2008 North Carolina Preview - Defense
North Carolina S Deunta Williams
North Carolina S Deunta Williams
Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Defense

North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN North Carolina Preview | 2008 UNC Offense
- 2008 UNC Defense | 2008 UNC Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN UNC Preview | 2006 CFN UNC Preview 

What you need to know: When defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano left to coach the Baltimore Ravens, it opened the door for Everett Withers to return to his Carolina roots. An energetic teacher with a specialty for coaching defensive backs, he inherits far more young talent than he left behind at Minnesota. The Tar Heels will feature up-and-coming sophomores at each level, including DT Marvin Austin, LB Quan Sturdivant, and FS Deunta Williams. Withers would like to turn his smallish, athletic group of defenders loose on the blitz periodically, but he’ll need to have more confidence in a young and vulnerable group of cornerbacks that took its lumps a year ago. Finding a replacement for sack-happy DE Hilee Taylor will be one of the staff’s main priorities.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Charles Brown, Trimaine Goddard, 59
Sacks: E.J. Wilson, 5
Interceptions: Deunta Williams, 3

Star of the defense: Sophomore FS Deunta Williams
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DB Melvin Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Quan Sturdivant
Best pro prospect: Sophomore DT Marvin Austin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Deunta Williams, 2) Austin, 3) Sturdivant
Strength of the defense: The middle of the defense, the safeties
Weakness of the defense: Proven depth at cornerback, edge rushers

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Tar Heels will have work to do on a line that loses its two best players to graduation, DE Hilee Taylor and DT Kentwan Balmer. The hope is that Balmer’s interior presence can be replaced by 6-3, 305-pound sophomore Marvin Austin, one of the most touted recruits in school history. Austin showed off his unique package of explosive speed and raw power, collecting 26 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks, and a slew of postseason honors as a true freshman. He’ll likely be joined on the inside by junior Aleric Mullins, who started the final four games and began flashing some of the run-stuffing ability that made him one of the program’s top recruits of 2006. While not in the league as Austin, the 6-3, 295-pounder used a quick first step to make 19 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks in his first season of eligibility.

Someone needs to pick up the slack left by Taylor, who had 16 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks a year ago. The top candidate is E.J. Wilson, a 6-2, 265-pound junior that had 44 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks as a 12-game starter. A speedy convert from the offensive side of the ball, he needs to get even more pressure on the quarterback without having Taylor around to deflect attention. 

The battle at the opposite end will be an interesting and important one that’ll last throughout the summer. Sophomores Greg Elleby, Darrius Massenburg, and Darius Powell will all have a fair shot to show the staff they can beat opposing tackles and collapse the pocket. At 6-4 and 285 pounds, Elleby is big enough to defend the run, but needs to show the explosion necessary to make plays for negative yards. Massenburg played in eight games as a freshman, earning a letter and making 11 tackles. Now 6-3 and 280 pounds, he has grown considerably since arriving from high school, but missed spring ball recovering from a broken bone in his wrist. 

While Powell is the smallest of the contenders at 6-2 and 230 pounds, he’s also the fastest, flashing the type of burst off the edge that made Taylor so successful as a senior.         

Projected Top Reserve
: While there’s genuine concern about the depth at end, such a problem doesn’t exist at tackle.  The Heels really like the upside of their reserve interior linemen, who’ll get plenty of chances for reps this fall.  Junior Cam Thomas has lettered in each of the last two seasons, starting three games a year ago. A space-eater at 6-3 and 330 pounds, he won’t get much penetration, but will occupy multiple linemen and provide support against the run. 

Classmate Tavares Brown, a 6-0 and 290-pound junior, made a pair of starts and nine tackles last year, gaining the experience needed to bolster Carolina’s depth on the second unit.

His redshirt season behind him, 6-3, 310-pound freshman Tydreke Powell can begin fulfilling the expectations that made him one of the nation’s top prep tackles of 2007. Another explosive big man, he’s quick enough to rip through the gap and make plays behind the line.

