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2009 North Carolina Preview - Defense
North Carolina LB Bruce Carter
North Carolina LB Bruce Carter
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 14, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Defense

North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN North Carolina Preview | 2009 UNC Offense
- 2009 UNC Defense | 2009 UNC Depth Chart
- 2008 UNC Preview | 2007 UNC Preview | 2006 UNC Preview 

What you need to know: North Carolina doesn’t have the best defense in the ACC. It does, however, have one of the most athletic collections of talent in the league. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers wants his kids to play fast and loose, which isn’t going to be a problem. Can they, however, play better? Despite featuring next-level players at each unit, the Heels were only slightly better than average, finishing 11th in the conference in total defense. With nine starters back from that group, more is expected. Much more. All of those emerging sophomores, like DT Marvin Austin, LB Quan Sturdivant, CB Kendric Burney, and S Deunta Williams, are now juniors with all-star potential. If the line can get more pressure and the secondary makes more stops, this defense has the ingredients to carry the program a long way.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Quan Studivant, 122
Sacks: Bruce Carter, 5
Interceptions: Kendric Burney, Deunta Williams, 3

Star of the defense
: Junior DT Marvin Austin
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior SS Da’Norris Searcy
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Robert Quinn
Best pro prospect: Austin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Junior CB Kendric Burney, 2) Austin, 3) LB Quan Sturdivant
Strength of the defense: Depth and talent in the front seven, creating turnovers, team speed
Weakness of the defense: Pressure from the edge, softness in pass coverage

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Every linemen from 2008 is back in Chapel Hill, making this unit the team’s strongest and deepest. Junior DT Marvin Austin is gearing up for his third season as a regular and the type of season that brings him national notoriety. He’s one of those explosive, disruptive interior linemen, who gets gobbled up by the NFL on the opening day of the draft. At 6-3 and 300 pounds, he’s quick off the snap and able to use his upper body strength to gain an edge. Voted the team’s Defensive Lineman of the Year, he had 38 tackles and a sack, modest numbers for his abilities.

Next to Austin will be 6-4, 330-pound Cam Thomas, a more traditional space-eater and run-stopper. He excelled in his first season as a full-timer, making 34 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Far more agile than expected for someone his size, he’s going to attract plenty of attention from NFL scouts throughout the fall.

Last year’s unexpected performer was Robert Quinn, who parlayed an inspirational season into Freshman All-American recognition and the Brian Piccolo Award given to the ACC’s most courageous player. Not long after overcoming a brain tumor in his senior year of high school, he emerged as the Heels’ top pass rusher, making 34 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles. At 6-5 and 260 pounds, he’s also got the size to be an asset in run defense.

For now, speedy 6-2, 280-pound senior E.J. Wilson has the edge at weakside end, but he’ll have to ramp up his production to hold off some of the upwardly-mobile kids. Despite starting all 13 games in 2008, his numbers slipped dramatically to 38 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and just one sack. Although he did lead the team with 13 quarterback hurries, he needs to close the deal on more of those pressures.      

Projected Top Reserve: Lurking behind Wilson is sophomore Quinton Coples, one of the headliners from the 2008 recruiting class. While he lists at 6-6 and 245 pounds, he’s gotten much bigger during offseason training without losing the range or athleticism that makes him so difficult to block. Once his fundamentals catch up with his physique, he’s going to be a force looping around the edge.

In senior Aleric Mullins and sophomore Tydreke Powell, the Tar Heels have a pair of quality 6-3, 300-pounders to provide depth on the interior of the line. An important part of the rotation for the last three years, he played in all 13 games in 2008, making a dozen tackles, two tackles for loss, and a pair of fumble recoveries. He’s a solid run defender, with the experience to play a bigger role if needed.

Powell gave a glimpse why he was one of the most decorated defensive tackle recruits of 2007, debuting with 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Explosive for a big man, he’s able to fight through blockers and accelerate quickly into the backfield. With Thomas and Mullins down to a final year of eligibility, he’ll be ready to really skyrocket in 2010.


