Spring Practice: DL only way is up

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Oh, there is so much work to be done on the defensive line. Considering this is a unit that helped allow opponents to 227 yards rushing per game, while managing just 16 sacks all of last year, it would seem the only way to go is up.

Despite that inevitableness, according to new defensive coordinator John Gutekunst it's much to early to tell if any substantial improvement has been made yet.

At Wednesday's practice, Tommy Davis and Alden Blizzard were the starting defensive ends, with Chase Page and Isaiah Thomas as the first line tackles.

That's a move from end for Page, who feels the interior line is a better fit for him.

"I love it," Page said. "I think that is my natural [position]. I'm almost 300 pounds now, and at end I felt a little bit slow."

For Blizzard, this is his year to make an impact and at end the likes the Tar Heels have been looking for since Julius Peppers took his talent to the NFL three years ago.

"My role this year is to be a playmaker on the defensive line," Blizzard said. "The D-Line is looking real good this year. We're pressing real hard and real fast."

In addition, the sky is the limit for Thomas and Kyndraus Guy, who will be ready to contribute this fall after fully recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

Yet, at this point, no one is assured a starting position, and the UNC coaches want to keep competition at a premium at all positions – especially on the defensive line.

"Alden is making a move, but he still has a long way to go," UNC coach John Bunting said. "[Brian] Rackley is also someone that we're expecting to make a move. Tommy Davis is having a good spring. Khalif Mitchell is going to be a fine football player; he may be as talented as we have. We're anxious to get Kyndraus Guy out on the field; he can't practice this spring, but he gave our offensive line fits all through the fall. We talked to him about coming out of that [red]-shirt and he didn't want to. And, we allowed him to do that. So he has got four years eligibility and he is probably our quickest lineman."

But it was Page who became the self-appointed leader last season and he is glad to continue that role this year.

"I'm not going to lie; in comparison to last year, we're so much better," Page said. "Tommy Davis is older and getting so much better. And Khalif Mitchell, the freshman, is unbelievable. He's got moves and runs really well. He's going to be really good when he learns what to do. Isaiah Thomas and all those guys are coming along really well and have done a really good job. They're just stepping up and learning how to play defensive line."

  • Bunting on the defensive backs:
    "We are seeing the ball and breaking on balls better. We are much better back there and making more interceptions than we did this time last year. I knew Marvin Sanders would be a real good coach for us and I knew he and John Gutekunst would work real well together. There is a lot of unity. I think the players see that and feel real good about it. Anytime you change coaches, the players feel like they have a second life and another chance to prove themselves."

  • Sophomore Mike Mason got his bell rung right at the end of practice on Wednesday. He was coherent afterward, but he didn't feel real well. He suffered a concussion and was bleeding from the mouth. According to a UNC spokesperson, he will be taken to UNC Hospital and be evaluated further on Thursday.

  • Freshman cornerback Bryan Bethea, who broke his hand during the off-season, is back to full-contact status.

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