Watch Out For ... Austin. The Tar Heel line is searching for an identity, something Austin is capable of providing in his second year. He has the skill set and mindset of an All-American to go along with an opportunity to become the defense’s new leader up front.
Strength: Interior depth. Even after losing Balmer to the NFL, the Tar Heels have a ton of potential on the inside that begins with Austin and Mullins and ends with Thomas and Powell.
Weakness: Outside pressure. Someone other than Wilson needs to step up and replace some of Taylor’s production as a pass rusher. Although there are plenty of candidates, none of them have proven anything at this level.
Outlook: While you don’t get better by losing players like Taylor and Balmer, the Heels are optimistic that they’ve recruited well enough to overcome the losses. With the middle of the line shaping up nicely, the key here will be to develop a couple of ends that can disrupt an opposing passing game.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: While the Tar Heels lose the services of top linebacker Durell Mapp, they get back senior Chase Rice, who was lost for the season in the opener with a broken ankle. A starter on the strongside at the time of the injury, the 6-3, 230-pounder was on the verge of having the best season of his Carolina career. The time away from the game had its benefits for a bigger and wiser Rice, who worked off his pent up energy in the weight room and the film room. 

Rice is likely to be flanked on the other side by 6-2, 230-pound Quan Sturdivant, a sophomore that played very well as a rookie, making five starts and 46 tackles.  nce his field awareness catches up with his speed and sideline-to-sideline range, he’ll have a chance to be an elite ACC linebacker. 

Senior Mark Paschal worked his way into the lineup at middle linebacker late last year, showing the tenacity and work ethic of a defender that plans to keep his job. Despite being 6-0 and 230 pounds and starting just four games, he had 53 tackles and led Tar Heel linebackers with 6.5 tackles for loss. In the finale with Duke, Paschal had a career day, making 17 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.         

Projected Top Reserves:
Pushing for time in the middle will be junior Wesley Flagg, a faster option than Paschal, who too often got caught out of position and is lacking in football instincts and field awareness. On the outside, depth and competition will be provided by sophomore Bruce Carter and junior Kennedy Tinsley

The 6-3, 225-pound Carter has a very bright future in Chapel Hill after debuting with 25 tackles, two tackles for loss, and three pass breakups in seven starts.  A former quarterback and safety, he still has plenty to absorb at the position, but has the athleticism to help get him over the learning curve. Tinsley is a 6-0, 220-pound career special teamer looking for an increased role on defense. 
Watch Out For ...Paschal to lead the Tar Heels in tackles. He’s not the biggest or the quickest of the linebackers, but he plays fast and has a knack for sniffing out the play. With a full season as the starter, he’ll rack up big numbers for a defense that’s on the prowl for senior leadership.
Strength: Outside speed. The return of Rice and the development of Sturdivant and Carter give Carolina three quality athletes that started games a year ago and can carry out the staff’s desire to create backfield havoc.
Weakness: Proven depth. Aside from Carter, the Heels are in a precarious position on the second and third units. Reserve H-back Ryan Taylor has been relocated in the hopes that his tackling ability on special teams will translate to the defense.
Outlook: Even without Mapp, this unit has a chance to be better than last year, provided it can make a few more big plays and its depth doesn’t have to be tested. The top four of Sturdivant, Paschal, Rice, and Carter have a nice blend of youth and experience that could produce one All-ACC performer.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The defense gets everyone back from a young secondary that showed signs of progress late last year.  Although Deunta Williams is only beginning his sophomore year, he’s already the star of the defensive backfield. A receiver before the season began, he made a seamless move to free safety, making 57 tackles and picking off three passes en route to being named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the year. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he can pack a punch, yet has the closing speed and playmaking ability of a corner. 

Returning to strong safety is Trimane Goddard, a third-year starter with the build and mentality of a cornerback.  At only 5-11 and 195 pounds, he has had at least 50 tackles in each of the last two seasons and forced three fumbles a year ago as an improving open field tackler.    

The Tar Heels started a pair of freshmen in 2007, Charles Brown and Kendric Burney, who’ll benefit from last year’s baptism under fire. Both are undersized, quick defenders that are prone to getting burned by some of the league’s bigger receivers. 

