The former 5-star prospect out of Sanford, NC struggled to make a name for himself in his first two years at UNC and is expected to assume a larger role in the trenches. After starting seven of his eight games, Evans' junior campaign was cut short when he suffered an injury against Pitt.
Under defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, Evans returns to the starting defensive end position after tallying a career-high 25 tackles last season. Evans' experience, coupled with his imposing 6-foot-6 frame, has him well-equipped for a potential breakout season in which he aims to be even more physical.
The Greensboro, NC native started 12 games last season and will reprise this role in 2023 to act as a cornerstone of the defensive line. Murphy's best season was in 2021, when he recorded 38 tackles and four sacks while being awarded second-team All-ACC honors.
The lineman's performance dipped slightly last year, posting just 29 tackles over 14 games. However, Murphy's three years of consistently seeing snaps brings him an acumen that's matched by few of his teammates. His size and overall knowledge of the game can help the Tar Heels create better consistency on defense en route to a more successful season.
As one of the more prolific defensive linemen last year, Rucker posted 37 tackles in his junior season to go with a team-high 3.5 sacks.
The Heartwell, Georgia product stands at 6-foot-1 and 265 pounds. After playing linebacker for his first three seasons at UNC, Rucker started at defensive linemen last season and will switch to start at jack this year.
Rucker is one of the more seasoned linemen on the Tar Heel squad, appearing in all 14 games last season and starting four, making him an important leader this upcoming season.
The graduate transfer out of Florida State will look to make an immediate impact alongside other veterans. Gainer's agility and explosiveness off the snap aid him in pressuring opposing quarterbacks by disrupting their pocket presence.
The 6-foot-3.5 Tallahassee, Florida native's ability to slip by blockers may help prevent explosive plays that have given UNC fits the past two seasons. During his five years with the Seminoles, Gainer tallied 210 tackles, including 19 tackles for losses.
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The Tar Heels are very familiar with Gainer's presence, having lost to FSU in 2020 and 2021 by a combined 13-point differential. As Gainer adjusts to a new system under Chizik, the graduate will switch to play at the outside linebacker and jack positions behind Rucker and will be looking to continue his dynamic and effective play this year.
Gray, a former first-team All-ACC pick, led the Power 5 with 145 tackles last year and will look to continue that success as a returning cornerstone in UNC's defense. The senior linebacker found his stride in an explosive road performance against Appalachian State, totaling 13 tackles to propel a breakout season. Gray finished third among all FBS players in total tackles, earning him second-team All-American honors.
Instead of declaring for the NFL draft, Gray returned for his fourth season to perfect his craft and elevate his draft stock. His leadership will be essential this season to help guide the younger players that round out UNC's defense.
Junior linebacker Power Echols will complement Gray on the field once again. Last season, Echols recorded 70 solo tackles — fifth among all Power 5 linebackers. The Charlotte native showed consistent results in his sophomore campaign, posting four double-digit tackle games.
As the only two returning starting linebackers, Echols and Gray will continue spearheading North Carolina's reworked defense.
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