The Tar Heel defense is gradually growing up and finding some stability after the August gut-punch of losing six starters to various NCAA and academic inquiries.
Safeties Gene Robinson and Matt Merletti now have three games working together. Freshman Tre Boston at cornerback has shown enormous potential; he has excellent speed and at 6-1 has the size you'd like to have. Freshmen ends Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are athletic and smart and will get better in time. And a player like Greg Elleby, a senior who has played both offense and defense, is providing good depth at defensive tackle.
It all falls under the mandate from defensive coordinator Everett Withers that the Tar Heels make no excuses and offer no explanations. Their job is to perform--no matter the off-the-field circumstances.
"We feel like if we can get 11 guys out there playing the way we want to play, there's no reason we cannot have a chance to win a lot of games," Withers says. "That's what we'll try to do. We'll try to find 11, find 12, find 13, find 14 who can play. We'll play as hard as we can for 60 minutes and as smart as we can for 60 minutes. If we do that, we'll be fine."
The loss of Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin along the defensive line is forcing other players to ramp up their games. One in particular who is playing well is junior Quinton Coples, who has played both end and tackle this year. Coples is a 6-5, 275-pound junior from Kinston.
"Coples has started to grow into his responsibility," Withers says. "Now he has to be one of the guys. He never had to be that before. How he has to. He's growing up. He knows he has to do it. The more we put on his shoulders, the better he'll play."