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The Daily Tar Heel

Football: Defensive line will tackle your mama in 2009

Tar Heels return every ‘08 starter

UNC’s defensive line enters the 2009 season as the most experienced unit on the team.
UNC’s defensive line enters the 2009 season as the most experienced unit on the team.

When asked about his hopes for UNC’s defensive line this season, coach Butch Davis said he’s a firm believer that the personality of an entire football team is reflected in that team’s defensive front four.

So what kind of tone should Davis expect on Saturdays?

If the words of Marvin Austin are any indiction, relentless tenacity.

“Just go out there and blow some people up. Go out there and be hunters. When they snap that ball, that ball is the issue,” Austin said. “If you’ve got that, we will come and get you, and if your mama got that ball, we will come and get her, too.”

North Carolina returns every member of its defensive line this season (12 total players, four starters), but it’s what they don’t return with that has them optimistic for the upcoming season.

The defensive line made a commitment this offseason to conditioning and cutting extra body fat, and each player has shed a couple pounds, boosting the quickness and agility of the unit.

Senior and third-year starter E.J. Wilson already was raving about his and the rest of the line’s stamina during drills in training camp.

“In the scrimmage Saturday we had 12 plays apiece, and usually you see guys huffing and puffing,” Wilson said.

“But I mean, when guys finished at the end, we were stronger at the end of the scrimmage than we did at the beginning. That’s what we wanted to do: slim down so we could be a lot quicker off the line.”

Coupled with one of the fastest linebacker corps in UNC history, Wilson said one of the defensive line’s goals is to drastically improve the Tar Heels’ sacking prowess from a season ago.

UNC finished 80th nationally in getting to the quarterback in 2008, tallying just 22 sacks.

But last season’s performance doesn’t faze Wilson or the rest of the Tar Heels.

He said the group wants to lead the way in vaulting the Tar Heels to the top of those rankings, pointing to better technique and offseason film study as additional reasons for improvement.

But Wilson cautioned that speed isn’t everything on defense and that UNC will need to stay in their gaps to achieve their own expectations.

“You can be the fastest defense in the country, but if you don’t play technique and you’re not disciplined, then your defense is going to break down,” Wilson said.

“But the speed is an extra added edge, so maybe if we’re all caught out of position one time, we’ll have the speed to recover.”

Davis said he thinks his defensive linemen are “right where it they need to be” at this point in training camp, but said consistent effort will be crucial for inspiring the rest of the team during the season.

“From a tenacity standpoint, you want every time that the ball is snapped that four guys are playing at a high level,” he said. “Just great intensity, flying around, making plays ­— carrying the mantra that they are going to play well for the whole defense.”

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