UNC football’s offense more than Drake Maye. How they plan to ‘hold each other accountable’

When it comes to Carolina football’s offense, there’s plenty of talk about quarterback Drake Maye.

What can he do in his (likely) final year of college? How much smoother will fall camp be now that he’s not fighting for a starting spot? How will new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey change the playbook to accommodate the Heisman Trophy hopeful?

The overarching change, of course, is the shift in offensive coordinators, to Lindsey from Phil Longo — though according to some players, the changes aren’t drastic. But there are also new players, both freshmen and transfers, and a whole new rotation for the offensive line.

“It’s really the whole offense,” wide receiver Kobe Paysour said. “Bringing in a whole new offensive staff. I mean, the running game is better. The running game helps the passing game. So it all just correlates with each other.”

The Tar Heels’ receiving room is still filled with depth, particularly with transfer portal additions Devontez Walker and Nate McCollum. Both are expected to make the starting lineup come Sept. 2, alongside Paysour.

North Carolina wide receive Nate McCollum (6) looks for running room after a reception from quarterback Drake Maye on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 in Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina wide receive Nate McCollum (6) looks for running room after a reception from quarterback Drake Maye on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

McCollum spent three seasons as a wideout for Georgia Tech, leaving Paysour with the ability to play inside or outside, depending on what head coach Mack Brown and Lindsey decide.

The trio has the potential to revitalize the offensive after former receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green were drafted last spring. Those three, along with a deep tight end group, should balance out the run game a bit more, with the return of British Brooks and Caleb Hood this year.

Paysour also said he’s incorporating tools he has learned from Downs and Green, trying to emulate Downs’ agility and technique when “selling” his routes. It also helps that Maye has an understanding of what to expect with his receiving core

Speaking of Maye, there’s a greater sense of urgency on the team to help him make a mark this season, with Maye potentially heading to the NFL next season. But Maye’s next steps aren’t the only driving factor, Paysour said, or even a large factor. Rather, the team’s leadership has created this urgency for accountability purposes.

“We’ve got goals we want to achieve,” Paysour said. “So with that we just practice hard. We all be on each other like from my position to other positions. I feel individually, like the leaders of that group, we all hold other positions accountable.”

Paysour said there hasn’t been too much change between Longo and Lindsey — mostly learning new routes — which can be beneficial for many of the more experienced Tar Heels who’ve grown accustomed to Carolina’s style of play.

Benefiting the line

In fact, it might benefit the offensive line a bit more, one of the positions Brown has specified as not very deep. So, the head coach plans to create a group of roughly eight or nine players including the starting line that can all blend together at any given moment to help protect Maye.

“O-line is one of the only positions, besides quarterback, I’d probably say that there’s no really no subs,” offensive lineman Corey Gaynor said. “You create that continuity, you create that web within that relationship. … With that being said, we have a couple guys on the (backup) group that are busting their tails, and I’m very excited for them.”

Gaynor, now entering his seventh year of college football, said by training some of these younger, newer guys to fill in he’s able to “serve.” While it’s only his second season in Carolina, spending five at Miami, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound center said he knows his experience on the field can benefit these younger players as they mold in with the starters.

The offensive line is one of the closest groups on offense — figuratively and literally. Gaynor said there’s an extra level of trust that he’s helping to try and build to make sure the O-line does everything in its power to protect Maye in the pocket and open holes for running backs.

North Carolina offensive lineman Corey Gaynor (65) protects quarterback Drake aye (10) during the Tar Heels’ first practice of the season on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 in Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina offensive lineman Corey Gaynor (65) protects quarterback Drake aye (10) during the Tar Heels’ first practice of the season on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Gaynor earned the attention of a few NFL scouts following his performance last season, including his 1,050 snaps and only two sacks allowed. And while he said it’s exciting to have scouts interested, he’s not focused on it too much — just preparing for this season.

“I’m worried about protecting Drake, getting our running back holes, getting the receivers the ball,” Gaynor said. “You know, leading this football team.”

Working as a group

Gaynor said he feels like the line is getting close to reaching that group of eight Brown can rely on, but it’s still early enough in fall camp where things could change.

And as cheesy as it seems during football preseason, Gaynor said he’s seen Carolina make a conscious effort to be a more physical team. Working with offensive line coach Randy Clements, Gaynor said they’ve been making sure every element of practice is geared toward that physicality needed for games.

“Every day we got to wake up with an edge, focus on our technique — that we’re being coached,” Gaynor said. “We got to get more physical. I mean, I’ve heard that back 40 years ago when I first started playing football.”

Of course, Maye also being a year older and not having to compete for the starting job helps the offense on all sides, too. Paysour said Maye has worked a lot on his footwork, which has improved so far, and has spent a lot of time with the new receivers, building chemistry and learning how each of the players runs their routes. Gaynor then added that even with Maye’s experience, there’s still an emphasis on getting the job done on the line, not just relying on everyone else.

“It’s on us, it’s on each individual guy, and then we come together as a group,” Gaynor said. “So you know, that’s our job to protect him. He’s not worried about it.”

The Tar Heels are just wrapping up Week 1 of preseason, and haven’t practiced in pads yet either. There’s still a lot of camp ahead before making the trip to Charlotte to face the Gamecocks for the season opener.

But so far, there’s a plan in place for a new, developing Carolina offense.

“It’s a new season, so you gotta treat it differently,” Gaynor said. “So I’d say it’s not difficult, but you know, that’s the part we’re working through right now. Not growing pains, but working together and making sure that this is tight, and everything’s going well.”

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