had three quarterbacks go down with significant injuries last season, and at one point used a walk-on, Manny Miles, late in the season.

Coaches want to recruit the best possible quarterbacks. However, they do run the risk of players transferring or decommitting when there are multiple players of the same caliber capable of playing at a high level.

It’s unclear why four-star quarterback Malik Hornsby decommitted in June, but it’s possible that having so many young talented quarterbacks already at UNC factored into his decision. I’m sure it certainly gave him something to think about.

From a big picture perspective, though, it’s worth the risk to have as much of the best talent as possible.

@gregoryhall_ asks What position does Leaky (Black) play the most?

@jonmalexander says:

Black, at 6-7, 185 pounds, has the ability to play the one, two or the three, and UNC coach Roy Williams will likely use him at all three positions. Williams referred to Black last year as one of the most versatile players he’s ever coached.

But Black primarily played point guard in high school. He’s said that’s his most comfortable position, and that’s where UNC will likely need him most.

With Coby White having left college for the NBA, and backup Seventh Woods transferring to South Carolina, there’s a hole at point guard for UNC.

Freshman point guard Jeremiah Francis, who was a three-star point guard coming out of high school, is coming off a knee injury, and as of June 16, had not been cleared to practice, Williams said.

Cole Anthony, who entered UNC as the No. 3 recruit in the country and top point guard, will likely start, but behind him, Black appears to be the most reliable option.

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North Carolina’s Leaky Black (1) breaks to the basket for a dunk in the second half against N.C. State during the first half on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

His height makes him a mismatch against other point guards. Black, who will be a sophomore next season, will play other positions as well, but point guard seems to make the most sense from a depth perspective. Black averaged 2.5 points per game and 1.2 assists last year. He also suffered an ankle injury and missed 11 consecutive games.

“I really think deep down, his future might be as a (point guard) more than anything,” Williams said in June. “But just getting healthy, if he does that, he’s going to help us in a lot of ways.”

@bg_keys asks: Stylistically, what does a Mack Brown offense look like? What are some common plays that will be run?

@jonmalexander says:

UNC will run the air raid offense under offensive coordinator Phil Longo, who ran it at Ole Miss.

That offense is usually run out of the shotgun formation with a quarterback, a running back, and four receivers. It typically focuses on the passing game, but UNC’s offense will have a power running element, Longo said in April.

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North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo works with players during the Tar Heels’ practice at their indoor practice facility on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

That helps the Tar Heels adhere to its strengths. UNC’s running game was its strongest unit last season, and three of its top four runners, including Michael Carter and Antonio Williams, will return.

Javonte Williams, who showed flashes of potential as a true freshman last season and in the spring, also returns.

UNC’s offense will more resemble Oklahoma’s offense. It is designed to spread defenses out and create open space for throws and runs. Longo said the receivers won’t be confined to specific routes, and are given the option to make a decision based on the positioning of a defender.

He added said there will also be a number of screens.

Longo said he never knows whether they’ll run or pass 70 times in a game.

“It’s not just our goal to throw for 500 hundred and flip it 70 times a game,” he said. “If that’s what they give us, that’s what we’ll do and we have that capability. And I think the best thing about it, the whole system, it’s flexible enough that if your strength lies in one area one year, you emphasize that part of the offense more.”

@brooker423 Assuming Michael Carter starts, curious on Antonio Williams/Javonte Williams backup battle and how the new Longo system fits all three backs?

@jonmalexander says:

Last season, Antonio Williams was the better runner. He was second on the team with 504 rushing yards and was tied for the team lead with Javonte Williams for five rushing touchdowns.

While Antonio Williams may be behind Michael Carter on the depth chart, he’ll likely get a similar number of touches as he did last season. He proved last season that he was a quality and durable power back and will likely be used in the same way this season.

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North Carolina tailback Antonio Williams (24) works out during the Tar Heels’ practice at their indoor practice facility on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 in Chapel Hill, N.C Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Carter’s injury history will cause UNC’s coaching staff to be careful with him.

“He’ll be interesting because he’s been hurt and we’ve got to use him enough, but not overuse him so he gets hurt, we’ve got to keep him healthy,” Brown said last month.

Javonte Williams will likely get a number of touches too, especially if UNC decides it wants to run the ball 70 times a game, as Longo said.

UNC will likely utilize all three.

@abhissnake asks: How will the extension of the NCAA 3-pt line affect UNC basketball’s playstyle?

I don’t think it will.

The NCAA is hoping to slow the trend of 3-point shooting by moving the 3-point line back for the second time in 11 years. In 2008, the 3-point line was moved from 19 feet and 9 inches. Now, players are shooting more 3s than ever.

Last season, the Tar Heels set a school record for most 3-pointers in the season with 312 3-pointers made. The previous record was 305 during the 2017-18 season.

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North Carolina’s Brandon Huffman (42) reacts after a three-point basket by Cameron Johnson in the second half during the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 24, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

While it may cause some teams, and probably UNC, to shoot less 3-pointers initially, I don’t think there will be a drastic difference. High school and youth players are perfecting the 3 at a younger age. And teams are finding that shooting 3-pointers is more of an efficient shot than a long two-point field goal.

The 3-point line will be moved from 20 feet and 9 inches to 22 feet and 1 3/4 inches for the 2019-20 season. The NCAA experimented with this in the NIT tournament this year.

Teams averaged 23.1 3-point attempts in the NIT, compared with 22.8 3-point attempts in the 2018-19 regular season. The 3-point shooting percentage of teams in the 2019 NIT was 33 percent, compared to 35.2 percent in the regular season.

How to be part of the mailbag

About once a month, I’ll answer readers’ questions as part of a Tar Heel mailbag.

If you have a question about UNC football, basketball or baseball, tweet me @jonmalexander with the hashtag #AskJMA, or email me at jalexander@newsobserver.com. A select few will be answered in the mailbag. If you ask a question and it doesn’t get answered, it could appear in a future mailbag.

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.

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