Without a doubt the biggest change Gene Chizik has brought to Chapel Hill is the transition from the 4-2-5 sieve defense of the past few years to a more traditional 4-3 look. UNC's defensive line was a liability due to a lack of much pressure on the quarterback, which could be attributed to the scheme as much as anything. More important was the Tar Heels' weak performance against the run, giving up nearly 250 yards per game on the ground.
Chizik will try to stop the bleeding up front not only by changing up the alignment but by changing up position coaches. Tray Scott takes over the D-line and there has been a lot of buzz in camp about how much improvement has been seen up front. But as Brian mentioned with the secondary, when you have been historically bad, there's nowhere to go but up.
If Carolina is to improve along the defensive trenches, they will have to do it with a deep but inexperienced group of players. Jessie Rogers is the only senior on the two-deep chart, joined by juniors Mikey Bart and Junior Gnonkonde. The remainder of the two-deep is filled out with sophomores Nazair Jones, Dajuan Drennon, and Tyler Powell, and redshirt freshmen Robert Dinkins and Jeremiah Clarke. True freshmen Jalen Dalton and Aaron Crawford are also seeing reps in preseason camp.
Gnonkonde turned heads last season with his raw athleticism from the defensive end position but still has much room to improve. Jones and Drennon also made big plays last year as freshmen and their growth will be key to the defensive line's overall improvement. The fact that Clarke is listed as the starter at nose tackle despite having never played in a college game gives a glimpse into the challenges this group faces.
Lee Pace of GoHeels.com recently ran a piece about how UNC has a reputation as "D-Line U", and the history of the program is undeniable in this area. A quick look at NFL rosters shows a number of Tar Heel defensive linemen, from Julius Peppers to Robert Quinn to Quentin Coples to Sylvester Williams. It was not that long ago that UNC's defense was loaded with NFL talent, but Coples and Williams aren't walking through that door this season, much less Peppers or Quinn. But if this group can just become competent enough to plug holes in the running game while putting a modicum of pressure on opposing quarterbacks to take some of the burden off the secondary, then the defense as a whole will see improvement. But for that to happen this group will have to grow up quickly. If the initial observations from camp are accurate, the young D-line may be on its way.