UNC football has always lived under the shadow of UNC basketball, and with the recent success of the basketball team it will remain under that shadow for a long time. Still football at Kenan Stadium has a chance to take on a new meaning this year. The Heels should be better than their 8-5 record they posted last year if their strengths can balance out their weaknesses.
The most important strength for the 2009 Tar Heels will be the defensive line and linebackers. Anchoring down the defensive tackles will be 6’3”, 300 lb. Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas a 6’3”, 330 lb. senior. Austin is a star in the making, and possibly a future first-round draft pick that any team in the country would be glad to have anchoring down their defensive tackles. The Heels have some good depth at this position with solid players such as Tavares Brown, Aleric Mullins, Jordan Nix, and Tydreke Powell. The defensive tackles are a solid group this year with much promise.
The defensive ends also show immense promise. E.J. Wilson, a 6’3”, 280 lb. senior, will bring pressure from the left end, and Robert Quinn will bring pressure from the right end. Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo should also give the Heels some good minutes at the defensive end spot. There is experience and talent at the defensive end position, and should not be a concern for Butch Davis this season.
Combine this high-quality of a defensive line with a very fast corps of linebackers and this defense looks to be very good. Quan Sturdivant, a star linebacker who led the country with solo tackles last year, will be the leader for the linebackers. Sturdivant will be joined by Bruce Carter, a junior, on the strong side, and Zach Brown an explosively fast sophomore on the weak side. Brown ran a 4.26 40 during the offseason displaying amazing speed. With Sturdivant and Carter displaying 4.43 and 4.46 40’s respectively they will have the speed to catch up to many running backs. There is not much weakness in this front seven, and a good year will be expected from them.
The strength of the offense is a healthy T.J. Yates at quarterback. Last year, Yates threw for 1,168 yards with 11 touchdowns in only seven games. His numbers have continued to get better, and his numbers should improve this year if he can stay healthy. Yates is a very good quarterback, and if he can get some good work in with his receivers during the offseason he should be able to throw quite a few touchdowns this year. With T.J. Yates under center the Heels can expect to have a good season.
The foremost concern on the offensive side of the ball is the young corps of wide receivers. They are a very young inexperienced group that will be led by an unproven, yet talented, Greg Little. The converted running back had just eleven receptions for 146 yards for no touchdowns in 2008. He has talent and promise at the position, but he is yet to be put to the true test of leading the wide receivers. The other receivers will come from a group of very promising young receivers that include Dwight Jones, Rashad Mason, Joshua Adams, Erik Highsmith, and Jheranie Boyd.
The number one weakness on the defensive side is the cornerbacks. They have two experienced corners in Jordan Hemby and Kendric Burney, but after that there is little experience and a lot of youth. While they are probably the biggest weakness on the defense the corners should be fine if the defensive line can pressure the opposing quarterbacks enough so that the coverage time is short. With the front seven being so good the rest of the defense should be fine if they play smart.
The 2009 season should be fun to watch with many wins seemingly in store for the Heels. The defense is shaping up to be stellar, and the offense seems to have enough weapons to find the end zone several times this season. If Butch Davis can find a diamond in the rough among the young wide receivers (maybe Joshua Adams) the Tar Heels should make a run at winning the Coastal Division. This fall football will be king in Chapel Hill at least until Midnight with Roy and the early stages of basketball season.