CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- On a defense entering the season filled with question marks, the biggest mystery may be who starts at weakside linebacker.
Sophomore Cayson Collins and junior Joe Jackson are in the midst of a battle for the third starting linebacker spot. With middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer and strongside linebacker Shakeel Rashad locking down the other two positions, this is the one hole left in the second line of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik’s 4-3 defense.
“We don’t inherit positions, so we opened everything back up,” Chizik said after Thursday’s practice. “Every time we do a spring practice or a fall practice, we’ll go in with a leader, but that doesn’t always necessarily mean it stays that way.”
Collins won the snaps over Jackson midway through the 2014 season. The Charlotte, N.C. native finished his freshman season strong, recording 30 tackles in his final six games. Collins forced two fumbles on the season and recovered two more, returning one for a touchdown against Miami.
Despite Collins’s strong close to the season, no position is guaranteed for the Tar Heels, and Jackson has given him stiff competition.
“We’ve got some great competition right there right now,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “Both of those guys are battling it out and we haven’t made a decision on who that guy’s going to be. They’re really doing a great job of getting after it every day.”
Jackson, a Jacksonville, Fla. native, emerged from training camp last season as a starter, but at times seemed lost in Vic Koenning’s 4-2-5 scheme. He finished the season with seven tackles in eight games. Despite those struggles, Collins had nothing but praise for his fellow linebacker.
“Joe’s a really good linebacker, and he doesn’t really get a lot of credit that he should, because he helped me at my position last year,” Collins said. “The success that I had, I learned a lot from him.”
Jackson is currently running with the first team, while Collins is working with the twos.
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