UNC Football: Secondary Improvement is a Must


This past fall when the Tar Heel defense had a team in 3rd and long situations you felt less certain about getting off the field than a 3rd and one where teams would run it up the middle. North Carolina’s defense allowed teams to convert 45% of their third downs. A combination of injuries, inconsistent play and lack of pressure put on the quarterback in those situations made UNC’s third down defense putrid at best. Moving forward to next year part of me wants to believe it was the philosophy on defense that caused our defensive backs to struggle, but my eyes tell me that the Tar Heels lacked confidence and developed some bad habits in the secondary that have to be rectified this spring and going into fall camp. With a new defense that is based on a 4-2-5 principle finding the right secondary players to run it it will be a daunting task for Coach Koenning and his staff.

UNC will lose its best cover corner in Charles Brown to the NFL. Brown who sat out the entire 2010 season was the most experienced player in the secondary during the 2011 season. Brown is an underrated cover guy who is very good against slants and being physical close to the line of scrimmage. The question: Who will emerge in the secondary still remains heading into the 2012 season for UNC?

Tre Boston who is arguably UNC’s best returning defensive back played out of position due to injuries early in the season, but moved back to Safety toward the second half of the season. The ball hawking safety should thrive in new Coach Vic Koenning’s defense. After recording 48 tackles in 2011 along with 3 interceptions it will be interesting how the junior will be used in the 4-2-5 defense. As regarding the other safety position goes Gene Robinson looked better toward the end of the year. Pete Mangum showed times where he can be a solid player, but consistency is a area both he and Robinson better improve. Do not be surprised to see a name we are not familiar with as the coaching staff will give the incoming freshman every chance to earn time in the secondary.

Tim Scott earned praise this past season from the coaching staff and responded with a strong freshman campaign. He will be a leading candidate to start at one of the corner positions. Who will line up on the other side will decided this spring in what I believe will be the fiercest competition for playing time on defense. Look for Brandon Ellerbe, Kameron Jackson and Sam Smiley to battle Jabari Price and Terry Shankle for playing time at the corner position.

An interesting component to this defense is that it that it utilizes five defensive backs as opposed to the basic four we are used to with Coach Butch Davis. One of the linebackers who does not find time in the regular rotation could be used as the fifth defensive back to help provide run support. Who that will be remains to be seen, but one thing I am certain in saying as we move into spring ball is that no one spot is guaranteed in the secondary, and following the 2011 season who can argue.

Having youth in the secondary could be a blessing for Coach Koenning because as a player you must have a bit of cockiness to play out on the island. For the North Carolina defense to be successful this group of young players must show the most growth from now to August or the “Fed Ex” will have to put up monster numbers to improve in the win column.

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