There may be a concerning lack of size and power, but the UNC defense is making up for it with speed and energy as the Tar Heels continue to hit the practice field hard in preparation for the Liberty contest Aug. 30.
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Losing defensive end Kareem Martin to the NFL leaves a noticeable void for the Carolina big men up front to fill. And what’s more, those ‘big men’ aren’t all that big.
Head coach Larry Fedora isn’t hiding anything. He recognizes what he has to work with on the defensive line and says the coaching staff will do their best to game plan around the absence of a single player on the defensive roster over 300 pounds.
“I’m concerned about it. You bring in some young guys that are going to have to get ready to play. There are a lot of ways that we can go, but we have to find the best scenario for us. We understand that we may not be as big or as thick as we might want to be, so we’ll probably doing a lot more moving,” Coach Fedora says.
Still, despite the relative lightness on the weight scales, positive developments have been on display during training camp, including a standout performance by the opportunistic unit last weekend in the first preseason scrimmage.
Senior safety Tim Scott attributes the improved play to a concerted effort to play with more optimism and passion.
“Practice is going really well. The team is more energized than last year. We’ve put a big emphasis on being energized and more positive in practice,” Scott says.
Even though Scott has no doubt assumed a strong leadership role heading into 2014, he says the rest of his teammates also have a big impact on him.
“It doesn’t take a senior to be a leader. I’m doing my best to lead the team, but we also have the young guys doing their best to make sure that if I’m off one play to energize me. If they’re off one play, I’ll energize them,” Scott says.
Scott has seen a noticeable increase in overall team speed in training camp. With the added boost, Scott says the defense is able to play more aggressively.
“We’re a lot faster than we’ve been in the secondary in past years, so we’ve been playing a lot of man-coverage, which means we’re closer to the receivers to make those plays,” Scott says.
Defensive tackle Justin Thomason is doing his best to beef up the UNC defensive line. The 289-pound junior is still looking to tack on a few more pounds before the opening kickoff.
“It’s the weight issue. I’m about 288, 289 right now. It definitely helps inside versus 260, 265. That definitely helps. I’m going to get a little bit above 290 and stay there for the season,” Thomason says.
With a heightened energy level and a spike in speed, the Carolina defense has seemingly held up thus far in preseason rounds, but the true test will come 16 days from now with live action in Kenan Stadium.