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2007 North Carolina Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 25, 2007


Preview 2007 North Carolina Tar Heels Defense

North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 North Carolina Preview | 2007 UNC Offense Preview
- 2007 UNC Depth Chart | 2006 CFN UNC Preview 

What you need to know: It might take a year to turn things around after a disastrous 2006, but the young talent is there to get really, really excited. The defensive line has a slew of great prospects to work with, while the back seven has athleticism and quickness by design with a smallish linebacking corps. The return of Trimaine Goddard at safety will be a big help for the secondary, while the hopeful emergence of more pass rushing help for end Hilee Taylor should help the coaching staff implement it's attacking, aggressive style.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Durell Mapp, 87
Sacks: Hilee Taylor, 3
Interceptions: None

Star of the defense: Senior LB Durell Mapp
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE E.J. Wilson
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman SS Shaun Droughn
Best pro prospect: Freshman DT Marvin Austin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mapp, 2) DE Hilee Taylor, 3) FS Trimaine Goddard
Strength of the defense: Young prospects, athleticism on the defensive line
Weakness of the defense: Proven players, no experienced depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: There's one sure thing on the line, end Hilee Taylor, who finished last year with 29 tackles and three sacks. While he made a few plays against the run, the 6-3, 241-pound senior has to be a top pass rusher or he isn't effective. He has the speed and skill to get into the backfield on a regular basis, but he has yet to turn into a dangerous number one end. The other side will be up in the air until the start of the season.

At the moment, 6-2, 260-pound sophomore E.J. Wilson moved over from tight end and fullback to finish with 19 tackles and two sacks showing tremendous promise late in the year. The job would likely be his going into the fall practices, but he hurt his shoulder.

In the middle, 6-5, 288-pound Kentwan Balmer turned into a decent starter over the second half of the year. Able to play outside or in, he's athletic enough to become a dangerous interior pass rusher, but he has to play much bigger against the run. With his size and jumping ability, he's dangerous as a kick blocker stopping two extra points in the one point win over Duke.

On the other side, it's time for senior Kyndraus Guy to become a bigger factor. He has 61 career tackles and ten tackles for loss, but he's trying to get back from a knee injury and has to play bigger than his 6-2, 280-pound size.

Projected Top Reserves: Everything is on hold until the freshmen fully show what they can do. 6-3, 295-pound Marvin Austin was the star of the recruiting class and considered one of the nation's best tackle prospects. He has the potential to be a phenomenal interior pass rusher from day one and the star the line has been missing for years.

6-3, 290-pound Tydreke Powell is yet another star tackle prospect who's not the pass rushing prospect Austin is, but he's not far off. A great athlete, he should be great against the run with his quickness. While those two are the ones to potentially make the line great, they'll have to battle for their spots.

Sophomore Aleric Mullins was a tremendous recruit for the program a few years ago but hasn't been able to do anything yet after being ineligible last season. He has the talent and he has the potential to be the team's anchor on the nose battling Guy for a spot.

Fighting with Balmer and Austin will be sophomore Cam Thomas, who made 19 tackles as a key part of the rotation. He 's a big 315-pound body who needs to clog up the middle a bit more.

On the outside, 260-pound redshirt freshman Greg Elleby has the size and the upside to become a top end, but he has to push out Wilson for the starting job. With his quickness, he should be able to do it in time.

Also in the hunt for time on both sides is 6-3, 260-pound redshirt freshman Darrius Massenburg, an active athlete who could be a big linebacker or tight end if needed.
 
Watch Out For ... a huge, HUGE improvement in all-around production. Under the direction of John Blake and with Butch Davis keeping an eye on the situation, this line will make the biggest turnaround.
Strength: Potential. On skills and promise, this is one of the best lines in the ACC. The young prospects have a world of skill and great high school résumés, but ...
Weakness: Proof in the production. Is this group really good, or is it the proverbial looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane line? Austin, Massenburg, Mullins and Powell were all top recruits that got everyone fired up. Now they have to go out and play.
Outlook: The 2008 line might be the best in the ACC and among the nation's most dangerous. The 2007 line will be a work in progress with so many young players needing to show they can live up to the hype. Any improvement will be noticeable after allowing an ACC worst 173 rushing yards per game and finishing 117th in the nation in tackle for loss. Getting to the quarterback won't be a problem from all four spots, but the line has to be more well-rounded for the team to make a big jump. Expect to see things get better and better week by week.
Rating: 6.5


Linebackers

Projected Starters: Only one starter returns to the linebacking corps, but he's a good one. Senior Durell Mapp led the team with 87 tackles to go along with four tackles for loss, and while he's the new leader of the group, he has to show he can do more in pass coverage from the weakside. He's tough enough to play in the middle if needed, but he's far better suited for the outside.

Taking over for Victor Worsley in the middle will be Wesley Flagg, a speedy 6-0, 215-pound sophomore who became one of the team's defensive stars towards the end of spring ball. While he hardly has a firm grasp on the starting job going into the season, at the very least he'll be a key playmaker in the rotation.

Junior Chase Rice will also be in for a fight trying to take over the starting strongside job left by Larry Edwards. While he's not huge at 6-3 and 220 pounds he can move and he can hit making 31 tackles and two tackles for loss last year.

Projected Top Reserves: Rice will likely have to rotate with freshman Bruce Carter for the strongside job. Carter, who's build like a safety at 6-3 and 210 pounds, should finally be over a knee problem that kept him back a bit. Originally a quarterback and a safety in high school, he'll be the wild-card in the corps.

