2009 North Carolina Preview - Defense
North Carolina LB Bruce Carter
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Defense
North Carolina Tar Heels
Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN North
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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
Star of the defense: Junior DT Marvin Austin
Tackles: Quan Studivant,
Bruce Carter, 5
Interceptions: Kendric Burney, Deunta Williams, 3
has to step up and become a star:
Junior SS Da’Norris Searcy
on the rise: Sophomore DE Robert Quinn
all-star candidates: 1) Junior CB
Kendric Burney, 2) Austin, 3) LB Quan Sturdivant
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.