The current North Carolina Tar Heels may have had a difficult time defensively on Saturday in Chapel Hill; however, a number of former UNC football players had solid defensive performances on Sunday for their respective professional teams. Let’s take a look at some of the noteworthy performances by a number of former Tar Heels in week one of the NFL regular season.
Nazair Jones (Seattle)
Jones had the most noteworthy performance on Sunday of all the former Heels, thanks in part to his interception of Aaron Rodgers (seen below). After making the interception, it appeared Jones was headed for the first pick-six of his young career; however, a questionable block-in-the-back and a personal foul penalty negated the touchdown.
Along with the interception, Jones also recorded a solo tackle in his pro debut against the Green Bay Packers (played in about 30% of his team’s defensive snaps).
Zach Brown (Washington)
In their 30-17 opening week loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Zach Brown (along with Ryan Kerrigan) was one of the few bright spots on defense for the Washington Redskins. After a Pro Bowl season the previous year with the Buffalo Bills, Brown looked to pick right back up where he left off from his impressive season the year before.
Brown led his team in tackles with 12 total. He recorded seven solo tackles in the game, as a starting inside linebacker. He was extremely quick, and played a large role in limiting the Eagles to only 58 yards rushing in the game.
Julius Peppers (Carolina)
The ageless (37 years old) wonder started his 16th season right where it all began back with the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers came into the season looking to limit his playing time in order to keep him fresh throughout the entire year. He played on 46% of the team’s defensive snaps and still managed to come away with one-half sack, two quarterback hurries, and assisted on one tackle. With his one-half sack on Sunday, Peppers is only 6.5 sacks away from catching Chris Doleman for 4th place on the all-time sack leaderboard.
Much like fellow Tar Heel Vince Carter, Peppers is not as quick or explosive as he once was, but it looks like he can still be a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball.
Robert Quinn (Los Angeles Rams)
After being placed on injured reserve at the end of last season due to a concussion, Quinn appears to be healthy heading into the start of the 2017 season. Quinn and the Rams’ defense had a dominant performance in their 46-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in which the Rams limited the Colts to only 225 yards of total offense.
In playing just 51% of his team’s defensive snaps, Quinn finished the game with one sack and two solo tackles. If Quinn can remain healthy throughout the season, it will go a long way in helping the Rams return to one of the top defenses in the league.
Da’Norris Searcy and Sylvester Williams (Tennessee)
Searcy played predominantly on special teams for the Titans, but recorded two solo tackles and assisted on one tackle in the game.
Another former UNC football player, Williams, played sparingly on defense (21% of the team’s defensive snaps) but did record two assisted tackles.
James Hurst (Baltimore)
Hurst started at left guard for the first time in his career. In the Ravens 20-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Hurst played a part in helping the Ravens’ running backs gain 157 yards on the ground. He, along with the other players on the offensive line, kept Joe Flacco rather clean in only giving up one sack to the Bengals’ defense.
Brandon Tate (Buffalo)
While he didn’t catch a pass in Sunday’s game against the Jets, Tate did play an active role on special teams for the Bills. Tate returned one kick-off back for 23 yards, and he also returned four punts for 35 total yards.
Connor Barth (Chicago)
Barth earned the starting kicking spot for the Bears by beating out Roberto Aguayo in the pre-season. On Sunday, Barth proved to Chicago’s front office and coaching staff that they made the right decision.
Barth connected on his lone field goal attempt from 54 yards out. He also converted both of his extra point tries. The Bears will probably struggle to score points on offense this year, but coach John Fox looks to have a reliable weapon in Barth that he can rely on if the offense sputters.
Gio Bernard and Russell Bodine (Cincinnati)
In his first game back after an ACL injury ended his season last year, Bernard was the only bright spot for the Bengals’ offense on Sunday in their 20-0 loss to the Ravens.
Bernard had two of the biggest plays of the day for the offense, one was a 23-yard run (longest run of the day) and the other was a 39-yard catch. He finished the game with seven rushes for 40 yards and one catch for 39 yards.
Bodine started and played the entire game at center for the Bengals.
Ryan Switzer (Dallas)
In his first game in the NFL, Switzer didn’t find his way into the pass receptions column. However, he did play a role in the Cowboys’ return game. Switzer returned two kickoffs for 42 yards (21 yards per return) and had one punt return for zero yards (though it appeared in the video that he should have been given a couple of yards on that return). It will be interesting to see if Switzer is able to pull off one of those “fake fair catch” moves this season or in his career.
Eric Ebron (Detroit)
Ebron didn’t figure too much into the Lions’ offensive outburst in their 35-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. He finished the game with only two catches (only targeted three times) for nine yards; however, tight ends also don’t ever get enough credit for protecting the quarter back and all of the blocking that they do in games.
Mack Hollins (Philadelphia)
Hollins didn’t have much of an impact to start his rookie season, but he did make a special teams tackle in the game on Sunday against Washington. Due to a brief injury to Torrey Smith, Hollins was in on five plays for the Eagles’ offense.
Unless there is an injury to one of Philadelphia’s starting receivers, Hollins will most likely have to make an impact on special teams this season.