Carney, a senior, and Crawford, a junior, are two of three upperclassmen starting on the defensive line. The two will be joined by senior Jalen Dalton and redshirt sophomore Tomon Fox. As a group, the foursome combined for 15.5 sacks last season.
Crawford was one of two UNC players in attendance at ACC Kickoff, along with junior Anthony Ratliff-Williams, and he said the defensive line is the deepest he’s seen in his time as a Tar Heel.
“As far as quality depth, I think so,” Crawford said. “We’ve always had guys that, we’ve had a good first layer but then the second layer might be inexperienced as such. I’ve been with this group. We’ve had all these guys here for about three to four years now. It’s gotten to the point where there’s real little dropoff whenever we touch the field and switch off, so I’m real confident in what we can do.”
Three of the men that will hold together that foundation and reinforce the starting four are Jason Strowbridge, Jeremiah Clarke and Allen Cater, all upperclassmen.
This means six of the top seven rotation players in the trenches are either juniors or seniors and have plenty of knowledge playing in Fedora’s system.
The experience is something that Crawford thinks will only benefit him and his teammates this season.
"(Experience) definitely matters,” he said. “If you have a good knowledge of the defense, you can know where your help is, where you can line up, where you can somewhat cheat the scheme while still being in your responsibility, in your gap, in your fit. Having all that maturity and returners coming back, I think it will help us a lot.”
When Crawford heard Fedora had called the interior group the leaders of the defense, he steadfastly stood behind his coach’s comments.
“Absolutely,” Crawford said. “It’s gotten to the point where we have just about everybody in the first two rows returning. With that being said, I don’t expect any dropoff no matter who’s on the field, plus we have young guys that come in with some talent.”
In fact, even a member of the offense was singing the praises of the stout defensive unit. Ratliff-Williams was asked about his expectations for the defensive line this year and did not hesitate when giving his answer.
“Domination, if I could give you one word,” Ratliff-Williams said. “There’s a lot of guys coming back and there’s a lot of playmakers coming back. That’s what I’m psyched to see. Those guys are ready to go. I’m ready to see them put it on tape.”
He won’t have to wait much longer to see the formidable force in action, as UNC kicks off its season on Sept. 1 at California in Berkeley with hopes of making fans forget about last year’s tumultuous campaign.
And that hope all starts with the defensive line.
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