Are you ready for Tar Heel football

Published 10:50 am Thursday, August 27, 2009

Last year in my University of North Carolina football season preview I predicted a vast improvement in both the status of the program overall and the season ending record of the Tar Heels.

Turns out I was right as North Carolina cracked the top 25 nationally for the first time in nearly a decade and doubled their win total from four to eight in 2008. Their success earned themselves a bowl match up against West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

The success of the 2008 season has raised both expectations and excitement for Tar Heel fans everywhere this season. So long as those expectations are kept reasonable and the Carolina faithful don’t allow themselves to be seduced by their own hype, I don’t expect year three of the Butch Davis era to disappoint.

Many of the college football publications and experts have North Carolina in the pre-season top 20. This prediction is not without merit. Expect The Tar Heels to have one of the most dominating defenses in the country.

The defense is anchored by their defensive line. The Tar Heels feature a two deep rotation that may all have a future playing on Sundays. Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas secure the middle and are backed up by Aleric Mullins and Hertford County native Tydreke Powell. While Powell and Mullins may be considered backups, their talent level and work ethic make them interchangeable without a drop in production on game days.

Depth at defensive end is also plentiful in Chapel Hill as the Heels feature E.J. Wilson and Robert Quinn. Both are incredibly athletic and should wreak havoc on offensive tackles this fall. Their backups, while young, are also very gifted athletically and should be more than ready to increase their involvement in this year’s defense.

The most speed on this team may not be at running back, wide receiver or corner back as it may be on most teams. On this team the most speed both individually and as a group exists at linebacker. Bruce Carter, Quan Sturdivant and Zach Brown all posted sub 4.5 second 40 yard times in the spring and Brown’s being the fastest on the team with a lightning fast 4.26 confirmed 40 time.

This group is not only fast but they proved last year they are more than capable of bringing the heat. While their depth is not as impressive as some positions on the team, backup Kevin Reddick has turned quite a few heads over the spring and may actually crack the starting lineup before the season ends. His talent level and instinct for the ball may be too good to keep off the field.

The defensive backs, corner back in particular, are the least experienced part of the defense this season but should be supported well by the play of All ACC Deunta Williams and the speedy Da-Norris Searcy. Williams came out of no where and earned a starting spot as a freshman two seasons ago, earning all freshman honors. Searcy astonished everyone with his play in the bowl game last year and, with his speed and hands, may also see time as a punt and kick returner this season.

The offense will not be as dominating as the defense but still looks to be in pretty good shape. T.J. Yates aims to stay healthy and continue to show the play and improvement he demonstrated last year while leading the league in pass accuracy before his injury against Virginia Tech.

There are high hopes in the running game with the return of Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston, dubbed lightning and thunder. Draughn is hoping to be the first 1000-yard rusher in Chapel Hill since the turn of the century. To do so he will have to hold off Jamal Womble in practice. Womble is fast, elusive and a power back and, like Kevin Reddick, may be too good to keep off the field on game days.

The biggest question marks on the Tar Heels roster is at wide receiver and offensive line. Carolina lost their top four receivers to the NFL and return only Greg Little as a receiver with a catch in a game. Dwight Jones and freshman Joshua Adams should be able to use their exceptional talent and athletic ability to make an impact early.

The offensive line, however, will be harder to fill in with freshman. Aside from quarterback, the position of offensive lineman is the hardest to play as a true freshman. The Tar Heels had significant losses along their line to graduation, injury and personal hardships. Because of this there has been a lot of movement in regards to the depth chart this off season and should allow for some younger players to be thrown into the fire a little earlier than expected.

This includes Bertie graduate and true freshman Travis Bond. Bond has already moved up to second team and will be expected to contribute early at right guard. Bond and the rest of the offensive linemen will bode well from the fact that the best defensive line they face all year may be the one they face every day in practice.

If UNC can stay healthy then I would not be surprised if they gave Virginia Tech a run for their money in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Either way, it’s going to be an exciting time this fall in Chapel Hill.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at