CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 22 North Carolina’s collection of freshmen defensive backs was arguably the top storyline of training camp. Players such as Patrice Rene, Myles Dorn and K.J. Sails, among others, became household names for diehards in the span of a few short weeks.
However, camp is now closed. The freshman learning curve continues into Week 1 game prep as the Tar Heels turn their attention to No. 18 Georgia.
Defensive backs coach Charlton Warren told reporters on Wednesday that while his freshman class may have showcased an ability to make plays during training camp, there’s more to playing football than churning out a highlight reel.
“I think they made splash plays through fall camp,” Warren said. “That’s the play where you look up and say, ‘man, that guy made a play off the hash. And I think that’s what gets people’s attention. But me, as a coach, I’m looking for consistency. You can make one play, but if you bust three out of the next six, then it’s not really a good deal for me. So I’m really looking for these young guys to not make splash plays in these next couple of practices, but to make consistent plays.”
Due to his secondary depth, Warren’s in no hurry to trot out first-year players against the Bulldogs on Sept. 3. If a freshman proves over the next nine days that he understands UNC’s game plan and Georgia’s expected scheme while also beating out a veteran, then he will play. If not, he will take in the Georgia Dome experience and watch from the sidelines.
“When you get to game week, you’re going to roll the best four guys out and the best five guys out in nickel, and whoever that is going to be determined over these next seven practices,” Warren said. “Who is most consistent in defending in what the Georgia Bulldogs do? If you can come to practice and if you can rep and not bust and make the plays the defense allows you to make, and not work outside the defense and just try to make a play, then those are the guys that are going to play.”
UNC’s starting secondary is loaded with savvy veterans. Junior Donnie Miles and senior Dominquie Green hold down the safety spots while junior M.J. Stewart and senior Des Lawrence are All-ACC candidates at corner. That quartet has combined for 84 career starts.
“I think any time you can play guys that have been through the fire, guys that have seen route concepts, guys that have been in game-time situations, pressure situations, I think you take some of the anxiety off them because they’ve seen it and done it,” Warren said. “Now they’ve just got to execute. So I think going into a game against a very talented squad on the road, I think that’s going to be something that we really look for from a standpoint of relying on some veterans to step up and make plays.”
When asked about freshmen defensive backs rotating in with the ones and twos during training camp, Warren reeled off a list of returning players, such as cornerback Corey Bell and safety J.K. Britt, who are comfortable in the system and capable of playing if the rookies don’t meet their requirements over the next seven practices.
“If they can be consistent, they may find their way onto the field at some point this year,” Warren said. “If they’re inconsistent, they won’t play.”