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2013 North Carolina Preview – Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 9, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Defense


North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2013 - Defense


- 2013 North Carolina Preview | 2013 North Carolina Offense
- 2013 North Carolina Defense | 2013 North Carolina Depth Chart

What you need to know: Carolina’s unique 4-2-5 defense performed sporadically, at best, in 2012; now it has to regroup without the services of its two best players, DT Sylvester Williams and LB Kevin Reddick. The Tar Heels are going to be challenged up the middle this fall, and capable on the outside. Teams that run the ball up the gut later this year will see noticeably more room than a year ago. However, throwing on Carolina could be a challenge. The Heels have one of the ACC’s better pass rushers, DE Kareem Martin, and a Tre Boston-led secondary that returns four savvy and physical starters. If another outside rusher, like ‘Bandit’ Norkeithus Otis, emerges, look out. The task for the D will be to shore up a run defense that is going to be vulnerable in the fall. The linebackers are unproven, and the interior of the line is short on elite stoppers.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tre Boston, 86
Sacks: Kareem Martin, 4
Interceptions: Tim Scott, Tre Boston, 4

Star of the defense: Senior FS Tre Boston
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Shawn Underwood
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Travis Hughes
Best pro prospect: Boston
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Boston, 2) Senior DE Kareem Martin, 3) Junior CB Tim Scott
Strength of the defense: The secondary, depth at tackle, team speed, red-zone D, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: Edge pressure, weakness up the middle, linebacker

Defensive Line

Even after getting named to the All-ACC Second Team in in 2012, senior DE Kareem Martin remained a rather well-kept secret outside of the region. That level of anonymity is likely to change this fall. The 6-6, 265-pound third-year starter set career standards with 40 tackles, 15.5 stops for loss, four sacks and a team-high eight quarterback hurries in 2012. The coaching staff is banking on Martin turning more of his pressures into sacks, while assuming a greater leadership role on a front seven searching for direction in 2013. It’ll be interesting to see how No. 95 handles the inevitable double-teams that’ll come his way this year.

The battle at ‘Bandit’, a hybrid between an end and an outside linebacker, is currently being led by 6-1, 240-pound junior Norkeithus Otis . He arrived in Chapel Hill as a linebacker, but his development was hampered in 2012 by an ankle injury. The staff got a glimpse of Otis’ potential as a pass rusher in the spring, but will need to see more if he’s going to remain a step ahead of athletic 6-2, 245-pound sophomore Shakeel Rashad . The gaping void on the interior is the result of the graduation of Sylvester Williams, a first-round draft choice of the Denver Broncos. The new anchor at tackle is going to be 6-5, 285-pound Tim Jackson . The former end started six games at the nose last year, so he’s no stranger to the trenches. However, his size is a concern, and he looked easily neutralized in 2012, making just 16 tackles, four stops for loss and a sack.

Junior Shawn Underwood is on the verge of locking down the other tackle job. He started five games last year, finishing with 18 stops and 2.5 tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 305 pounds, he plays with the lower body strength and the leverage to be an effective stopgap against the run. Chasing Underwood are 6-3, 295-pound junior Ethan Farmer and 6-3, 280-pound junior Devonte Brown ; both linemen lettered in 2012, Farmer making 11 tackles and Brown 16 in 10 games.

Watch Out For .... the progress of four-star recruit Greg Webb, the most heralded rookie of a very deep 2013 class. The 6-3, 290-pounder is well-positioned to enter the two-deep right away, especially since the Tar Heels are looking for a spark at tackle. The one-time Penn State commit will be given every opportunity to show why he was pursued so vigorously on Signing Day.
Strength: Depth at tackle. The Heels may not be dripping with quality at the position, but they are loaded with quantity. Even after the graduation of Williams, Jackson’s relocation means that Carolina houses two tackles who started games last year, and four who earned letters.
Weakness: Pressure from ‘Bandit’. The experiment of a new alignment got mixed reviews in 2012. Yeah, starter Dion Guy was fifth on the team in tackles, yet he also had just one sack at a positioned designed to pressure the passer. The Heels will need more heat this year from Otis and Rashad.
Outlook: The D-line was stout last fall, but Williams will be impossible to replace, meaning the run defense and the pass rush will be impacted by his departure. Martin should use his finale as an NFL audition. Everyone else is productive, but unlikely to draw double-teams or the attention of all-star voters. The Heels could be especially vulnerable up the gut for a change in 2013.
Rating: 7

