2010 North Carolina Preview – Defense
North Carolina LB Bruce Carter
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What you need to know: Sometimes a mob mentality isn't such a bad thing. All six of Carolina's defensive all-stars put off the NFL Draft for one more season, ensuring that the program will again boast one of the nation's nastiest and stingiest defenses. The group that allowed 17 points and an ACC-low 269 yards brings back All-America candidates at every level, Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin up front, Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter at linebacker, and Deunta Williams and Kendric Burney in the secondary. From creating turnovers to creating pressure, there's nothing this veteran unit doesn't do well, meaning the only offseason objectives are to build more depth and guard against overconfidence.
Star of the defense: Junior DE Robert Quinn
Tackles: Quan Sturdivant, 79
Sacks: Robert Quinn, 11
Interceptions: Deunta Williams, 6
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Quinton Coples
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Kevin Reddick
Best pro prospect: Quinn
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Quinn, 2) Senior CB Kendric Burney, 3) Senior LB Quan Sturdivant
Strength of the defense: Star power at every level, run defense, pass defense, athleticism, takeaways, third down defense
Weakness of the defense: Proven depth, occasional lapses in pass coverage
Projected Starters: Losing two starters on the defensive line might unnerve most programs, but not North Carolina, which has recruited the position exceedingly well. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have All-America candidates on the outside and inside. Junior DE Robert Quinn had his coming-out party last fall, making 52 tackles, a league-best 19 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and six forced fumbles en route to a spot on the All-ACC first team. Unusually quick at 6-5 and 270 pounds, it'll be a shock if he isn't on someone's NFL roster at this time next year.
Replacing E.J. Wilson at the other end spot will be 6-6, 275-pound junior Quinton Coples, who shined with 22 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks as a reserve last season. On physical ability alone, he has a chance to be a Mario Williams-like terror coming off the edge, but he needs to tighten up his overall consistency and take full advantage of the attention Quinn is certain to receive.
Senior Marvin Austin is to the interior what Quinn is to the ends, a returning all-star and a lineman who requires more than one blocker. A potential first round pick had he opted for the NFL in 2010, he combines an explosive first step with the upper body strength to shove linemen into reverse. Another All-ACC first teamer a year ago, his 42 tackles, six tackles for loss, and four sacks don't even begin to shed light on his disruptive nature.
The favorite to replace Cam Thomas and line up next to Austin is 6-3, 300-pound junior Tydreke Powell. A key part of the rotation the past two seasons, he chipped in with 24 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks in 2009. After waiting patiently behind some really good players, he has the power, athletic ability, and experience to deliver a terrific debut as a starter.
Projected Top Reserves: Caddying for Quinn at one defensive end spot will again be 6-7, 245-pound junior Michael McAdoo . Maybe. He could also earn the start next to the junior after erupting for four sacks in the spring game. He played in all 13 as a member of the rotation and a pass rush specialist, collecting 20 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a sack. A fluid athlete, he has the long arms to swim past offensive tackles and obstruct the quarterback's vision.
For much-needed depth on the inside, Carolina is hoping 6-3, 295-pound redshirt freshman Jared McAdoo is ready to become a steady contributor after redshirting in his first year. A key recruit from the 2009 class, he flashes good quickness off the snap and the ability to create backfield pressure.
Sophomore DE Donte Paige-Moss played in eight games as a rookie, and should see a considerable spike in playing time in his second year. One of the state's premier high school players in 2009, he brings the speed of an outside linebacker and the strength of a physically mature 6-4, 250-pounder.
Watch Out For .... no drop-off. Sure, the Tar Heels lost some key players to graduation, but they're well-fortified at both tackle and end thanks to the recruiting of Butch Davis and his staff. With Austin and Quinn garnering so much attention, Coples and Powell, in particular, are poised for big breakthrough seasons.
Strength: Stopping the run. So quick off the snap, Carolina has a knack for blowing up running plays before they have a chance to develop. With a ton of help from the front line, this defense was No. 10 nationally and No. 1 in the ACC at stopping the run, yielding 95 yards a game and 2.8 yards a carry.
