By R.L. Bynum

There is no doubt that this is Sam Howell’s team and offense as Carolina heads into a football season with plenty of hype, including his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

During Howell’s junior, and no doubt final, season as a Tar Heel, that will be more true than last season. He will take more ownership of the plays that are called, and even which plays stay in the playbook.

Offensive coordinator Phil Longo wants Howell to like the plays Carolina runs.

“If there’s one play I don’t like in the offense, he gets rid of it,” said Howell, who threw for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. “I think, just over the years, you just kind of earn that trust and earn that respect and my freshman year, I didn’t really have much of a say at all when it came to game planning.”

Longo put the game plan together when Howell was a rookie. The quarterback went along with whatever he said. It’s different now after Howell became a little more involved during his sophomore season.

“This year, I’m pretty involved,” Howell said. “[We’ll] probably sit down and do some game planning together early in the week and just share our thoughts of what I like, what he likes. So, I think I’ll definitely be more involved this year.

“He wants me involved as well because I think if your quarterback’s not out there confident in the plays that are being called, you’re probably not going to be very successful,” Howell said. “So, he’s done a really good job just kind of being open, and he wants me to be more involved. So, it’s been good for us.”

His leadership extends to guiding the receivers who will be on the other end of his passes, many of whom are young. During the Tar Heels’ first practice of the preseason Thursday, he could be seen pulling some of them aside for conversations after some plays.

“I think we have a lot of really talented guys,” Howell said. “I think we can do a better job with the little details. There are little details on every route that we run that kind of make it a little better, make it easier to throw to. The best thing is that those guys want to learn. They want to get better. They’ve been awesome.”

He singled out sophomore Khafre Brown as doing an “unbelievable” job. Last season, the younger brother of Dyami Brown, who now is with the Washington Football team, caught 15 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s come a long ways since we’ve since he first came here,” Howell said. “So, I’m super excited about our receivers.”

In just about every way this season, Howell will control how and whether the offense produces to meet the high expectations.

ACC pool photo

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