Defensive Backs: Battle For The Ball

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter much who actually starts at strong safety when North Carolina opens the season at Georgia Tech on Sept. 10. But try telling that to Mahlon Carey and Trimane Goddard, who are involved in one of the most publicized position battles at preseason camp.

IC's Preseason Positional Analysis:
  • Quarterbacks: Baker's Big Shot
  • Running Backs: Searching For Depth
  • Wide Receivers: Simply The Best
  • Defensive Line: Pieces In Place
  • Linebackers: Position Rebuilt
  • Defensive Backs: Battle For The Ball
  • Special Teams: 'Teams' Special

    "Regardless of how it turns out, both are going to play significantly," defensive coordinator and secondary coach Marvin Sanders said. "There's no leader yet, but during the last week, I've been very impressed with Mahlon Carey. He's an imposing figure back there in that deep middle. If you come across the middle back there, be conscious of where Mahlon's at. A lot of those receivers that have dropped passes knew Mahlon was coming.

    "And Trimane Goddard is very knowledgeable. He brings a lot of speed with him."

    Carey, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior, has started at safety, linebacker and tailback during his tenure at North Carolina. He's moved back to the secondary after finishing sixth on the team with 53 tackles last year. Carey can bring it.

    Goddard, 5-11, 185, is one of the fastest Tar Heels. He was one of the most highly sought after products in the state in 2003, and made an immediate impact as a backup cornerback and special teams' contributor as a true freshman. This year he says he's ready to step it up even more. Goddard has the athleticism and speed to counteract Carey's strength.

    "When I got out of high school, I just wanted to get on the field and contribute any way I could," Goddard said. "I was hoping to get a starting job by this year.

    "It's a lot of competition between myself and Mahlon. It's healthy because it's making both guys better."

    "He's exactly right," Carey added. "Battling brings out competition. Everybody's getting better, and we've got a lot of corners going through the same competition."

    "Trimane and I are back in forth, back in forth. He's going good and I'm going good. It's just a decision [the coaches] are going to have to make. I'm really not even worried about it. I know I'm giving him my best shot and he's giving me his best shot."

    Junior Jacoby Watkins emerged as the Tar Heels' "shut-down corner" in 2004, coming up especially big in wins over Georgia Tech and Miami. A preseason All-ACC candidate, he has been slowed in camp by a bout with vertigo. But he's back close to full-go and should benefit by UNC's late start to the season by getting back used to contact.

    "He's close," Sanders said. "We've been able to have him get a few plays. The true test will be when I can get him tackling again, because he hasn't been able to hit anybody. He's still shown that he can go with the best of them, but I've got to get him out there in contact."

    The Carolina defensive secondary has proven it can play with anyone as the entire defense appears to be coming around. With the front seven now deeper and more experienced, Sanders hopes to be able to employ a much more aggressive style of pass coverage this year.

    "It makes it a lot easier for the secondary," Sanders said. "When you give (the opposing) quarterback three-and-a-half or four seconds, anybody outside of Moses isn't going to be able to cover anybody. It's going take a miracle to do it. So when you can make that quarterback throw the ball when he has to throw it, you can get a lot more aggressive in the secondary."

    The emphasis has been getting more hands on the football which has a tendency to produce game breaking plays.

    "We've been able to get our hands on some balls in the past without actually intercepting them," Sanders said. "Now we have an attack mentality. We're going to attack at everything we do. We're not going to lay back and relax."

    The turnaround in the backfield became evident to Carey against the Yellow Jackets last season:

    "When Jacoby Watkins had those two interceptions, we started saying, ‘Hey, we can get our hands on balls.' You just have to be in the right spots and go after it. Coach Sanders has come in and brought that high energy and high expectation level. Now we know we can do that. This off season we worked real hard. We've been getting our hands on a lot of balls in camp and look forward to doing it this year."

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