North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples might be one of the best NFL prospects in the nation, a reputation that could limit his production this season if opponents gang up to shut him down.
But with junior defensive end Donte Paige-Moss anchoring the UNC defensive line right alongside him, Coples doesn’t mind being the center of attention.
“It’ll give each other a better chance to make plays,” Coples said. “They just can’t double team me and leave (Paige-Moss) open or double team him and leave me open. I feel like it’s great and helps the defense out a lot.”
The pair of projected first-round draft picks will headline the 2011 UNC defensive line, which has been one of the most talked-about positions during the offseason.
According to an ESPN.com report, the NCAA returned to Chapel Hill in May to question Coples about his attendance at an NFL draft party. But just more than a month later, the NCAA cleared the Tar Heel of any wrongdoing.
Coples’ innocence was no doubt a relief for interim head coach Everett Withers, who said he expects the preseason All-ACC selection to be a leader on the North Carolina squad this season — in whatever capacity that may be.
“He understands that whether his numbers increase, decrease, stay the same, somebody else on our defensive line is going to have some production because of his abilities,” Withers said. “And to me, that shows a little bit of maturity about what Quinton Coples is about.”
Last season Coples moved from defensive end to defensive tackle and he recorded 59 tackles and a team-high 10 sacks — an achievement which ranked in the top five for defensive tackles nationally.
In 2010, Paige-Moss was second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks, and he recorded a season-high 10 tackles against North Carolina State.
And through the pair’s proven excellence, Coples and Paige-Moss have set the bar high for the UNC defenders around them.
“When (Coples) goes down inside, he’s very deceptive with his hands and his speed,” offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said. “Donte Moss, he’s just speedy and powerful. I mean, those are two tough guys to defend against. You see them in practice and they make us a lot better.”
Between the bookends of Coples and Paige-Moss, defensive tackles Jordan Nix and Tydreke Powell will bring both experience and quickness to this season’s defensive line.
Powell, also a preseason All-ACC selection, was one of two defensive players to start in all 13 games in 2010.
Nix, a 2008 transfer from Northeast Oklahoma A&M College, started just two games last season for the Tar Heels, but recorded 18 tackles and recovered one fumble.
The outlook for the North Carolina defensive line is good, and expectations for the unit are high.
And to opponents, Coples has but one warning.
“Be aware, that’s what I would say,” Coples said. “Be aware of the Carolina defense. We’re definitely going to come and the objective is to punish.”
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