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UNC Football Position Preview: Defensive Backs

With most of the starting positions all but decided in the secondary, who will lock up the final starting spot?

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at North Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, THB’s Jake Lawrence gave a breakdown of the UNC’s defensive line going into September. With the exception of Nazair Jones and Mikey Bart, the defensive line returns most of their pieces to the front line in hopes of finding ways to stop the run this year, as well as finding ways to get to the quarterback.

When taking a look at the passing game specifically, UNC last year led the ACC in pass defense only allowing three touchdown passes to wide receivers. Despite struggling mightily at taking the ball away, UNC found ways to be effective in disrupting plays through the air despite getting gashed repeatedly by opposing teams on the ground.

So how does this year’s group of defensive backs look going into the fall? Let’s take a look at this year’s build of defensive backs and what we should expect going into the season.

Key Losses

Des Lawrence (CB)

Lawrence was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Detroit Lions following this year’s NFL Draft. During the 2016 season he had 37 tackles, two for a loss, and ranked second on the team in pass breakups with 10. He finished his career with 27 career pass breakups, which ranks fourth in school history.

Dominquie Green (FS)

Dominquie Green was the only player last year to record an interception during the course of the season. This came against The Citadel, when he returned the interception 58 yards for a touchdown. Green finished fifth on the team his senior season with 67 tackles and 5 pass breakups.

Key Returns

Cornerbacks:

M.J. Stewart, 6’0, 205, SR — 66 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 11 PBU, 2 FF, 3 FR

Safety:

Donnie Miles, 5’11, 210, SR — 102 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR

Myles Dorn, 6’2, 210 Soph— 32 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR

Expectations

The success in the secondary this year will live and die with how well M.J. Stewart is able to perform. He has been UNC’s best corner, and will look to continue his dominance against opposing wide receivers. Beyond that, as far as cornerbacks go, little is known about who will play opposite of Stewart. Corey Bell Jr., Patrice Rene, and K.J. Sails are all currently battling it out in preseason camp to see who will be able to get the start. Freshmen C.J. Colman and Tre Shaw are also fighting for spots, but it’s more likely that we will see one of the previous three mentioned line up on the other side of Stewart.

The safety position is basically a done deal in terms of who will be starting at the beginning of the season. Donnie Miles was ranked third last year on the team with 102 tackles, and will play opposite of sophomore Myles Dorn. Ultimately when looking at these three projected starters, UNC should be in a good position to continue stifling offenses. Hopefully we will also see more turnovers than last year, as UNC only managed to get one interception for the entire year.

One Burning Question

Who will start at the second cornerback spot, and how quickly can they make an impact?

While the biggest strength of this portion of the defense is keeping a large portion of personnel from last year’s top-ranked pass defense, a concern in the defense lies in the lack of experience of whoever takes the second cornerback starting position. Corey Bell Jr. and Patrick Rene saw some playing time last year, but nothing like what they would be seeing should either of them earn the starting job. K.J. Sails is also in the mix, but having only appeared in three games last year he is the least experienced out of the trio of defensive backs.

It will be interesting to see what this defense looks like this year under the first year of defensive coordinator John Papuchis. If he is able to replicate the success of last year’s defense in the passing game and figure out a way to fix the run defense, this defense prove to be fairly difficult to deal with this season.