CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Neither UNC head coach Larry Fedora nor defensive coordinator Gene Chizik expected sophomore defensive tackle Jalen Dalton to be this good this soon.
After gradually seeing more playing time throughout the 2015 season, Dalton entrenched himself as the first-team defensive tackle at three technique during spring practice. The 19-year-old arrived at UNC as a defensive end, but his quickness inside prompted Chizik and defensive line coach Tray Scott to move him to tackle this time last year.
Dalton’s improvement over the past 12 months has been dramatic, and it seems to have only increased during training camp.
“I would have to pick out a young kid who played for us last year but has really come into his own,” Fedora said when asked about a standout camp performer during his radio show on Tuesday. “You know, he’s gotten bigger, he’s up to 295 pounds now and that’s Jalen Dalton. He’s really grown and really adjusted to moving from defensive end to down inside, so he’s doing a good job and I’m really proud of him.”
The Clemmons, N.C. product played in eight games as a freshman and tallied 11 tackles, two quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss.
Dalton, who is battling an ankle injury suffered in UNC’s second scrimmage of camp, joins junior Nazair Jones in anchoring the interior of the defensive line. Redshirt sophomores Jeremiah Clarke and Robert Dinkins, both of whom started games in 2015, round out the two-deep while redshirt freshman Aaron Crawford and true freshman Marlon Dunlap provide options with the third team.
“We’re starting to build some depth,” Fedora said. “The great thing about it is that Naz is the oldest one, he’s a junior. The rest of them are mostly freshmen or sophomores so they’ll be around here for a while.”
Quality and quantity are equally important up front, especially in a Power 5 conference.
“This league is a tough league, and you’ve got to have depth on the defensive line,” Chizik said. “If you don’t have that, you’re going to struggle.”