Eddy: Defensive gaps could haunt Heels

CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina football coach John Bunting is concerned about his kicking game, which is understandable given he has to replace an outstanding place-kicker.

But here is the real deal in 2002: If UNC has to kick many field goals, it isn't going to matter who does the booting. The Tar Heels are going to lose games.

With the ACC's top-rated defense, the 2001 Tar Heels could get away without always finishing drives with touchdowns. This bunch can't even begin to think that way.

If UNC gets to within sniffing distance of the goal line this fall, the Tar Heels had better punch it in for six. And come to think of it, maybe they should go for two points after every TD as well.

The 2002 Tar Heels are going to need every last point they can muster.

"We're kind of walking around with our heads down right now, which I think is good," defensive end Will Chapman said. "A young defense needs to face adversity. I'd rather do it now than go out and do it against Miami (of Ohio)."

Maybe, but who's to say it will not happen in the opener on Aug. 31 as well?

"We're not even close to being a finished product right now," Bunting said. "We've got to clean up a lot of details. My goals for training camp were simple: I wanted to be a tougher football team. We haven't accomplished that yet. We wanted to be a better offensive team. I think we're closing in on that.

"And I wanted to be the best we could possibly be on defense at every single position. We're not there yet."

Chapman is the only guy along the front who started last year. The linebackers, with the notable exception of Malcolm Stewart, seem to be spending more time watching from the sidelines than practicing, courtesy of a slew of injuries and illnesses.

"We're linebacker poor," Bunting said.

Poverty stricken is more like it.

In some ways, this could be a lot like Mack Brown's first year at Carolina when the Tar Heels could move the ball and score but couldn't stop anyone. It was a lot like watching a tennis match on some Saturday afternoons, with both offenses racing back and forth across the turf at Kenan Stadium.

The biggest difference between 2002 and 1988 is that team's greatest weakness was a slow-footed secondary. The strength of the defense in 2002 is the secondary.

But what happens if Dexter Reid ends up leading the team in tackles? Well, my best guess would be: Not Too Good.

Safeties are supposed to help on run support, not provide it as a primary source. Nevertheless, I can see Reid and his cohorts in the secondary having to carry a lion's share of the load in anything this defense does.

None of this is a secret, of course, so expect every team the Tar Heels face in the early going to run the ball right at the Carolina defense. If UNC can't slow the pounding, then the Tar Heels and their fans can expect to see this strategy employed throughout this season.

"I would," Bunting said of running at his defense. "Sure I would -- absolutely. We've come a long ways, but we can't get to where we want to if guys are on the sidelines (injured).

"You cannot play football watching tape."

The gist of all this is Carolina fans who are expecting to see this team follow last year's 8-5 record with eight or nine more in 2002 had better revise their expectations.

This team may not fall as hard as Matt Doherty's basketball team did, but it could well stumble, nonetheless.

Note from the Editor: We're excited to announce that veteran ACC writer Eddy Landreth has joined Inside Carolina. During the coming seasons, he'll author a weekly column on Thursdays.

Landreth, a freelance writer from Pittsboro, N.C., is a former ACC beat writer for the Durham Herald-Sun, the Winston-Salem Journal and the Charlotte Observer.

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