UNC defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will be looking to build off the momentum of his unit’s successes in the latter half of the 2013 campaign. Armed with more experience and confidence, the Tar Heels on the defensive side of the football are eager to make more noise this fall.
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Senior linebacker Travis Hughes figures to be a pivotal piece of the Carolina defensive puzzle in 2014. Hughes tallied 76 tackles, including 40 solo stops in a productive junior season.
But Hughes says the defense aims to up the ante and be even more disruptive in his final go-around in Chapel Hill.
“We are trying to take those big plays away. We’re trying to cause the big play by getting interceptions and anything we can. We’re trying to be a fast, speedy defense that’s going to run around to the ball and eliminate all of that,” Hughes says.
But there’s some worrying news surrounding defensive tackle Ethan Farmer. It remains up in the air whether the senior leader will take the field in Kenan Stadium 11 days from now due to eligibility issues.
Hughes, though, says the situation is out of his control, and the team is dealing with the possibility of Farmer’s absence and will be prepared either way.
“It’s a definite concern, but Ethan is a positive guy. We’re all praying for him. There’s nothing we can do besides pray and make sure he stays encouraged. He comes out here with so much energy. He gets the guys ready. I feel good with Ethan and am hoping everything goes well for him,” Hughes says.
Promising redshirt sophomore cornerback Des Lawrence made a big splash a year ago in the Tar Heel secondary. But the N.C. native says he’s much more at ease this season, knowing exactly what it takes to perform successfully in the ACC.
“I’m a little more experienced. I know what the game feels like. I feel more comfortable, and I believe in myself more. I just know that I’m going out there to fight for my teammates every game,” Lawrence says.
A reoccurring theme in preseason training camp has been communication. Lawrence again stresses how much more chatty his teammates have been in the lead-up to Liberty.
“Before every play we’re talking a whole bunch before the ball is snapped, just making sure everybody is on the same key and chord. I feel like we’re good. We’re going to be fast and physical this year,” Lawrence says.
Another running motif expressed by a handful of UNC players has been the improved team chemistry.
Overall, Lawrence says he feels a more powerful sense of bondage and camaraderie in the team huddle this summer.
“This year, we’re really buying into what the coaches are telling us. We really believe in the cause. We really want to be out there and make plays for one another,” Lawrence says.
Freshman cornerback M.J. Stewart has been turning heads ever since he arrived on campus. Few would be surprised to see Stewart spend a majority of his Saturdays on the field, especially if the Tar Heels choose to go with two cornerbacks.
Stewart’s play has been catching the attention of sophomore Brian Walker. He says Stewart is the total package.
“He has an edge about him. He’s really aggressive. He’s confident and came here with great technique. He’s a smart player and doesn’t make that many mistakes. He doesn’t play like a freshman. He knows how to play corner and really wants to help the team. I think that’s what people really love about him,” Walker says.
There’s more attention being paid to the athletic array of talent flying around the Carolina secondary these days following the taste offered up by Walker and company in 2013.
Walker says he’s embracing the hype and is looking forward to backing it up with more highlights.
“I think we did a pretty good job last year. […] We made a couple plays, and I think that’s what people want to follow up on,” Walker says.
Plenty of eyes will certainly be on Lawrence, Walker and the rest of the Tar Heel defense as the finishing touches are put on the game plan for the No. 23-ranked North Carolina team.