Watch Out For ... Austin to have a salary-drive season. Yeah, his numbers were down last year, but that had something do with all of the attention he was getting from opposing linemen. Now three years removed from high school, he recognizes that one monster season in Chapel Hill could bring a lot of love from the NFL advisory committee in December.
Strength
: Depth. Thanks to the outstanding recruiting of Butch Davis and John Bunting before him, Carolina boasts one of the best rotations of defensive linemen in the ACC. Forget the two-deep. The Heels can easily go three-deep with productive players now that DT Darius Massenburg and ends Gregg Elleby and Michael McAdoo have started to emerge.
Weakness: Sacks. If this is truly one of the league’s most dominant defensive lines, it must start acting like it on passing downs. The Heels were 11th among the ACC’s dozen teams a year ago, and would have been worse had the linebackers not pitched in. Quinn, Wilson, McAdoo, Elleby need to generate more heat, so the linebackers and defensive backs don’t have to.
Outlook: The parts are in place for this to be a dynamite defensive front, but now the Heels have to put that potential into action. After finishing 56th nationally against the run and 80th in sacks, the defense is capable of so much more, provided the line gets a better push up front. The competition, which won’t go away, should help keep everyone focused and motivated. 
Rating
: 8.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The graduation of steady Mark Paschal has forced 6-2, 235-pound junior Quan Sturdivant to shift from weakside to middle linebacker for the upcoming season. He’s coming off a breakout year that was highlighted by a team-best 122 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and two interceptions. Blessed with outstanding range and sideline-to-sideline speed, the former star quarterback is ready to become one of the ACC’s most productive defensive players.

In many ways, 6-3, 230-pound junior Bruce Carter is a carbon-copy of Sturdivant with an equally impressive future. Also a converted quarterback from his prep days, he has explosive tendencies whenever he gets near the ball. A bona fide defensive playmaker, he tallied 68 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, a 66-yard interception return for a score, and five blocked kicks. No. 54 needs to be accounted for at all times.

The newcomer to the lineup is expected to be 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Zach Brown, who’s slotted in to handle Sturdivant’s old weakside job. He has outstanding speed, but needs to harness it and become more disciplined, making sure he’s not zooming past the play. Mostly a special teams performer in 2008, he got his feet wet with six tackles as a true freshman.

Projected Top Reserves: While academic issues delayed his arrival, true freshman Kevin Reddick is thrilled to be on campus and competing for playing time. Physically, he’s the total package, a 6-3, 230-pounder, who can make stops all over the field. If he can flatten the learning curve between now and September, he’ll back up Sturdivant in the middle and earn his first letter.

Now that he’s made it all the way back from a devastating knee injury in 2007, 6-2, 230-pound sophomore Linwan Euwell is hoping to provide some much-needed depth behind the starters. After playing in six games on special teams a year ago, he’ll caddy for Carter at strongside and get more reps on defense.

Watch Out For ... big plays. It’s what Sturdivant and Carter do best. The juniors react with the mindset of offensive players, doing whatever is necessary to get a hand on the ball. Both are terrific in pass coverage, each turning an interception into six points a year ago.
Strength
: Athleticism. Sturdivant and Carter are a couple of thoroughbreds, but they’re not alone. Brown gets from Point A to Point B in a hurry, and all of the backups are very athletic. Stringing out running plays is not a problem for this group.
Weakness: Overall experience. While there are no worries about the two front-liners, after them, there’s genuine cause for concern. Brown still needs to show that he belongs in the lineup at weakside, and none of the reserves have much relevant experience. Is it time to lure back senior
Ryan Taylor, the current starting H-back and special teams ace?
Outlook: The good news? Sturdivant and Carter are All-ACC-caliber players. The bad news? The drop-off after them is steep. While the two juniors are good enough to carry this unit, it’d certainly help if the supporting cast, namely Brown and Reddick, is able to pull its weight.
Rating
: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Carolina loses just one starter from last year, but it’s a huge one. All-American Trimane Goddard is out of eligibility, leaving junior Da’Norris Searcy as the heir apparent at strong safety. While it won’t be easy, he just might be up to the challenge. An extremely physical and aggressive 6-0, 200-pounder, he’ll be bringing more speed and better open-field tackling to the secondary. Playing mostly on special teams in 2008, he had 26 tackles and a couple of sacks.

The job at free safety belongs to junior Deunta Williams as soon as he returns from offseason wrist surgery. The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, he’s strung together two terrific seasons for the Tar Heels, including last year’s 65 tackles and three interceptions. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he has the size to dish out punishment and the feet to excel in pass coverage.

