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Saturday December 3rd

Analysis: Though they disappointed last season, D-line brings experience to 2022

UNC senior defensive back Trey Morrison (4), sophomore defensive lineman Myles Murphy (8) and freshman wide receiver J.J. Jones (5) run onto the field before the Tar Heels' home matchup in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, against the Georgia State Panthers. The Tar Heels won 59-17.
Buy Photos UNC senior defensive back Trey Morrison (4), sophomore defensive lineman Myles Murphy (8) and freshman wide receiver J.J. Jones (5) run onto the field before the Tar Heels' home matchup in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, against the Georgia State Panthers. The Tar Heels won 59-17.

Most successful football teams know that games are largely won in the trenches. 

Last season, the Tar Heels had high hopes for its defensive front. Led by then-senior Raymond Vohasek, North Carolina rostered many up-and-coming talents and serviceable backups that provided depth up to the team’s third unit.

But any preseason buzz about improvements on the defensive line failed meet expectations, as the Tar Heels tallied just 29 sacks and allowed over 2,300 yards on the ground — ranking in the bottom half of the ACC in both categories.

Despite last year's struggles, the Tar Heels hope to take a step forward in 2022. With many starters gaining another year of improvement, UNC is looking to control the line of scrimmage to inch closer to the top of the conference.

Here’s a look at a few players who could help lead the improvement of UNC’s play on the defensive line.

Myles Murphy

Fresh off his breakout season in 2021, junior defensive lineman Myles Murphy is poised to lead this year’s unit.

The second team All-ACC honoree played all over the line last season, but spent most of his snaps at defensive tackle. Due to his unique combination of speed and size, Murphy found himself in the opposing team’s backfield often, ranking second on the team in sacks and tackles for loss.

Coming into this year, the Greensboro, N.C. native said confidence is sky high, so much that he'll feel disrespected if he’s not double-teamed regularly this season.

“If I get a one-on-one this year, it’s over,” Murphy said. “I should disrupt a lot of plays.”

With Murphy now presumably the new face of UNC’s defensive front, the already accomplished lineman will look to compete for a spot on the All-ACC First Team.

Desmond Evans

In 2020, junior Desmond Evans came to Chapel Hill as one of the most heralded recruits in program history. 

The four-star prospect was ranked the No. 44 overall recruit according to 247Sports and held offers from Alabama, Clemson and Michigan before ultimately inking his commitment to play for North Carolina. However, his first two seasons under the direction of co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman didn’t go as planned.

In UNC’s previous defensive scheme, Evans was slotted as a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker — positioning the pass-rushing specialist out of place.

“Two years ago, it wasn’t going well at the hybrid spot,” Evans said. “(Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik) came in and he knows I like to get down and dirty and get after the quarterback."

Now under the direction of Chizik, Evans will mostly line up at defensive end. With his hand in the dirt full-time, Evans will look to display his true pass-rushing abilities for the first time. 

Jahvaree Ritzie 

Most first-year players aren’t expected to contribute immediately and rarely see game action. However, Jahvaree Ritzie asserted himself within the Tar Heels’ defensive line rotation as a first-year, appearing in all 13 contests last season and totaling 25 tackles.

Now in his second year, the sophomore’s work ethic has started to catch the attention of his teammates.

“I’ve seen (Ritzie) develop a lot this offseason — especially in the weight room,” senior offensive lineman Ed Montilus said. “He’s very explosive. He’s a freak of nature.”

Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches and weighing 290 pounds, Ritzie has the size to play in the interior, but the speed to be placed on the end in special packages. 

With former five-star prospects Keeshawn Silver and Travis Shaw rounding out the defensive line's young core, the unit has the potential to be one of the team's most significant contributors.  

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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