UNC Football Positional Preview: Secondary


The North Carolina Tar Heels football season kicks off on August 30th against the Liberty Flames at home in Kenan Stadium. To get you ready for the nationally ranked Tar Heel’s first game, Keeping It Heel will have an extensive football preview series previewing all of Carolina’s positions, games and reviewing 2013′s games. Check back to Keeping It Heel every afternoon for new preview posts. Today, let’s preview UNC Football’s secondary.

Departures: Tre Boston, Jabari Price

North Carolina is losing two starters in the secondary from last season, and two NFL-caliber defensive backs at that. Tre Boston was drafted by the Carolina Panthers and will play a big role in their secondary this season, which is a scary thought if you are a Panthers fan, and Jabari Price was picked up by Minnesota.

Boston’s loss will hurt more than Price’s loss, but neither is too big of a blow. When you look in terms of production, the losses seem worse than they will be: they combined for 174 tackles last season. But new players will step up, Brian Walker, Tim Scott and Dominique Green, specifically, that all look stronger in pass coverage than they are in run coverage. A lot of those tackles, especially from Boston, came when he was cleaning up the messes left by the linebacking core. The hope would be that in 2014, the linebackers will be better and make more of the tackles themselves, not allowing the running backs to get to the secondary and get a 10 or 12 yard gain. Regardless, Price’s steady hand on defense and Tre Boston’s hair flipping, happy dance that he did at the end of games in front of the Tar Pit will both be missed.

Returning/Arrivals: Dominique Green, Brian Walker, Tim Scott, Sam Smiley, Malik Simmons, Des Lawrence

The returning members of the secondary are young, athletic and talented. Senior Tim Scott returns as the old hand of the group. He shifts to free safety, filling the spot vacated by Boston. Brian Walker can do things like this…

I believe he will be UNC’s best cornerback since Kendrick Burney and Charles Brown roamed the field in the late Butch Davis/Everett Withers era. The one guy I didn’t mention up above would be M.J. Stewart, who had a really good spring game for the Heels as a true freshman. (You can check out his interception in the spring game at the 50 second mark of this video.) He could play a big role on third downs coming in to defend in passing situations.

Overall, I really have no concerns about this group. I think you can trot this group out against any offense in the ACC, including Jameis Winston and company, and not have to worry.

Why its good that the secondary is good

Let’s explore the bigger picture of the Tar Heel defense for a second. Everything is connected on defense–how the D-line plays greatly impacts the secondary and visa versa. The better the pass rush is, the easier the job is for the secondary, because the quarterback has less time in the pocket to make an accurate throw.

UNC will struggle to pressure the quarterback on a four man rush this season after the line suffered some big personnel losses before the start of fall camp.

That’s a big problem, because Webb was expected to have a breakout season and because Underwood was a big body in the middle that would eat up blockers. Without those two, a lot will be asked of Norkeithus Otis in the pass rush. The problem with that is that he struggled to beat offensive tackles one on one. He is much better “stunting” or attacking off of blitzes, using his athleticism and speed to dodge blockers.

If the Tar Heel secondary is strong, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s job becomes much easier. He can play man coverage in the back, let Walker, Lawrence and Scott shut down the wide receivers and bring a five or six man blitz. The Tar Heel defense is filled with athletes, especially at the bandit position. UNC must be able to blitz and blitz effectively to get after the quarterback, and that starts with having a strong secondary that you can trust to play man coverage.

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