So we are just a little over a week out until college football kicks off again. North Carolina seems to be moving right along under Larry Fedora and should be well amped up by now to get on the field and begin the quest for the Coastal Division crown. Obviously with fall camp, you hear a number of good things the team is doing and, likewise, a number of concerns. Listening to the experts break down Carolina’s situation has been interesting to say the least, but a few topics have been consistently brought up. One of which is the depth on defense.
I wish I had access to watch the Tar Heels practices in person as that would give me a much clearer perspective of how things are going from a defensive depth standpoint, but from all that I’ve read and heard, there isn’t a ton of flexibility. It seems that, for the most part, the starters are locked in aside from 2 or 3 slots. It also helps that the said starters have a fair amount of experience. Tre Boston (FS), Kareem Martin (DE), Jabari Price (CB), Terry Shankle (Ram) and Tim Jackson (DT) are all seniors and bring tons of combined starts to the table. Following them, are Travis Hughes (Will), Tim Scott (CB) and Shaun Underwood (DT) who are all juniors. If you take those and add either Norkeithus Otis or Darius Lipford (both juniors) to the group as the Bandit, then you have nine of your eleven starters with at least 3 seasons of experience at the college level.
The two positions seemingly in question on defense, at this point, are the Mike Linebacker and Strong Safety slots. Heading into camp, Dominque Green and Darien Rankin were the favorites for the safety position beside Boston and should remain so even though both players have been banged up according to reports. Rankin had a good season last year contributing with three interceptions and Green had an outstanding spring so the staff should feel comfortable with either one back there as long as both are healthy enough to play. As far as the other linebacker is concerned, the job looks to favor redshirt freshman Dan Mastromatteo or sophomore walk on Jeff Schoettmer once you figure in all the injuries around them on the depth chart.
Unfortunately, football is a game that requires more than just 11 guys taking every snap, especially when the offense moves at the pace that North Carolina’s does. Guys on the defense will need to be well rested in order to manage the risk of injury and the South Carolina running game. Fedora and his staff know this very well and have been scrambling to plug holes up the best that they can.
Injuries have been a major benefactor towards the depth concerns for Fedora and his defensive coordinator Dan Disch. They’ve already lost super talented bandit Shakeel Rashad and safety Sam Smiley for the year and other contributors from a season ago such as Tommy Heffernan and PJ Clyburn are also banged up. If that’s not enough, up and coming linebacker Nathan Staub and versatile corner TJ Jiles have also been ailing. Most of these players will hopefully be ready for week one, but until then, inexperienced freshmen, walk ons and players like Jack Tabb and Damian Washington, that have converted to two way players, are taking reps with the second team. That doesn’t bode well for a team preparing to take on a top 10 SEC team on the road.
I trust that Fedora and Disch will have more than one contingency plan around the defensive depth next week, but until then we just need to hope that those that are healthy remain healthy and those that aren’t, get so before next week. Regardless, there will be much more experienced talent that will take the field against South Carolina than there was against LSU in 2010 and that in and of itself is encouraging, but in order to win these types of games, continuity is required.