Head Coach Larry Fedora’s potent, up-tempo Tar Heel football offense receives most of the high-profile attention, but the Carolina skipper has been pointing to the other side of the ball as the most improved so far in 2014.
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Coach Fedora is starting to feel more and more comfortable with his big guys up front on the oft-maligned Tar Heel defense that reached its low point in 2013 inside Kenan Stadium when Carolina was completely embarrassed by an East Carolina team that ran UNC ragged in front of the home fans.
From that point on though, progress has slowly been made for defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s boys.
Earlier in the spring, the coaching staff was especially pleased with the added depth on the line.
The probable choices for the defensive tackle positions are two hefty seniors. Ethan Farmer, at 6 feet, 3 inches and 295 pounds, and Shawn Underwood, at 6 feet, 1 inch and 300 pounds, should provide solid experience for the unit.
Farmer took to the field in all 12 games in 2013 and Underwood saw action in eight contests.
But the pair of seniors will have younger athletes nipping at their heels. Junior Justin Thomason and redshirt freshman Greg Webb are both talented options, only further bolstering the depth up front.
As far as defensive end, the Tar Heels boast a trio of players who could spend time making Saturday contributions. Although junior Jessie Rogers and sophomore Junior Gnonkonde may have the edge at the position, don’t be surprised if highly-touted redshirt freshmen Nazir Jones and Dajuan Drennon stir things up in opposing teams’ backfields.
However, the star of this defensive unit is no doubt senior bandit Norkeithus Otis. His place in the starting lineup is unquestioned. Earlier this week, Otis tabbed as a contender for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive performer.
If Otis follows up his heroics in 2013 with even more improvement, 2014 could shape up to be something special in his Chapel Hill swansong.
The competition should be fierce heading into fall practice. But that’s good news for the Tar Heels.
Despite the brutal losses of Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson to the NFL, the Carolina defensive line appears, at least for the time being, to be in capable hands.