Linebackers: Position Rebuilt

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – There is no way former all-conference alum and new UNC assistant Tommy Thigpen can disguise the dedication and excitement he's brought to his new position. Both he and John Bunting are impressed with the experienced core of Tar Heel linebackers for 2005 – growing ever so deeper and faster with each new recruiting class.

IC's Preseason Positional Analysis:
  • Quarterbacks: Baker's Big Shot
  • Running Backs: Searching For Depth

    Since Thigpen has returned, Bunting, a former UNC, USFL and NFL linebacker in his own right, is spending even more time with this group.

    "Sometimes he'll even let me coach them," Bunting said of Thigpen.

    Across the board talent appears to have finally arrived in the middle for Carolina, perhaps the most lacking area when Bunting set out to rebuild this defense with his players to go with his style.

    With the addition of Thigpen, a supplemental fire has been built under a core of athletes that have plenty of snaps under their belts.

    If the opener versus Georgia Tech were today, then SAM Jeff Longhany, MIKE Doug Justice and WILL Tommy Richardson – all seniors – would be the starters.

    But look out, and this is a luxury. Reborn earlier prodigy Larry Edwards, ever improving Victor Worsley – both juniors, and well-pedigreed redshirt freshman Chase Rice, who has earned a spot on the two-deep; are going to demand substantial playing time as well.

    "That's my challenge," Thigpen said. "Put it to the floor. Go as hard as you can and let the other guy behind you come in and spell you. Then I'll put you back in there and you'll go hard again. You've got to play two guys at each position and keep the maximum of guys going as hard as they can."

    Now the Tar Heel coaches have had an abundance of linebacker rotations before, but usually out of desperation as they sifted through personnel to find someone who might be able to stop the overall defensive bleeding of 2002, '03 and the beginning of '04.

    While it's much too early to quantify the improvement of the UNC linebacking corps, visual advancements leading to Carolina's improbable bowl run last year, along with the development of quality reinforcements, can only spell better things for the future.

    "I like this group," Thigpen said. "With old guys like Doug Justice and Tommy Richardson, and even some older guys that are backing them up like Larry Edwards and Victor Worsley.

    "We're pleased with where we are with depth at the position, but we're not pleased. We've got a long way to go."

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