Weakness: Depth on the interior. Assistant John Blake loves to rotate his linemen, ensuring that everyone is fresh for all four quarters. Will he insert tackles so liberally now that Thomas and Aleric Mullins have graduated? It'll depend on the development of McAdoo and junior Jordan Nix, who haven't played much football at this level.
Outlook: Davis and his assistants have quietly turned Chapel Hill into an NFL pipeline for defensive linemen. Carolina is once again loaded with next-level talent up front, boasting All-America candidates in Quinn and Austin and a very capable supporting cast. It'll again dominate the line of scrimmage, clogging running lanes and keeping quarterbacks from getting comfortable in the pocket.
Projected Starters: Everyone of relevance is back for a corps of linebackers that promises to be among the best in the ACC, if not the country. The front man of the trio will again be 6-2, 235-pound senior Quan Sturdivant, the first Tar Heel linebacker in 12 years to be named first team All-ACC. Playing in the middle and at weakside, he collected a team-best 79 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and a sack, flashing the closing speed and range that have made him so dynamic.
Flanking Sturdivant at strongside will be 6-3, 230-pound senior Bruce Carter, a third-year starter coming off an All-ACC second team season. A former high school quarterback, with a playmaker's mindset, he had 65 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and a pick six for the second straight year. Never far from the action, his blend of lateral quickness and ferocious hits are a recipe for turnovers.
How talented is sophomore Kevin Reddick. As a true freshman, the staff felt comfortable enough moving him into the lineup at middle linebacker and shifting Sturdivant back to weakside. He went on to start seven games, making 45 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. From a physical standpoint, he's already a complete package, a confluence of agility and instincts in a 6-3, 230-pound. He'll be good this fall, but will really flourish beginning in 2011.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Zach Brown is an absolute luxury to have on the second unit, a talented veteran who started six games a year ago at weakside. Despite being 6-2 and 225 pounds, he's one of the fastest Tar Heels and a member of the indoor track team. He used that blazing speed to rack up 47 tackles and four tackles, while remaining a threat on special teams.
The likely successor at strongside to Carter is 6-4, 225-pound sophomore Dion Guy, who played on special teams and appeared in seven games, making five tackles in his first year. Yet another Carolina linebacker with track speed, he has great range and lateral quickness, but still needs to fill out a bit more.
Watch Out For .... game-changing plays. They've become the benchmarks of Carter's and Sturdivant's games, and Reddick will be looking to follow in their footsteps. All three read and react with the mindset of skill position players, sniffing out the ball and knowing what to do when they get in their mitts.
Strength: Athleticism. Yeah, you'll get arguments from a few SEC teams, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a more athletic collection of linebackers in the country. Anywhere. The Tar Heels have had a knack in recent years for attracting elite athletes, who can cover the entire field, and molding them into dominant defenders.
Weakness: Experience in the middle. Is Reddick really ready to be the guy in the middle in just his second year on campus? He should be, but he's still young and backup Shane Mularkey was mostly a special teamer in his first season of action.
Outlook: This is going to be fun to watch. If you enjoy the kinds of linebackers, who can impose their will on every facet of opposing offenses, do not miss this ensemble of Tar Heels. Sturdivant and Carter are sure-fire NFL players, and Reddick will get there once he has enough experience. Brown provides a speedy and seasoned option off the bench.
Projected Starters: To the surprise of most observers, North Carolina welcomes back all four starters from a secondary that yielded a touchdown pass in just five of 13 games. The Heels have a returning All-ACC first teamer at cornerback and safety. Senior CB Kendric Burney earned all-star recognition for the second straight year, making 52 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and five picks for a school-record 200 return yards. While only 5-9 and 190 pounds, he's a ferocious hitter and one of the league's best cover guys.
Partnering with Burney at cornerback will again be 5-10, 205-pound senior Charles Brown, who enjoyed a solid debut as a starter. Despite being picked on more than the other defensive backs, he responded with 66 tackles, three tackles for loss, three interceptions, and a Heel-high nine pass breakups. Although he still needs to work on his coverage skills, he has the size and instincts to be another underrated asset in run defense.