The Heels’ premier cover corner will once again be 5-9, 185-pound junior Kendric Burney. While vulnerable against some of the league’s bigger receivers, he is very feisty and dangerous when the ball is in the air. He finished third on the team with 78 tackles, adding 7.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, and five pass break ups. A playmaker on the perimeter and member of the All-ACC second team, he continues to improve in pass coverage.

In 2008, 5-10, 185-pound senior Jordan Hemby gave a hint to his potential when he was completely healthy. Hindered by an ACL tear suffered in 2006, he regrouped last fall, starting all 13 games and making 49 tackles, three tackles for loss, and three pass break ups. A natural athlete with great hips, he should be even more effective in his second full year back.   

Projected Top Reserves: Last year’s nickel back, 5-10, 200-pound junior Charles Brown, returns to reprise that role in 2009. A very nice player to have as a third cornerback, he appeared in 10 games last year, making 26 tackles and breaking up a couple of passes. While still needing to sharpen his coverage skills, he has the size to defend the run like a safety.

Senior S Melvin Williams never quite fulfilled forecasts in his first year out of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, but he plans to change that in 2009. He delivered a quiet debut, making five tackles and mostly appearing on special teams. However, the 6-0, 195-pounder still has the tools that made him a can’t-miss JUCO recruit, namely the intensity to play safety, and the cover skills and speed to handle corner. 

Watch Out For ... the “other” Williams. Melvin Williams received rave reviews from the coaching staff last spring, but just never kept the momentum going in the fall. He’s too good to be so quiet, and with a full offseason to get bigger and stronger, he’s eyeing 2009 as a chance for redemption.
Strength: Forcing mistakes. Even without Goddard’s thievery, this is a scrappy, athletic bunch of defenders, who’ll bat balls in the air and take them back the other way. After averaging just nine picks in the previous two years, Carolina had 20 in 2008.
Weakness: Defending the pass. North Carolina State was the only ACC school that allowed quarterbacks to complete a higher percentage of passes in 2008. For the second straight year, the Tar Heels were painfully soft in pass coverage, allowing an almost 62% completion percentage to opponents.
Outlook: The Meineke Car Care Bowl was an omen that this group must heed. West Virginia’s Pat White carved up the Carolina secondary, going 26-of-32 for 332 yards and three interceptions. While there are some valuable building blocks, like Burney and Deunta Williams, the Heels have got to become stingier against the better passers.
Rating
: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Uncertainty will be the theme of the special teams unit heading into summer. Although the Heels know that sophomore Grant Schallock will be their punter, he’s a former walk-on with no game experience. A strapping 6-7, 225-pounder, he impressed the staff in the spring with his distance and hang time.

Settling on a kicker is going to take quite a bit longer. Sophomore Casey Barth was the main man a year ago, but left an opening by missing 5-of-15 field goal attempts. He was facing a stiff challenge from another sophomore, Jay Wooten, who decided to seek a transfer from the program at the end of June.

Watch Out For ...
Johnny White. No, the return game was not the same after Brandon Tate suffered his season-ending injury, but White did stop the bleeding on kickoffs. One of the team’s fastest players, he averaged more than 25 yards a return, which placed him fourth in the ACC.
Strength: Coverage units. The Tar Heels do as good a job as anyone in the league at blocking and covering kicks. Bruce Carter is the leader of the block party, using his athleticism to bust through blockers and pressure opposing punters. Carolina was 11th nationally in kick return defense, allowing just over 18 yards a return.
Weakness: Uncertainty at both kicking spots. In two years, the Heels have lost P Terrence Brown and PK Connor Barth to graduation, leaving holes at those positions. The successors have upside, but need to display it beginning in September.
Outlook: While losing Tate in the return game is a blow, Carolina does enough of the little things to boast a solid special teams unit. Butch Davis puts a lot of emphasis on this area, and it shows in the results. They’ll block kicks, forced turnovers, and generally outplay the opposition. If the battle between Barth and Wooten inspires both kickers, everyone wins.
Rating
: 7.5

  

Related Stories
2009 North Carolina Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 14, 2009
2009 North Carolina Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 14, 2009
Schedule Preview: East Carolina
 -by InsideCarolina.com  Jul 14, 2009








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