Linebackers

Carolina’s 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. However, with the graduation of Kevin Reddick, the unit will be hunting for a new leader in 2013. Junior Travis Hughes feels as if he might be up for the challenge. The 6-2, 225-pound weakside linebacker has never been short on physical talent, but he was slow to develop in his first two years. Last year, for instance, he made just 33 tackles and forced a couple of fumbles as a two-game starter. However, Hughes has impressed the staff with his impressive athleticism and upside.

Hanging right there with Hughes is 6-1, 215-pound junior Tommy Heffernan, who actually started nine games in 2012. He was very steady, finishing fourth on the team with 73 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss and three sacks. Still, he lacks the burst and range that the coaching staff is looking for in an every-down defender.

Middle linebacker is a toss-up that won’t be decided until the summer. At the end of spring, 6-2, 230-pound redshirt freshman Dan Mastromatteo, 6-2, 240-pound redshirt freshman Nathan Staub and 6-1, 220-pound sophomore walk-on Jeff Schoettmer were locked in a dead heat. Mastromatteo and Staub were both three-star signees from the 2012 class.

Watch Out For .... Hughes to build on his notable offseason. The raw talent was always in place for No. 9, but now it appears as if he’s heard his wake-up call. The graduation of Reddick has left the Tar Heels searching for better range and closing speed from the second level, something Hughes is capable of supplying.
Strength: Weakside. The Tar Heels will have the luxury of carrying two players with starting experience at the position, Hughes and Heffernan. The latter is an outstanding and experienced option off the bench, while the former is poised to deliver his best season with the program.
Weakness: Middle. Carolina has yet to anoint a starter at the position because none of the three underclassmen has stepped out and grabbed the job. Mastromatteo, Staub and Schoettmer may have bright futures, but they also have 23 career tackles between them, all from Schoettmer in 2012.
Outlook: Stopping the run could be a problem for Carolina in 2013. The program is looking to replace its two best players up the gut, DT Sylvester Williams and LB Kevin Reddick. The linebackers will be hit-or-miss, even if Hughes builds on his spring performance. The Heels will be dicey at the second level, particularly if one of the contenders in the middle fails to step up in September.
Rating: 6.5

Secondary

Everyone is back from a defensive backfield that really only had two rough outings in 2012. Anything less than another pronounced step forward will be a disappointment for the pass defense. Junior Tim Scott is expected to be the leader of the cornerbacks, a year after earning honorable mention All-ACC. As it is for each member of the Carolina secondary, the 5-11, 190-pound Scott needs to be more consistent in coverage, but did generate team-highs with four picks and 13 passes defended, while also making 48 tackles and 5.5 stops for loss. While not prone to being overly aggressive, he still has to resist the temptation to bite on fakes from opposing quarterbacks.

While Scott brings finesse, the hammer from the cornerbacks will be administered by 6-0, 200-pound senior Jabari Price . He’s experienced, having lettered three letters, and among the most aggressive of the defensive backs. In his best season as a Tar Heel to date, Price racked up 76 tackles, four stops for loss and 10 passes defended. The veteran is an undisputed asset against the run and in the open field, but needs to have more of a presence when the ball is in the air. Providing reps off the bench at corner will be 5-11, 190-pound senior Terry Shankle, an active and experienced member of the program.

Arguably the best all-around Carolina defensive back is senior FS Tre Boston . After thinking about turning pro early, he opted instead to return to school for his final year. The 6-1, 205-pounder brings 27 career starts and a diverse skill set into the 2013 campaign. Not only did he lead the Tar Heels with 86 tackles last season, but he also tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Boston operates with the maximum swagger on Saturdays, confidently roaming the final line of defense. He’ll have a chance to use this season as an audition for pro scouts.

