UNC FB 2002: The defensive tackles

The defensive tackle spot is a lot like the rest of the UNC defense -- underestimated.

The defensive tackle spot may be the heart and soul of any college defense.  It is the center of the first line of defense, where third and short runs are stopped, where penetration chases quarterbacks out of comfortable pockets, and where there is little glory to be had. 

 

"It's like being the offensive linemen," says starting defensive tackle Will Chapman.  "If Willie Parker runs for 150 yards, they say 'Willie Parker, offensive player of the week,' but really he's getting those yards – he's a great runner with speed – because of those linemen. A good defense has linebackers who make all the tackles and defensive linemen who make big plays, like sacks and tackles for loss.  It's my job to occupy those two offensive linemen so our linebackers can make tackles."

 

Last season, Ryan Sims exemplified the defensive tackle's lot in life.  He didn't make the most tackles; he was eighth on the team.  He didn't get the most sacks; Julius Peppers had four and a half more than the senior from South Carolina.  Peppers, Joey Evans, and David Thornton had more tackles for loss than Sims.

 

But he was arguably the most important cog in the defensive machine that finished first in the ACC in defense.  Though he drew accolades from opposing coaches, he didn't hear his name called as often as many of his defensive cohorts. 

 

This season, North Carolina enters the season with Chapman, a former walk-on coming off knee surgery and a fifth-year senior who is going to enter a season for the first time as a starter, Eric Davis, manning the interior spots of the defensive line.  Sims loss and the graduation of Anthony Perkins, who filled in for Chapman after he injured his knee against Clemson, have some prognosticators looking askance at the UNC defensive tackle spot, and in many ways, at the entire UNC defense.

 

Appearances could be a tad deceiving. 

 

Senior Eric Davis thinks so.  "We'll have a good team this year and open a lot of eyes for people this year at that (defensive tackle) position," says Davis.

 

If raw strength has anything to do with it, Davis could be right.  Davis is one of the strongest players on the team, owning the top bench press (485 pounds) mark.  Though he added 15 pounds during the off-season, he is still a little undersized for the nose tackle spot at 6-3, 285.  Does he see that as an advantage, or a disadvantage?

 

"One of the advantages is I feel like I'm a little quicker so that will help.  Disadvantages, I don't really see that many.  If I stay low using my hands, everything Coach Broadway tells us to do, and be more consistent with it, we'll be okay; I'll be okay," says Davis. 

 

Says UNC defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, "He (Davis) is a steady, consistent player who's going to give you every thing he has on every down."

 

Chapman agrees with Coach Huxtable, "His advantage is his strength. You can have the highest bench and the highest squat, but he also has the desire.  His desire to do well is more than most players have.  He's out there busting his ass every play.  He's 'straining,' as Coach Hux says."

 

Will Chapman was having perhaps the best game of his career when he went down with a knee injury in the eighth game of the season at Clemson.  After a long rehab he is back scrimmaging with the Tar Heels in evening practices.  Though he only played in 8 of 12 Tar Heel contests last season, he had 29 tackles, three tackles for loss, two pass deflections, six quarterback hurries, and one fumble recovery. 

 

Chapman is also playing a different position this season.  Last year, Ryan Sims was the "rush" defensive tackle, while Chapman held down the nose tackle spot.  This season, he will be manning the rush tackle position. So is the knee, and Chapman, ready to go?

 

"It's coming back," says Chapman.  "Yesterday, during night practice – parts of it are loose and will fold over into a crease – it gave out.  That's normal, and that part hurts, but it's feeling good.  It's stiff in the mornings, and that is part of it, but it feels good.


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