2011 North Carolina Preview – Defense
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CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What you need to know: The swath of suspensions on defense was a body blow to the 2010 team ... and a boon to the 2011 squad. Carolina had no choice but to move on without the likes DE Robert Quinn, DT Marvin Austin, and CB Kendric Burney, who were shut down for all or part of the year. The result was the flowering of new stars who emerged from the wreckage. DE Quinton Coples went on to become an All-American, DE Donte Paige-Moss laid the foundation for a breakout junior year, and LB Kevin Reddick led the team in tackles. All are back, along with promising defensive backs Tre Boston and Jabari Price, who were thrust into the mix before their time.
Even though Butch Davis is no longer in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heel D is going to be salty. The front seven will once again be outstanding, leaving a suspect secondary to rebuild and begin doing a better job of pulling its weight.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Quinton Coples
Tackles: Kevin Reddick, 74
Sacks: Quinton Coples, 10
Interceptions: Zach Brown, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Jabari Price
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Zach Brown
Best pro prospect: Coples
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Coples, 2) Junior LB Kevin Reddick, 3) Senior DT Tydreke Powell
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, stopping the run, overall athleticism, takeaways, getting pressure
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense
Proven depth, occasional lapses in pass coverage
State of the Unit: Forced to move on without suspended all-stars Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin in 2010, the upcoming team will be the beneficiaries of their absences. The Tar Heels were just fine up front a year ago, developing a whole new set of stars who'll continue their quest to play someday at the next level. Carolina is loaded with talent up front, making life much easier for the back seven.
No one stepped up or was more opportunistic last season more than 6-6, 285-pound senior DE Quinton Coples , who could have easily parlayed his breakout year into early entry into the NFL Draft. Despite playing tackle, he still racked up 59 tackles, 15.5 stops for loss, and 8.5 sacks, constantly harassing quarterbacks. From the long arms and good feet to the power and versatility, he has it all in a defensive lineman, including a shot at all kinds of national individual honors.
Flanking Coples at the other end spot will be 6-4, 260-pound junior Donte Paige-Moss , an ideal complement to keep defenses honest. He moved into the lineup after Quinn was shut down, starting 12 games and making 49 tackles, 13.5 stops for loss, and seven sacks. He flourished down the stretch, using his superior speed and athleticism to toy with slower tackles. As if that's not enough, the Tar Heels have the luxury of sophomore backups who started games as rookies last year.
A top recruit from 2010, 6-6, 260-pound Kareem Martin started the first three games and made 16 tackles. He has the frame and strength to succeed Coples at strongside next year. Tim Jackson was even more active in his debut, starting five games and making 15 tackles before injuring his ankle. Long, lean, and athletic, he's expected to back up Paige-Moss at weakside.
Providing veteran leadership on the inside is 6-3, 310-pound senior Tydreke Powell , one of last year's captains and one of two defenders to start all 13 games. Vastly underrated in this group, he's tough and quick, making a career-high 47 tackles, three stops for loss, and 2.5 sacks when the team needed him most. He's one of the unsung heroes of the D.
All signs point to 6-3, 320-pound junior Sylvester Williams taking over the other tackle spot in his first year out of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. A late addition to the sport, he has the power and leverage to become a force at the nose in run defense. Battling Williams will be 6-3, 290-pound senior Jordan Nix, who started a pair of games and made 18 tackles in 2010. Talented sophomore Jared McAdoo will caddy for Powell this fall before replacing him in 2012. He's moving back to tackle after making 19 tackles and starting the final four games as a miscast end.
Watch Out For .... Powell to finally start getting some of the league and national attention he deserves. The fact that he wasn't at least honorable mention All-ACC a year ago was a crime, largely because he doesn't pile up numbers like the outside guys. He's a terrific run defender, which isn't being lost on NFL scouts.
Strength: Talent and depth. It's hard to cite just one strength about a group that can stop the run and get after the passer with equal success. Oh, and its depth is fantastic, featuring a healthy seven players who started games in 2010.
Weakness: Depth on the interior. Relatively speaking, the Heels will be a little thinner inside than they will be on the outside. After Powell, Williams still needs to prove it at this level, and Nix and McAdoo may not be ready for full-time assignments.
Outlook: Butch Davis and his staff have officially turned Chapel Hill into an NFL pipeline for defensive linemen. Carolina is once again loaded with pro-caliber talent in the trenches, boasting an All-American in Coples and a terrific supporting cast. It'll once again dominate the line of scrimmage, gumming up running lanes and keeping passers from setting their feet in the pocket.
State of the Unit: Even after losing two terrific starters to the NFL, Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant, the Tar Heels are confident about their ability to regroup at linebacker. That sense of security comes from outstanding recruiting at the position, player development, and the retention of a handful of gifted letterwinners. There'll be some drop-off, but not as much as it would be at other schools that graduated a pair of all-stars.
In the middle, the Heels are excited about the future of 6-3, 240-pound junior Kevin Reddick , one of just two defenders to start every game of 2010. He wound up leading the team with 74 tackles, including six for loss, two picks, and five pass breakups. From a physical perspective, he has the total package for the position, reading plays well and having the lateral quickness and closing speed to make stops all over the field. Reddick has a reliable backup in Dion Guy, a 6-4, 235-pound junior who has cut his teeth on special teams the last two years.
At weakside, the staff is counting on 6-2, 230-pound senior Zach Brown to take over the position on a full-time basis. Last fall, he supplanted an injured Sturdivant and finished second with 72 tackles and first with three picks, despite starting only five games. He's an outstanding pass defender and one of the team's fastest players, a scary thought considering his size.