Carolina's all-conference free safety is 6-2, 210-pound senior Deunta Williams, entering his fourth season as a starter. A do-it-all defensive back, he can hit like a linebacker and defend the pass as well as some cornerbacks, picking off six passes last season and a dozen for his career. He has the combination of size, speed, and focus to light up unsuspecting receivers and jump routes when opposing quarterbacks least expect it.
Putting a finishing touch on the secondary is 6-0, 210-pound senior Da'Norris Searcy, a starter at strong safety for a second straight season. One of the hardest hitters among the defensive backs, he had a career-high 35 tackles and broke up three passes in 2009. With a full year as a regular in the rear view mirror, he ought to be even more comfortable this fall.
Projected Top Reserves: The first safety off the sidelines will be 6-2, 210-pound senior Jonathan Smith. Although he's fallen short of high school expectations, he has three letters on the resume and is a valuable member of the special teams. In his busiest season as a Tar Heel, he played in all 13 games and made 11 stops and two pass breakups.
Junior LeCount Fantroy is one of a number of young cornerbacks hoping to bolster the team's questionable depth at the position. Primarily a special teamer through his first two seasons, he has ideal speed and the long arms needed to deflect balls in the air. If he continues to make progress, he'll be in line for a starting job in 2011.
Watch Out For .... the staff to try and work the reserves in whenever possible. Since all of the front liners are seniors, Butch Davis would like to build his depth, with an eye toward the future. Whenever possible, he'd like to get snaps for Fantroy, junior Matt Merletti, sophomore Mywan Jackson, and a smattering of redshirt freshmen.
Strength: Coverage skills. The Tar Heels do the two things you look for in a stingy defensive backfield, create turnovers and limit big plays. They return the same starting quartet that picked off 15 passes, took a couple back for touchdowns, and limited opponents to a nation's-low 9.7 yards a completion.
Weakness: Lapses. It's a bit of a nit-pick, but when the pass defense is bad, it has a tendency to be real bad. Two games, in particular, last season provided indisputable examples. In losses to Florida State and North Carolina State, Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson combined to go 53-of-67 for 654 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Outlook: Like the other units on this defense, North Carolina is flush with talent and returning starters, two of which should again be all-stars. Not only can this group cover and create mistakes, but combined with a hellacious pass rush, will once again be one of the nation's stingiest pass defenses.
Projected Starters: In stark contrast to this time last year, Carolina will begin the season with some stability on special teams. Junior Casey Barth showed considerable improvement as the placekicker, nailing 21-of-25 field goals and landing on the All-ACC second team. On a team with a suspect offense, he'll continue to be a valuable cog in the program's overall success.
Junior Grant Schallock punted to mixed reviews in his first season, averaging only 40.3 yards and dropping 13 of 65 attempts inside the 20-yard line. Although he looks imposing at 6-7 and 225 pounds, if he can't improve his distance and hang on, he'll could be vulnerable to the challenge of redshirt freshman C.J. Feagles. The son of longtime NFL punter Jeff Feagles, he has the pedigree and the opening to contribute early in his career.
After ranking No. 5 nationally at 14.6 yards a return, senior Da'Norris Searcy is back to handle punts. He'll also pitch in some on kickoffs, though fellow seniors Johnny White and Greg Little are also in the fold to shoulder the load.
Watch Out For… the battle at punter. It's Schallock's job to lose, but Feagles is coming on fast and has been preparing for years for this opportunity. As good as the defense already is, if the punting game gets more effective, it becomes that much harder to score on the Tar Heels.
Strength: Barth. In 2008, Carolina had an uncertain kicker looking to exit the shadow of his brother, current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Connor Barth. Today, the program boasts one of the league's best at the position and the holder of the school record for field goals in a season.
Weakness: Punting. If there was a weak link to the special teams last season, it was Schallock, who was marginal and lacked the leg drive from someone so big. He'll get a push from Feagles, which could end up helping the development of both players.
Outlook: After dipping a bit two years ago, North Carolina is back to making special teams an area of advantage versus most teams. The Heels are solid in the kicking and return games, and will use some of their best athletes to block kicks, improve field position, and generally out hustle the opponent down the field.
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