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UNC Football: Position Preview - Defensive Line

The Tar Heels need this position group to step up this season.

San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl - Oregon v North Carolina Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Simply put, the defensive line for the North Carolina Tar Heels was not very good last season.

UNC ranked 128 of 131 FBS teams in sacks and 130th in tackles for loss. Quarterback hurries and pressure was nonexistent, and there was not much to say about a rush defense that ranked 86th in the nation.

Two jacks, one linebacker, and one cornerback had multiple sacks last year. Only three of the defensive linemen listed below had a sack, with each tallying just one.

Needless to say, the defensive linemen need to find a way to get to the quarterback without relying on help from the next level.

These issues up front necessitated some personnel changes. Carolina brought in Ted Monachino as a Senior Defensive Analyst focusing on outside linebackers and the defensive line.

The good news is that the defensive line has quality, two-deep depth. The question remains if that talent will translate to success on the field.

The strength of the defensive line is at tackle. Myles Murphy had 12 starts last season at defensive tackle, and Travis Shaw should be able to split time at the position or at nose tackle.

For Murphy, consistency is his key for the season. If Shaw is able to perform to the level that is expected, it should allow Murphy to provide quality snaps rather than just carrying the workload. The Carolina run defense must improve, and these two players will be critical factors in that effort.

Kevin Hester took the nose tackle role after Ray Vohasek was done for the 2022 season. Hester needs to use that experience down the stretch last season to build his game. Like the rest of the squad, the pass rush needs improvement.

Jahvaree Ritzie led the defensive line in snaps last season, and the hope is that extensive experience on the field leads to developing his game. Ritzie showed some flashes against Georgia Tech and Clemson last season, but he still has the talent to take his game to the next level.

Desmond Evans was getting a lot of playing time last season, starting seven games until his season-ending injury versus Pitt. A similar story as with Ritzie and Shaw, with Evans having the talent to be a difference-maker. The tallest defensive lineman on the squad, Evans needs to utilize that length to be a more effective pass rusher and passing game disruptor.

Tomari Fox returns after serving a season-long suspension for consuming a banned substance in a pre-workout drink in December 2021. Fox has a lot of experience, playing in a dozen games in each of his three previous seasons. He is a quick lineman, and using him during obvious passing situations should help the UNC pass defense.

Jacolbe Cowan, the Ohio State transfer, appeared in 12 games for the Tar Heels last season. Like in 2022, Cowan will likely serve on the rotation on the edge. It will be interesting to see how much of a jump he makes from last year.

Kedrick Bingley-Jones was rated as the nation’s 12th-ranked defensive tackle in the 2020 recruiting class, but a torn Achilles in that same year derailed his development. He has less than 100 snaps total in the past two years, so there is not much on-field analysis. Here’s hoping that Bingley-Jones regains the form that made him a highly-touted recruit.

Be sure to knock on wood, but this group has the potential to be the best defensive line in the Mack Brown 2.0 era. Can they make this expectation a reality?

2023 UNC Football Defensive Line

Number Name Height Weight Year Hometown / High School
Number Name Height Weight Year Hometown / High School
0 Tomari Fox 6-3 300 Gr. Lawrenceville, Ga. / Collins Hill
4 Travis Shaw 6-5.25 335 So. Greensboro, N.C. / Grimsley
5 Jahvaree Ritzie 6-4 295 Jr. Kernersville, N.C. / Glenn
8 Myles Murphy 6-4.5 310 Sr. Greensboro, N.C. / James B. Dudley
10 Desmond Evans 6-6.25 275 Sr. Sanford, N.C. / Lee County
12 Beau Atkinson 6-5.5 270 R-Fr. Raleigh, N.C. / Leesville Road
41 Kedrick Bingley-Jones 6-4 305 Jr. Concord, N.C. / Providence Day
92 Rodney Lora 6-3 275 Fr. North Arlingtong, N.J. / Woodberry Forest (Va.)
93 Jacolbe Cowan 6-4.25 280 Jr. Charlotte, N.C. / Providence Day/Ohio State
94 Joel Starlings 6-3.25 320 Fr. Richmond, Va. / Benedictine
96 Damon Bremer 6-2 255 Fr. Cameron, N.C. / Union Pines
98 Kevin Hester Jr. 6-3.5 315 Sr. Kennesaw, Ga. / North Cobb