2012 North Carolina Preview – Defense
North Carolina LB Kevin Reddick
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What you need to know:Not unlike the offense, the Tar Heels defense is undergoing some philosophical changes as well. The team will showcase a different look in 2012, a 4-2-5 that employs versatile defenders, such as the Bandit and the Ram. Basically, Carolina, under coordinator Dan Disch, wants to dictate the tempo of the game, attacking on a regular basis. Disch requires his kids to be fast, assertive and well-conditioned since the program's new up-tempo offense won't provide many breathers off long drives. Only five starters are back, but thanks to the recruiting efforts of the last staff, the Heels should be able to fill the holes quickly. The team features next-level types in LB Kevin Reddick, DE Kareem Martin, DT Sylvester Williams and SS Tre Boston, the ingredients of a sound foundation. However, depth could be a problem, especially since the D wants to rotate liberally in order to keep everyone fresh.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Kevin Reddick
Tackles: Kevin Reddick, 71
Sacks: Kareem Martin, 4
Interceptions: Tre Boston, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Jabari Price
Unsung star on the rise: Junior SS Tre Boston
Best pro prospect:Reddick
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Reddick, 2) Junior DE Kareem Martin, 3) Senior DT Sylvester Williams
Strength of the defense:Run defense, getting pressure, team speed
Weakness of the defense: Overall depth, pass defense, third down defense
It's a good thing that the prior regime did a perennially fantastic job of recruiting D-line talent, because it'll come in handy this fall. The Heels are no longer home to four productive linemen, namely DE Quinton Coples and DT Tydreke Powell. The interior will be built around 6-3, 315-pound DT Sylvester Williams, who'll be looking to build on a fantastic debut with the school. In his first fall removed from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, he racked up 54 tackles, seven stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and five hurries. Close to being out of football a few years ago, he's returned with a new attitude and the same blend of power and quickness that could vault him into the 2013 NFL Draft discussion.
The identity of the nose tackle lining up next to Williams has yet to be determined. The coaches have yet to decide between a pair of sophomores, 6-1, 300-pound Shawn Underwood and 6-3, 295-pound Devonte Brown. The former three-star recruits have been pushing one another for months, with that starting nod hanging in the balance. Underwood enjoys a slight edge in experience, having made cameos in 11 games a year ago.
The new standard at defensive end will be set by junior Kareem Martin, a 6-6, 260-pounder coming off a table-setting campaign. As a sophomore, he formed a nice complement to Coples, kicking in 40 tackles, seven stops for loss and four. He also broke up six passes, testament to his long arms and ability to explode vertically. The opportunity is in place for No. 95 to emerge as the next Carolina defensive end prospect who vies for all-star honors, and capture the attention of pro scouts.
The Heels have a pretty good backup at end, 6-5, 265-pound junior Tim Jackson. He'd be a starter in plenty of places, blending above average pass rush skills with enough size to stop the run. The St. Petersburg, Fla. Native has lettered in each of the last two seasons, collecting a dozen tackles in 2011.
Carolina will be adding a Bandit to the two-deep this fall, a hybrid between an end and an outside linebacker. The objective of the position is to create instant pressure, while still possessing the quickness to occasionally drop back into coverage. The frontrunner is 6-4, 235-pound senior Dion Guy, a career backup linebacker and special teamer. He's just quick enough and versatile enough to become a factor off the edge in this new alignment.
Watch Out For .... the outcome at the nose. Coples makes most of the headlines, but Powell was also a huge loss for the run defense. The Heels need a counterpart to Williams on the inside who can clog running lanes long enough for the team's athletic linebackers to swarm the pile. It remains to be seen whether Underwood or Brown can be that guy.
Strength: Generating pressure. Even if the Heels aren't quite as disruptive as a year ago, they're still going to create headaches for opposing passers. With Martin at end and Williams at tackle, Carolina boasts and outside-inside punch that's going to cause fits for blockers. If Guy can fill the Bandit role—and fill out physically—look out.
Weakness: Depth. The loss of so many players to the NFL is finally beginning to catch up to the North Carolina defense. Oh, there's still evidence of talent up front, but the second team is not quite as ready-made for action as recent B teams in Chapel Hill. In fact, besides Jackson, none of the reserves has played serious minutes for the program.
Outlook: While the Tar Heels have a pair of all-star contenders, Martin and Williams, up front, the D-line as a whole won't be quite as intimidating as it's been over the past few seasons. Reaching the level of the 2009, 2010 or 2011 editions is going to require the supporting cast, such as Guy and the nose tackles, to make the most of their opportunities for a promotion.
Carolina's new 4-2-5 alignment calls for deployment of just a pair of linebackers, a position that's been very kind to the program of late. The leading man in the middle will be 6-3, 240-pound senior Kevin Reddick, the team's leading returning tackler. Despite playing injured for most of the year, he still managed to make 71 stops, including six for minus yards. As inside linebackers go, he's close to a complete product, an instinctive wrap-up tackler who has the range and closing speed to make stops all over the field. If he stays healthy for an entire year, 100 tackles is where the bar will be set.
Reddick's partner at weakside will come out of sophomores Travis Hughes and Tommy Heffernan, who'll continue to duke it out in the summer. The 6-2, 225-pound Hughes was one of the school's mega-recruits from a year ago, four-star gem who played in all 13 games and started one as a true freshman. He has the explosiveness and aggression to eventually become a star at this level. A 6-1, 215-pound walk-on, Heffernan does not have Hughes' upside or physical ability, yet has worked his way into the rotation and possibly the starting lineup.
Not to be forgotten, 6-3, 230-pound junior Darius Lipford is trying to make his way back from an ACL tear suffered in the Independence Bowl. The most experience linebacker after Reddick, he had 42 tackles while starting four games in 2011. Naturally, he missed the spring, but will be a factor if he can return in the summer.