The heir apparent to Boston at free safety will be 5-11, 195-pound sophomore Darien Rankin. He was fantastic as a rookie, starting seven games at strong safety, making 48 tackles and picking off three passes. He’s intense, and has the versatile skill set that the team seeks at the position.

Strong safety will be manned by one of the youngsters, 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Sam Smiley or 5-11, 185-pound freshman Domonique Green . Smiley had 26 tackles in seven games last season, five of which he started. He has fluid hips and improving coverage skills, but lacks ideal size for the position. Green is a walk-on who has practiced his way into contention this offseason.

One of the many changes that arrived with the new staff in 2012 was a defensive alignment that called 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 6-0, 220-pound junior Brandon Ellerbe . The staff feels he harbors the versatility, athleticism and instincts to excel at a position that asks its caretakers to be a jack-of-trades similar to a nickel back.

Watch Out For .... Ellerbe to wind up being the right choice at ‘Ram’. He’s much bigger than last year’s Tar Heels at the position, and he beings an edge to the secondary. While there’s plenty of finesse and skill on the back end, Ellerbe is around to lay down the law in Chapel Hill.
Strength: Clutch pass defense. Carolina had a knack for coming up big when it mattered most in 2013, yielding just 15 touchdown passes, and only seven in its 10 best games. With everyone back, there’s good reason to believe that the Heels will be every bit as feisty in pass defense as they were a season ago.
Weakness: Consistency. As good as the Heels played in coverage last season, there were also pockets of consistency and a few too many long balls allowed that need to be addressed in 2013. There’s no shame in getting beat by Mike Glennon and Teddy Bridgewater, but Carolina allowed eight touchdown passes to the two quarterbacks in 2012.
Outlook: The strength of the D, the secondary ought to be one of the cornerstones for the Tar Heels in 2013. The unit is comprised of a lot of talent and a lot of experience at every position. Maybe there’s no superstar in the defensive backfield, but Boston, Scott and Price will form the backbone of a unit that frustrates quarterbacks more than it bows to them this fall.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

The Tar Heels need to develop a new placekicker in 2013, but are set at punter. Junior Tommy Hibbard, a former walk-on, added nearly four yards to his 2011 average, norming 43 yards per attempt. For his improvement, and for placing 40% of his punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, Hibbard was named All-ACC Second Team.

Junior Thomas Moore appears ready to succeed Casey Barth at kicker. The walk-on is no stranger to the field, filling in during 2011, and hitting 2-of-3 field goals and all 12 of his extra point tries a year ago.

Junior Sean Tapley and sophomore Romar Morris will resume their roles as kick returners after combining for an average of 23.4 yards last fall. The Tar Heels are still auditioning candidates to see who succeeds dynamic punt returner Giovani Bernard, who took a pair back for six last year.

Watch Out For… Morris to channel his inner-Gio from time to time this season. The sophomore has some of the best wheels on the Tar Heels, a natural on the punt team. If given a seam of daylight, he’s liable to make opponents pay for their sloppy coverage.
Strength: Punting. The Tar Heels led the ACC and ranked No. 10 nationally with a net punting average of more than 40 yards in 2012. The success was a collaboration of Hibbard and a coverage team that allowed just 4.9 yards per attempt. This unit will again be a hidden gem for Carolina this fall.
Weakness: Covering kicks. No area of the special teams unit needs more tinkering than the kick coverage team. The Tar Heels got exposed last year, allowing an average of 23.5 yards and three touchdowns, tied for the most in America.
Outlook: For the first time in almost a decade, Carolina does not have a Barth on the roster. Uh-oh. Moore has the tall order of acting like the third Barth brother by kicking with consistency. The punting and return games, on the other hand, are on more solid footing entering 2013. The Heels, though, must plug the leaks in kick coverage, something that haunted the team a year ago.
Rating: 5

- 2013 North Carolina Preview | 2013 North Carolina Offense
- 2013 North Carolina Defense | 2013 North Carolina Depth Chart