Tar Heels confident in defensive revamp

August 20, 2013 

Even with the departures of Sylvester Williams and Kevin Reddick, the two best players on North Carolina’s defense a season ago, coach Larry Fedora entered the preseason with optimism that his defense would improve on its sometimes suspect play in 2012.

Since the start of the preseason, though, the defense has been decimated by injuries. Bandit Shakeel Rashad and safety Sam Smiley, two potential starters, will miss the season because of injuries. During practices in the middle of preseason camp, it wasn’t uncommon for the defense to practice without several players nursing ailments.

Even so, Fedora has remained confident that improvement is a given.

“Because they know what to do,” he said of the defense, which struggled last season in the first year of a new 4-2-5 scheme. “(The unknown) part of it is gone. So it’s now you know what to do and you know what’s expected. Does that mean that you’re not going to give up any plays? No. Too many good football players out there, too many good offenses out there.”

Linebacker might best illustrate the kind of preseason it has been for UNC’s defense. Weeks ago, the Tar Heels had plenty of depth there. During the preseason, it became so scarce that UNC worked Jack Tabb, a tight end, at linebacker.

“Depth’s still an issue for us,” Fedora said.

Andrew Carter

Duke’s Deaver, Brown glad to be working again

Duke has two projected starters who haven’t played in a game since 2011: tight end Braxton Deaver and linebacker Kelby Brown.

Deaver, a redshirt junior, has the size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) the Blue Devils’ staff wants in a tight end. He played in all 12 games during his redshirt freshman year and earned one start, against Miami in Week 9. For the year, he caught eight passes for 107 yards and also contributed on special teams.

Deaver, who was projected to start last year, missed the season while recovering from a broken kneecap. He was able to go full speed in the spring.

“The competition, I live and die by it, so being able to get back out on the field will be a privilege, and I’m excited about it,” he said. “I’m so anxious, you have no idea.”

Deaver describes himself as a hybrid tight end, one who can block on the line and in space as well as catch passes. Quarterback Anthony Boone, Deaver’s roommate, called him the best tight end in the ACC at media day last month.

Deaver did say he grew by “leaps and bounds” last season, despite not playing.

“I was really able to mentally get everything down so that I can play fast,” he said. “I don’t have to think about what I’m going to do. I can say bang, I know what I’m doing, let’s play and react.”

Brown, meanwhile, was a two-year starter before he missed 2012 while recovering from a torn ACL. In 19 total games (17 starts), he has recorded 128 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries and three pass break-ups and sacks apiece. Because of his experience, he felt familiar with defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ schemes.

“It was tough at first, but I had to learn how to lead as a nonstarter, for the first time since I’ve been here, and I had to learn how to encourage guys,” he said. “Going from maybe getting down on guys a lot to realizing that, I’m on the sideline, all they want to hear from me is uplifting encouragement. I’m going to be able to bring that into a leadership role as a starter if I win the job this year.”

Deaver and Brown have preformed well enough in camp to solidify their starting spots. Now, for the first time in nearly two years, they’re set to take the field.

Laura Keeley

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service