UNC Football Positional Previews: Linebackers


The 2014 college football season is right around the corner and as we get closer to kickoff, more and more people seem to be excited about the #23 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. Some are even talking about a ACC Coastal Division title. If UNC has real aspirations of reaching Charlotte, the defense must improve its play and a huge part of that will depend on how the linebackers fair. So lets take a closer look at the group who would no doubt be a huge part of a potential defensive turnaround in Chapel Hill.

Norkeithus Otis: When the topic is UNC linebackers you have to start with this guy. Norkeithus is Carolina’s top pass rusher as well as their top overall linebacker. Last season Otis started ten games at Bandit , he had 49 total tackles but he also an impressive 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. With the work that Norkeithus put last year it’s easy to see why the Tar Heel faithful and the national media are expecting big things from #8 in his senior campaign. Speaking of the high expectations, Otis was named to the Bednarik Award watch list which is an award given to the nation’s top defensive player. Count me in with the folks who thinks Norkeithus is going to have a monster year that should include double-digit sacks in 2014.

Travis Hughes: Senior Travis Hughes is a really solid player and is one of the best tacklers on the entire defense. In his junior season Hughes had his best in Chapel Hill, accumulating 76 total tackles (5.5 for loss), a sack and a fumble recovery. Travis had his best game of the season in the victory at N.C.State, he had a career high 12 tackles and helped the D have one of their better showings of 2013. As a senior, Hughes’s production should continue to increase. With all the attention Norkeithus Otis will receive, Travis should have plenty of opportunities to make plays from his outside linebacker position and as a result he should be among the leaders in tackles.

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Jeff Schoettmer: Speaking of tackling machines that exactly what Jeff Schoettmer is expected to be in his junior season. As sophomore, Jeff started 11 games at middle linebacker and had 85 tackles, 4.5 for loss. Schoettmer also had two games where he finished with double-digit tackles including a career high in the loss to Virginia Tech. This guy is one of the toughest and hardest working players on the entire team, so this season I expect him to become one of  the leaders on the defense. I think Jeff will have a fantastic 2014 and if a defensive turnaround is to happen, expect him to be right in the middle of that.

Nathan Staub: As a redshirt freshman Nathan didn’t get much PT but when he did get a chance to play the young man did produce. In eight games Staub had only 19 total tackles but in his only start versus Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, he had six tackles and a sack. Entering the 2014 season, Staub is right in the mix for a starting job and if he can win that spot, this young man could prove to be a real asset for the Tar Heels D.

Shakeel Rashad: After a preseason injury, Shakeel Rashad came back to play in five games and he showed he’s got some game. Shakeel numbers won’t overwhelm you (9 tackles, one sack) but just ask any of the UNC coaches and they’ll tell you that this young man has potential. Rashad is listed as a Bandit but we all know that spot is taken however, this guy is just too talented to sit on the bench so expect him to compete for one of the other starting linebacker positions.

Sophomores Mikey Bart, Joe Jackson and Dan Mastromatteo are the other linebackers on the roster but barring an injury, the playing time just won’t be there for any of these guys make a real impact this season.