At only 5-9 and 180 pounds, Burney was surprisingly feisty in run support, making 40 solo stops and 4.5 tackles for loss.  A little bigger at 5-10 and 190 pounds, Brown had 59 tackles, five tackles for loss, and a pair of picks.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Melvin Williams was signed out of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College to contribute right away. One of the nation’s premier JUCO recruits, he has the 6-0, 205-pound frame and intensity to play safety, and the cover skills and speed to handle the corner.  Because of the dire need for depth at cornerback, the hope in Chapel Hill is that Williams can beat out Burney or Brown and solidify one side of the field. 

The Heels are also cautiously optimistic that junior Jordan Hemby is all the way back from an ACL tear he suffered in 2006.  A 5-10, 185-pound special team performer a year ago, he has the hips and change-of-direction to climb the depth chart in the summer. 

Sophomore Johnny White was moved to corner from running back to see if his 4.3 speed can be translated into success on the defensive side of the ball.

Carolina loves its young safeties, who'll spend another year as reserves before battling for Goddard’s job in 2009. Sophomores Shaun Draughn, Da’Norris Searcy, and Jonathan Smith lettered on special teams in 2007, and will spend this fall improving their knowledge of the playbook and new defensive coordinator Everett Withers’ system.

Watch Out For ...the “other” Williams. After taking part in his first spring in Chapel Hill, Melvin Williams left the coaching staff with no buyer’s remorse. He’s ready to play in the ACC, with the versatility that makes him doubly valuable on this defense.
Strength: The safeties. The Heels are set with Williams and Goddard in the lineup, while the sophomore trio of Draughn, Searcy, and Smith give the second unit a jolt of young legs and substantial upside.
Weakness: Big plays. Carolina needs to make more game-changing plays, while reducing the number of long balls allowed, a problem last season. The Heels are too athletic in the secondary to average just nine interceptions over the last two years.
Outlook: After finishing No. 11 in the ACC in pass efficiency defense and allowing 62% of opponents’ passes to be completed, the young Tar Heel secondary has plenty of growing up to do.  Everyone is a year older, which will help immensely if the corners don’t wilt against the better passing teams.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The top priority on special teams will be to replace K Connor Barth, a four-year starter and the Heels’ all-time leader in field goals. Redshirt freshman Jay Wooten was recruited for this exact moment. One of the top-rated kickers of 2007, the 6-3, 180-pounder is still a little raw, but has a huge leg on kickoffs. If Wooten fails to lock down the job, Carolina will be forced to turn to one of two sophomore walk-ons, Trase Jones or Reid Phillips.

Senior Terrence Brown did a respectable job in his first year as the Tar Heel punter, averaging 41.4 yards a punt and downing more than a third of attempts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.  His only competition could come from Wooten, who doubles as a punter with long legs and good thump on his kicks. At worst, Wooten is the front-runner to handle both duties in 2009.

In senior Brandon Tate, North Carolina boasts one of the ACC’s better return men, a versatile special teamer who led the league in all-purpose yards and is already the school’s all-time leader in kickoff return yards. He’s scored five touchdowns on returns with at least one in each of the last three years.
Watch Out For ... better results from Brown.  It’s his second season since transferring from junior college, and the presence of Wooten will provide just enough of a push needed to tighten up his overall consistency.  
Strength: Tate. He consistently gives the Tar Heels good field position, while providing a threat to go the distance every time he gets a seam or a timely block downfield.
Weakness: Kick coverage. A strength two years ago, the Tar Heels regressed in 2007, finishing 11th in the ACC in punt coverage and last in kickoff coverage. Both numbers need to be reversed if the special teams unit is going to provide any support to the Carolina defense.
Outlook: While the Tar Heels must get better at covering punts and kicks, this unit will be judged on how well Wooten can replace Barth. While he certainly has the leg strength to play the position, he needs to prove he can hit the clutch kicks nearly as well as his predecessor.
Rating: 7.5