The site of the most heated battle will be at strongside, where 6-2, 240-pound senior Herman Davidson is duking it out with 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Darius Lipford . Davidson has the upper hand in experience, making 14 stops last year, but Lipford is coming on like a locomotive. He played in 11 games and had four stops as a rookie, and has the much higher ceiling of the pair. The key will be to avoid mistakes and keep honing the finer points of the game.
Watch Out For .... Reddick to explode from the ranks of the anonymous. He has boundless talent and energy, and now the opportunity to step outside the shadows of older teammates. About to become one of the top middle linebackers in the ACC, he should have the hardware to back it up in December.
Strength: Athleticism. Even without two key cogs, the Tar Heels will be a pack of playmaking thoroughbreds at this position. From top to bottom, they all move, close fast, and play the pass like a bunch of safeties. Holes will close fast when this group starts collapsing on the ball.
Weakness: Proven depth. The battle between Davidson and Lipford should bring out the best in both, but Carolina is a little thin in the middle and especially at weakside. Unlike a year ago, the linebackers will not be quite as prepared if a starter is lost for any length of time.
Outlook: The linebackers may not be as disruptive as last year, but they certainly won't be as vulnerable as many believe. Reddick and Brown are rising stars, with futures on Sundays, and the situation at strongside should work itself out. Expect a fair number of big plays and turnovers from this set of elite athletes.
State of the Unit: The biggest area of concern on defense, the Tar Heels will spend the offseason searching for the best combination in the defensive backfield. Three starters are gone from a unit that had too many lapses in 2010, but did break in a bunch of underclassmen out of necessity. Early season suspensions forced the Heels to move up the timetable on some of the freshmen and sophomores, which ought to help out in the upcoming year.
One of the bright spots of the offseason has been the return of 5-10, 205-pound senior Charles Brown , who was suspended for all of last year. The team's top cover corner, he was a starter in 2009, making 66 tackles, three stops for loss, three interceptions, and a Heel-high nine pass breakups. While he'll have to sit out the opener and must sharpen his coverage skills, he has the toughness and instincts to be an asset in run defense.
Brown's likely partner at cornerback will be 6-0, 190-pound sophomore CB Jabari Price , an emergency starter over the final month of his first season. At the early stages of his maturation, he made 20 tackles and broke up four passes, evolving on the fly. It'll be worth keeping a close eye on 5-11, 185-pound junior Mywan Jackson , who played through pain to start five games and make 20 tackles in 2010. He has considerable upside when healthy, flashing all-star potential in the previous spring.
The big story at free safety is that 6-1, 190-pound sophomore Tre Boston has been moved here from cornerback. One of the top rookies of last season, he started four games and made 32 tackles and four pass breakups. He has terrific size and a great future once he gets more comfortable in his new surroundings. Strong safety will be handled by a pair of seniors, 6-2, 210-pound Jonathan Smith and 5-11, 200-pound Matt Merletti . Smith was held out of 2010 because of the NCAA investigation, losing some career momentum. Big and physical, he has next-level aspirations if he can put it all together in 2011. Merletti is one of the emotional leaders of the D and special teams, and a co-captain, making 37 tackles and five starts in his return from knee surgery.
Watch Out For .... Brown to take on more of a leadership role in his final year. He has a lot to prove after sitting out 2010, and is surrounded by a bunch of kids looking up to him as one of the respected veterans of the defense.
Strength: Tomorrow. Without much of a choice, the Heels went with youth in the secondary last season, which will start paying off this fall. Defensive backs, such as Boston and Price, saw more field time than originally anticipated, an irreplaceable baptism by fire.
Weakness: Red zone coverage. Between the twenties, Carolina was solid in pass defense a year ago. In the red zone, however, it struggled, 23 touchdown passes, third highest in the conference. With fresh faces dotting the two-deep, the Heels have to tighten up when it matters most.
Outlook: No area of the defense is going to get more attention in the summer than the secondary. And for good reason. The group is young, unsettled, and coming off a shaky year. While the return of Brown should help immensely, the Tar Heels are going to need others to step up and make more stops when the ball is in the air.
State of the Unit: For the second straight season, the Tar Heels will enjoy stability at punter and placekicker. Heck, even last year's long snapper on punts and holder return, giving the program a sense of security on special teams.
Senior Casey Barth is back for one final year, poised to stake his claim to being one of the country's most consistent kickers. A perennial Lou Groza Award contender, he has pin-point accuracy, going 19-of-22 on field goals last year and 50-of-62 for his career. He's yet to hit a 50-yarder, topping out at 49 yards in 2010.
At punter, sophomore C.J. Feagles replaced Grant Shallock in Week 3 and held the job for the rest of the year. The son of longtime NFL punter Jeff Feagles, he only averaged 37.5 yards, but showed good hang time and got better as the season progressed.
Da'Norris Searcy was the primary punt and kick returner, but has graduated and needs to be replaced on both assignments.
Watch Out For… Feagles to improve markedly over last season. No, he didn't overwhelm anyone in 2010, but it was his first year on the job. He has the pedigree and the fundamentals to make a swift recovery and grow exponentially from last fall.
Strength: Barth. Following in the footsteps of big brother Connor, Casey is one of the Tar Heels' most consistent offensive weapons. He's been particularly vital on an offense prone to stalling in the red zone and is almost automatic inside of 50 yards.
Weakness: Punting. Carolina was 116th nationally in net punting a year ago, the confluence of short kicks and poor coverage. Not only did Feagles show limited leg strength, but the Heels ranked 93rd in the country in punt return D.
Outlook: There's Barth … and then there's a mess of question marks for special teams coach Allen Magridge. Feagles has to be better in his second season of punting, but the return game needs viable options and the coverage units have to find a way to plug the holes.
North Carolina Preview |
North Carolina Offense
2011 North Carolina Defense |
North Carolina Depth Chart
- North Carolina Previews 2010