Watch Out For .... Reddick to go on a 13-game salary run. Last season was supposed to be his breakout moment in Chapel Hill, but injuries somewhat thwarted his overall potential to dominate. With the 2013 NFL Draft looming, the senior is capable of parlaying the opportunity into a fantastic finale as a Tar Heel.
Strength: Athleticism. For the past few years, Carolina has been home to some of the most athletic linebackers in the ACC. And that dynamic doesn't figure to change this fall, especially if it winds up being Hughes who joins Reddick in the starting lineup.
Weakness: Proven depth. Even on a two-man unit, the graduation of leading tackler Zach Brown and injury to Lipford could leave the Tar Heels thin on the second level. In an ideal world, Reddick and Hughes are the starters … and neither player misses many snaps due to injury.
Outlook: The Carolina linebackers will once again be solid, but the safety net is not quite as sturdy as it was in recent years. Reddick is a terrific place to start, and Hughes is capable of blooming into something special, but depth could be an issue that plagues the Heels D throughout the campaign.
One of the many changes that arrived with a new staff was a defensive alignment that calls for the use of five defensive backs. Carolina will employ a Ram in the secondary, a position that does a lot of freelancing, from blitzing liberally to dropping into coverage. Handling the role will be 5-11, 190-pound senior Gene Robinson who may have finally found a home. He's bounced around, starting six games at safety or nickel in 2011, and made a career-high 49 stops and four tackles for loss last year. He loves to hit, a prerequisite for succeeding in this versatile position.
The Heels' top overall defensive back is 6-1, 190-pound Tre Boston, an All-ACC candidate. He's on the verge of becoming the total package in the secondary, a playmaking strong safety who'll aggressively fill lanes in run defense. The junior delivered a solid debut in the lineup, making 70 and picking off a pair of passes. He plays the game with a lot of swagger, and has just enough length to match up with some of the ACC's taller receivers.
Free safety will be manned by one of the youngsters, 5-11, 175-pound redshirt freshman Sam Smiley. While he'll need to add weight to hold up on running downs, he already has the hips and footwork to be effective in pass defense. Providing veteran competition is 6-0, 205-pound junior D.J. Bunn, a far more physical option than the frontrunner.
The team's most experienced cornerback will be 6-0, 190-pound junior CB Jabari Price who got a taste of action with a pair of starts in 2011. He's on his way back after missing the final four games with torn tendons in his right hand. After lettering the last two years, he's preparing to be thrown in the deep end of the water.
Price's partner at corner figures to be 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Tim Scott, an eight-game starter as a true freshman in 2011. While there were some predictable rough patches in his debut, he also showed flashes of becoming a real stopper in pass defense. He had 43 tackles, adding a team-high six pass breakups against quarterbacks looking to exploit his youth.
Watch Out For .... Boston to become one of the young defensive back stars of the ACC. While not built like a traditional strong safety at 190 pounds, he has the right mentality and fearlessness to excel at the position. The junior does a lot of things well, which won't be lost on all-star voters or pro scouts by the end of the year.
Strength: Aggressiveness. The Carolina defensive backs are not all that big. In fact, none of the starters is likely to begin the season north of 200 pounds. However, they all operate with something to prove, flying to the ball with reckless abandon, and lowering their shoulders before lowering the boom.
Weakness: Hey, the Heels improved in pass defense last year, but there's still lots of room for improvement. The 2011 edition was eighth in the league in pass efficiency D, yielding more touchdown passes than all ACC teams except Clemson. Carolina has to tighten up when the ball is in the air, especially in the red zone.
Outlook: After plugging some holes last fall, the Heels are looking to take another step forward in 2012. It'll certainly help having a fifth defensive back in the huddle to go along with the improving play of Boston, Scott and Price. Still, the league's better passers, such as Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, Duke's Sean Renfree and NC State's Mike Glennon, will be able to navigate this group through the air.
The big news on special teams is that senior PK Casey Barth was granted a medical hardship after missing the bulk of 2011 with a strained groin. Prior to the injury, he was one of the country's most accurate kickers, nailing 51-of-63 field goal attempts and a school-record 82 straight extra points. The perennial Lou Groza Award contender possesses pinpoint accuracy, but has been tested just one time from beyond 50 yards.
Former walk-on P Tommy Hibbard made his case for a free ride by beating out C.J. Feagles for the starting job in 2011. He participated in all but one game as a rookie, averaging 39.2 on 51 attempts. More consistency is expected from the sophomore now that he's played a year, and no longer has Feagles looking over his shoulder.
Watch Out For… sophomore T.J. Thorpe top thrive as Carolina's primary punt and kickoff return man. He was electrifying on kickoffs a year ago, averaging an ACC-high 26.7 yards, while burning Clemson for just the second 100-yarder in school history.
Strength: Barth. Following in the footsteps of big brother Connor, a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Casey is a finisher when Tar Heels drives stall. He's ultra-reliable inside 50 yards, coupling with QB Bryn Renner to give Carolina a highly efficient offense inside enemy territory.
Weakness: Punting. Hibbard is a middling all-around punter, failing to show the pop or hang time that the special teams coaches are seeking from the position. The Tar Heels were 11th nationally in punt return yardage D, yet was 76th in net punting, the results of Hibbard's inability to launch missiles.
Outlook: All of the planets are lining up for Carolina to be home to one of the ACC's top special teams units. Barth is an all-league candidate, as is Thorpe, and the coverage teams are brimming with good athletes who get down the field in a hurry. The Heels will have to live with Hubbard, who has a limited ceiling.
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North Carolina Offense
2012 North Carolina Defense |
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