Don Callahan/Inside Carolina

UNC's Jalen Dalton Growing Into Defensive Tackle Role

UNC's top-rated 2015 prospect eager to build on true freshman season.

Quarterback sacks aren’t the only way to quantify performance as a defensive lineman, but they’re one aspect of his resume Jalen Dalton is eager to fix.

Eight games into his collegiate career, Dalton, a former four-star recruit who earned his reputation as one of the top high school linemen in the country by pressuring quarterbacks, is still looking for his first sack as a Tar Heel.

“That was his biggest discouragement last year,” Jalen’s father, Antoine Dalton, said. “He had a couple opportunities to get one and he was a couple split seconds too late to make that play. I think that will boost his confidence when he gets that first sack.”

These missed opportunities are common for true freshmen, especially ones with Jalen’s talent and athleticism. Dominating inferior players in high school allows elite players to rely on athleticism and develop bad habits like not finishing plays. Adjusting to college means realizing there is no margin of error.

“In high school he was able to use his height and bat down a lot of passes,” Antoine said. “But the ball is released much quicker at the college level where he wasn’t able to make those same big plays like that. So that’s one things we talked about was for him to go ahead and just finish the play, not necessarily leave his feet like he’s a shot blocker.”

In addition to adjusting to the college game, Jalen also had to learn a new position. Due to injuries, he burned his redshirt in the sixth game of the season against Wake Forest, which ended up being one of his best performances of the season. He had four tackles and a quarterback hurry against the Demon Deacons and 11 tackles and two quarterback hurries on the season.

The former West Forsyth High star was uneasy about the switch at first but was extremely eager to help his team. Ultimately, he was more concerned with playing than his position.

“He just wanted to get on the field and compete,” Antoine said. “If getting on the field meant him moving to the defensive tackle position, he was going to make it work.”

Switching from defensive end, a position he’d played since Pop Warner, to defensive tackle forced Jalen to better understand the game, which meant more time in the film room.

“He couldn’t just rely on his quickness so much,” Antoine said. “He actually had to perfect certain moves and be able to read the offense.”

Further aiding his transition, Jalen has taken full advantage of Carolina’s strength and nutrition programs in the off-season. Since last season, he is up to 295 pounds from 280 and up from 240 when he arrived on campus last year.

“It’s hard for me to afford (to feed) him now, the way he eats,” Antoine joked. “I always knew he had the frame to put on weight. It was just a matter of getting it but I’m amazed at just how fast he was able to put the weight on.”

Jalen’s dad said he first noticed the weight gain in his son’s face but the real difference is in his legs. He thinks the increased strength will help him with the double teams he struggled with as a freshman.

“He’s a smart young man and he knew what he had to do and what he had to change in his game,” Antoine said. “He’s really excited. He definitely has noticed his growth and whole maturation during the time he’s been at Carolina. He definitely wants to stay healthy and contribute to the team.”

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