Younger defense looks to make quick impact ?
A mere one minute and 47 seconds remained in UNC’s 2013 Belk Bowl victory. Soon the safety would become a remnant of the past. It’s now 2014. Boston — the team’s leader in tackles with 94 and in interceptions with five last season — is gone after four years of play.
Jabari Price, the quick physical corner has also left the secondary for graduation and the NFL. He’s gone. From the line, veteran defensive end Kareem Martin is across the country with the Arizona Cardinals after an 82-tackle senior season.
It’s time to move on.
“We haven’t really thought about them since the Belk Bowl,” junior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said with pieces of AstroTurf in his teeth after a physical Thursday practice. “Once that game was over, they’re gone.”
Schoettmer, along with senior bandit Norkeithus Otis and senior free safety Tim Scott, are looking to push a defense littered with underclassmen in the right direction. All three appeared and started in at least 10 of last year’s 13 games, Schoettmer second on the team with 85 tackles, Scott and Otis tied for seventh with 49 .
Scott has transitioned from a corner to a free safety to fill Boston’s void, while sophomores Des Lawrence and Brian Walker , as well as freshman M.J. Stewart have been called upon to make an immediate impact at cornerback despite their youth. Walker played in all 13 games last year, but Lawrence only played in eight, registering just 11 tackles .
“They’re the old guys back there, really,” coach Larry Fedora said. “And they’ve only been here a year.”
Still, Fedora is confident after an off-season full of strenuous workouts and weight lifting.
His players feel it, too.
“We have the time to go big-time in the weight room and get our conditioning done,” Scott said. “All summer we haven’t been able to really go home, so we’ve been taking the time every day ... that’s what we do.”
Fedora pointed to sophomore Joe Jackson and junior Sam Smiley as the two players who have shown the most growth in training camp. Jackson only saw action in last year’s home opener, while Smiley missed the entire season with a foot injury. Smiley will resume duties at safety, but Jackson is amid a position change, moving from the ram position in the defense’s secondary to linebacker.
Fedora added that upperclassmen Ethan Farmer and Justin Thomason have stepped up to lead the defensive line in Martin’s absence .
Now it’s time for the fresh talent to make a statement, too.
“There’s a chance they may be thrown in there right away, and they have to perform,” he said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. We can’t wait on them; they just might have to go.”