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Football Preview: Defensive Line

Mr. Austin, we are ready for your close-up now.

First of all, UNC has four very good lineman on the defensive front.  E.J. Wilson, Cam Thomas, Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin give the Heels a very experienced front four.  When it comes to what happens in the trenches, youth will not be an issue unless someone gets injured.  Secondly, with the utmost respect for Wilson, Thomas and Quinn, I think most UNC fans are ready for Marvin Austin to blow some people up.  That is not to say everything rides on Austin.  UNC has proven in the case of Kentwan Balmer that it can develop defensive linemen for the NFL and there is a good chance we see great production from all four guys.  However, Austin is the guy who everyone thought would be the guy. If we do not see something along the lines of the first team All-ACC preseason selection he has already been tabbed with, it will be a disappointment.

Austin was in Butch Davis' first recruiting class, was a five star rated player by which meant he came in with all the usual hype.  In fact, redshirting Austin was never even considered because it was assumed he would only play three years anyway.  Such was the perception of Austin and through two years I can honestly say Austin has been good but not at the level many thought he would be.  At least where 2008 is concerned, Austin not being a huge impact player had more to do with the defensive scheme than anything else. In fact a comparison of Austin and Wilson between 2007 when the UNC defense was being run by Chuck Pagano and 2008 under Everett Withers is stark.

2007 2008
Player Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Marvin Austin 26.0 6.0-39 4.0-33 38.0 1.5-4 1.0-3
E.J. Wilson 44.0 9.5-40 5.0-26 38.0 4.5-17 1.0-11

In other words, Withers took two lineman who were effective in getting into the backfield sacking the QB or dropping an RB for a loss and reduced their production significantly.  Wilson and Austin also forced a combined three fumbles in 2007 and had none a season ago. For whatever reason, Wither opted for containment in his defensive scheme which carried less risk but also did not allow the defensive linemen in particular to be more aggressive.  It also put a lot of pressure on the linebackers and secondary to perform, which they did admirably.  However, it always felt passive in nature and as though the defensive linemen could be doing more to disrupt the opposing team's offense. The statistics seem to back this up and for my money I would much rather see the Heels going after the QBs, especially since the secondary has enough talent to cover receivers.  Not to mention the fact passing offenses in the ACC are pedestrian at best.

Now that this crew, especially the front four is experienced with the current defensive coordinator and generally experienced in college football, one would think now is the time to turn them loose like dogs into meat packing plant.  No doubt Austin is beginning to think NFL and a breakout season could propel him to the next level after this season.  Wilson and Thomas are both seniors so their thinking is going to be much the same as Austin's.  The pieces are in place for great play on the defensive line.  The only question is whether Withers gives them the keys to the bus. The word for this season among the defensive line should be "havoc" and they should cause it as often as possible.