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July 31, 2014

UNC preseason practice preview: Secondary

The Tar Heels don't lack for young talent in the defensive backfield, but how will it all come together?

North Carolina starts football practice on Friday. Between now and then, I'm providing some thoughts on where the Tar Heels stand at every position entering preseason practice.

Now we'll look at the

SECONDARY

Who's gone: S Tre Boston (94 tackles, 5 INT); CB Jabari Price (80 tackles, 9 pass break-ups)

Who's back: SS Jeff Battle (1 tackle); CB Kedrick Davis (1 tackle); CB Alex Dixon (10 tackles); SS Dominique Green (59 tackles, 3 INT, 1 TD); FS Kameron Jackson (2 tackles); CB Des Lawrence (8 tackles); Ram Ryan Mangum (4 tackles); R Donnie Miles; FS Tim Scott (49 tackles, 2 INT); R Malik Simmons (47 tackles, 2 for loss); SS Sam Smiley; CB Brian Walker (21 tackles, 1 INT)

Newcomers: DB Cameron Albright; S Allen Artis; CB M.J. Stewart

By class: One senior; six juniors; four sophomores; four freshmen

Average recruiting ranking (Rivals.com): 2.92 stars

Depth chart entering preseason:

Ram:

Simmons (5-11, 190, Jr.)

Miles (5-11, 200, Fr.^)

Mangum (6-0, 205, Jr.**)

Cornerback:

Walker (5-11, 185, Soph.)

Davis (5-10, 175, Soph.) OR

Dixon (6-0, 190, Jr.)

Free Safety:

Scott (5-11, 195, Sr.)

Jackson (5-11, 195, Jr.)

Artis (6-1, 205, Fr.*)

Strong safety:

Green (5-11, 190, Soph.**)

Smiley (5-11, 185, Jr.)

Battle (6-1, 205, Jr.**)

Cornerback:

Lawrence (6-1, 185, Soph.)

Stewart (5-11, 195, Fr.*)

* – indicates player is a freshman who enrolled early and went through spring practice

^ – indicates player has redshirted

** – indicates player walked onto the team (though could be on scholarship now). Status does not count in position's average recruiting ranking.

What to like: UNC's most highly-rated recruits the past couple of years haven't been in the defensive backfield, but perhaps there's no more concentrated area of young talent than in the secondary. Walker and Lawrence, both sophomores from Charlotte, are promising cornerbacks who enter the preseason with starting positions. Green walked onto the team last year as a freshman, and few first-year players in the ACC had a better season than him. Stewart, a freshman who enrolled early in January, has drawn raves in his short time on campus.

What to question: Though there is a lot to like in a lot of places, the Tar Heels are awfully young – especially at cornerback, where they'll be relying on a pair of sophomores. Green, it seems, has the strong safety position locked down, but Scott is a newcomer to free safety. Scott is the only senior in the secondary, but he spent his first three seasons at UNC at cornerback. Relying on so many young players, in so many places, can create some challenges.

Preseason storylines: Fedora seems excited about few positions more than the secondary, so it will be interesting to watch this group develop in the preseason. The talent is there ,it appears, but young players will have to turn their potential into production – and do it quickly. The two young corners, Walker and Lawrence, could be rising stars and Stewart could compete for early playing time, too, based on the reviews he has received so far.

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