225-pound junior Mark Paschal will get plenty of consideration for the starting spot in the middle after making 23 tackles as a reserve. With good toughness and nice speed, he'll play like another starter.

220-pound senior Martel Thatch has purely been a special teamer throughout his career and now will push for time on the weakside.

This fall, true freshmen Linwan Euwell and Albert Craddock will arrive adding even more speed to the mix. They're not big, but they can move.

Soon to become a major factor will be Quan Sturdivant, a top recruit who was a star high school quarterback but at 6-3 and 225 pounds, projects as a future star at linebacker.
 
Watch Out For ... the linebackers to take the longest to adjust under the new coaching staff. The combination of overall inexperience, several newcomers, and a different approach could mean the starting threesome could need half the season before it's humming.
Strength: Speed. It remains to be seen if the corps can actually play under the new coaching staff, but everyone can run very, very well. That fits what the coaching staff wants to do with an aggressive style that'll try to attack more in the backfield.
Weakness: Size. While the corps is small by design, with a focus on speed and quickness, there isn't anyone over 225 pounds. If Carter wins the strongside job, the starting three could average 216 pounds a man.
Outlook: All new coaching staffs want to take the fight to the offense, and while UNC will attempt to do that, the linebackers will do a whole bunch of reading and reacting hoping everyone can make quick decisions on the fly as they're getting to the ball. Mapp is a sure-thing on the outside, but the other two spots are wide open and could take until mid-September before they're settled.
Rating: 5.5


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Sophomore Jermaine Strong is the only returning starter from last year to the secondary after making 18 tackles and breaking up five passes. A reserve for most of the season, he grabbed a starting job over the second half of the season making a name for himself by keeping former Georgia Tech star Calvin Johnson in check.

On the other side will likely be junior Cooter Arnold, a former running back who ran for 187 yards in 2005 and made 48 tackles and broke up two passes last year despite working in a reserve role.
A tremendous athlete able to play safety or corner, he'll find a spot somewhere if he doesn't get the starting job against James Madison.

Junior Trimaine Goddard is back after missing last year with a broken foot he suffered at the end of 2005 and then hurt again in 2006 off-season practices. One of the team's fastest players, he moved from corner to safety and made 53 tackles and three interceptions turning into a good tackler. While he's not going to hit like a ton of bricks, his range makes him a dangerous defender at free safety.

Redshirt freshman Shaun Draughn will take over for second-leading Kareen Taylor at strong safety. While he should be able to match Taylor's 70 stops (if he ends up holding down the starting job all season long), it'll be asking a lot to come up with five interceptions.

Projected Top Reserves: Neck-and-neck with Arnold for one of the starting corner jobs is redshirt freshman Kendric Burney, a decent all-around athlete who'll likely get picked on early with team's staying away from Strong. He's only 5-9 and 175 pounds, but he's quick.

Senior Kendrick Williams spent all of last year on special teams and has mostly made an impact as a kick returner, but he's being considered for one of the corner spots.

One of the team's best defensive back prospects is redshirt freshman Deunta Williams with great size (6-2 and 195 pounds) and the quickness of a much smaller player. He'll start out behind Goddard at free safety but has the athleticism to someday possibly be considered at corner.

True freshman Da'Norris Searcy is 6-0, 200 pounds, and a fantastic tackler. Is he a running back or a safety? Whatever he turns out to be, he's a big-time recruit and a great weapon for the coaching staff to play around with.
 
Watch Out For ... the secondary to be tested more. Everyone spent so much time running the ball down UNC's throat that they forgot to throw it at times. That'll change as the front seven toughens up.
Strength: Corner options. There are four decent ones with Strong likely to be the best of the bunch. There might not be a sure-thing ACC star, but there's enough talent to come up with a good year.
Weakness: Big plays. The Tar Heels made seven interceptions last year from three players, and all of them are gone.
Outlook: Everyone has to start doing more to make plays on short to medium passes. The secondary did a good job of limiting the big plays but did nothing underneath. That has to change with a more aggressive attitude and more risk taking. Expect some rough outings with several home runs allowed, but it'll turn out to be a good thing in the long run.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: For good or bad, the player the new coaching staff appears to be the most impressed with early on is senior Connor Barth, who has shown consistency, reliability, and a great leg hitting all ten of his field goal attempts bouncing back from a rough 11 of 21 2005. He has 50+ range with cranking out a 54-yard bomb against NC State.

It'll likely be up to freshman Terrence Brown to take over the punting duties from David Wooldridge, who forced 17 fair catches and put 17 inside the 20 while averaging 41.1 yards per kick. The 6-3, 190-pound Brown has a big leg, but is untested.

Sophomore Brandon Tate is one of the nation's best all-around return men averaging 24.5 yards on kickoff returns with three touchdowns and 9.4 yards per punt return.

 
Watch Out For ... the special teams to be among the best in the nation as long as Brown can punt. Tate and Barth are two of the best in the business.
Strength: Barth's range and Tate's home run hitting ability. Tate always gives the team solid field position while Barth can hit from anywhere just inside the stadium.
Weakness: Can Brown handle the work? He'll air it out from time to time, but he has to be a field position weapon and has to pin offenses deep time and again like Wooldridge did.
Outlook: With arguably the best all-around special teams in America last season with great coverage units to go along with all the other positives. There's no reason to think things will slip much under the new regime.
Rating: 9

 

Related Stories
2007 North Carolina Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 24, 2007
2007 North Carolina Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 24, 2007
2007 North Carolina Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 24, 2007








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