North Carolina Tar Heels
11 Returning Starters (5 Offense, 6 Defense)
North Carolina has hovered around the .500 mark the last two seasons because
of a very difficult out-of-conference schedule. This year looks to be more of
the same. The defense should be much improved, but the offense looks like it
could really struggle.
Running behind the left side of the offensive line with Ronnie McGill should
be the strength for UNC’s offense this year. The Tar Heels return just two
starters on the offensive line, left tackle Brian Chacos and left guard
Charlston Gray. The Heels will line up two sophomores and a freshman from center
to right tackle.
Especially in the early season, as UNC breaks in a new quarterback and a new
right side of the offensive line, look for them to ride Ronnie McGill, and
Barrington Edwards to some extent, behind Chacos and Gray.
Did I mention that the right side of the UNC offensive line is very young?
That’s not a good sign, especially when the ACC has so many good defensive
lines. Sophomore Ben Lemming should start at center, but he only played in two
games as a freshman after suffering an injury. Former VT recruiting target
Garrett Reynolds will probably start at right tackle after seeing action in mop
up duty as a true freshman in 2005.
At right guard, UNC will start Kyle Jolly, a r-freshman from Virginia. A
member of the Class of 2005, Jolly did not make TSL’s Top 30 in-state
recruits, or the Roanoke Times Top 25. He was a two-star recruit per Rivals.com,
whose other offers were from Richmond and VMI.
The UNC front seven has gotten gradually better since their awful showing in
2004. In fact, they’ve improved enough to be considered UNC’s defensive
strength. Last year they allowed 138.2 yards per game on the ground, good for 42nd
in the nation. With four starters returning in the front seven, as well as three
seniors and three juniors in the front seven, that number should improve again.
However, the front seven is only considered a strength when you compare it to
the UNC defensive secondary, which recently lost starting strong safety Trimane
Goddard for the season. The front seven is going to have to get more physical,
as well as find a good replacement for linebacker Tommy Richardson. Linebacker
Larry Edwards is the best returning player in the group.
Before the loss of Goddard, the secondary probably would have been considered
the defensive strength heading into the season. But Goddard’s loss hurts UNC
from a playmaking standpoint, as well as a depth standpoint. Senior D.J. Walker,
an experienced special teams player but never much of a factor on the defensive
depth chart, will probably start in his stead.
At free safety, UNC has a good starter in Virginia native Kareen Taylor, but
they had to move tailback Cooter Arnold to back up Taylor. Arnold is also a
candidate to replace Goddard in the starting lineup. UNC’s best cornerback is
Jacoby Watkins, but the Heels do not have much star power at the position.
UNC takes on Rutgers in their season opener on September 2 in Chapel Hill.
UNC needs to win as many out of conference games as possible this season. Their
out-of-conference schedule consists of Rutgers, Furman, South Florida and Notre
Dame. Three of those teams went to a bowl game last year. If the Tar Heels can
win three of those four games, they have a solid shot to make a bowl game.
But Rutgers will be tough. They are tough at the line of scrimmage, and
feature arguably the best backfield in the Big East. Brian Leonard is the best
fullback in the country, and tailback Ray Rice ran for 1,120 yards as a true
freshman last season. They will be a tough matchup for UNC.