Every once in a while when UNC coach Butch Davis looks down at the linebacker section of UNC's depth chart he feels like a brand new father.
A whopping 10 underclassmen fill the list" and two sophomores even occupy the starting positions. That's quite a few bundles of joy to take on all at once.
""Sometimes you feel like you have to go to K-Mart and get Pampers"" Davis said.
Davis can laugh now, but last year this joke was a little too close to reality. Due to injuries at the position, he was forced to start two freshmen.
Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant" who didn't even play linebacker in high school were thrust into ‘Oh my God" you mean I've got to actually start the next twelve games and play on this team?'"" he said.
""It was baptism under fire every single week. There were so many things that you knew they didn't know.""
The result was a season full of growing pains. Davis said the linebackers struggled facing exotic new offensive alignments every week" and this young North Carolina team finished with a mediocre 4-8 record.
But this season players like Carter and Sturdivant are no longer infants in the Tar Heels' defensive scheme. And Davis will look to reap the dividends of his recruiting emphasis on bringing in speedier and more athletic playmakers.
The veteran of the group senior Mark Paschal" said he can see this young group taking in more and more information every day and getting better on the field every week.
Paschal said they still don't read and reacted to offenses like they should but that improvements will show up as the season progresses.
""They've been here for a little bit of time now so they understand what we're trying to do defensively" Paschal said. It's something that didn't happen overnight" but they're getting better. And it's fun to see those guys pick up little things they wouldn't have picked up six months or a year ago.""
Rutgers found that out first-hand last week as starters Paschal" Carter and Sturdivant combined for an impressive statline: 17 tackles and two interceptions" one returned for a touchdown.
Carter and Sturdivant even have the athleticism to make a cornerback envious.
""They've got so much speed" both of them are pretty much faster than I am if we had to get in a footrace from A to B" defensive back Kendric Burney said.
And at 6-3, 225, and 6-2, 230, respectively, these two should give opposing offensive players fits as they develop as linebackers.
Paschal said the integration of this speed and size with more awareness of the football field will take UNC's linebacking core to the next level.
If you run a 4.4 on the track and a 4.8 on the field because you don't know what's going on or you don't know where you're supposed to be at the right time" then the speed doesn't really help you Paschal said.
When you have good speed like they do and you understand where you're supposed to be and what you need to do" I think that's when you become very successful as a linebacker.""
Sturdivant said what has allowed him to make a jump this season was learning which area to cover.
""I think from the biggest standpoint" just knowing my responsibility like last year I just kind of got my feet wet a little bit but this year more responsibility has allowed me to play better he said.
Sturdivant also said having Paschal as a mentor has helped him and all the other young linebackers develop.
Mark he's just the general out there" he makes all the calls and gets us lined up and everything. He just basically tells everybody what to do.""
Behind these three are a bevy of young athletes hungry to prove themselves. Players like freshman Zach Brown have impressed in practice" and Davis said he wants to get this group experience" even if just on special teams.
""We think we have improved the athleticism of that overall group and as they continue to grow. … We hope to force-feed some of those guys into game situations.""
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