"Like Coach Davis, I think defense sets the whole tone for your football team," said Blake, Carolina's defensive line coach. "With the young guys we've got here developing and the ones we've got coming in, that's some outstanding young talent. Tydreke Powell (6-3, 290, Fr.), Marvin Austin Marvin Austin (6-3, 295, Fr.) and Linwan [Euwell] – those guys just can't wait to get in here and help."
Davis said following the team's scrimmage on Thursday, that he wants eight serviceable linemen of starters and backups to split snaps this fall at about a 60-to-40 percent clip.
While interior linemen seem to be readily available in nose tackles Tavares Brown (6-0, 275, So.), Aleric Mullins (6-3, 285, Fr.) and Cam Thomas (6-4, 315, So.), as well as rush tackles Kentwan Balmer (6-5, 290, Sr.) and Kyndraus Guy (6-2, 280, Sr.); only Hilee Taylor has secured his role at the strong side end (6-3, 240, Sr.).
Taylor's 30 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks are the best numbers among the returning linemen.
E.J. Wilson (6-2, 260, So.), who came on strong late last season with big performances at Notre Dame and Duke, is well on his way to becoming a leader already. However a strained right shoulder has sidelined him possibly until summer.
"I may come back next week, but right now I'm out for the rest of the spring," Wilson said on Thursday. "It happened in the first full scrimmage we had at Kenan Stadium when we went full pads. I was pass rushing Garrett Reynolds, and I was wearing a harness, but my shoulder popped out of place a little bit when the harness came undone."
Garrett White (6-2, 235, Jr.), Darius Powell (6-2, 220, Fr.) and Nick Starcevic (6-2, 235, Jr.) provide a pool of players for competition at the position.
Taylor has taken on a leadership role this season he was not always accustomed to. And he's taken a particular interest in Darius Powell's development.
"That's weird," Taylor said. "I remember like yesterday asking Brian Rackley and Tommy Davis, ‘What do I do on this play?' Now people like Darius Powell ask me things. People say we have a lot of similarities. He's kind of a guy I've taken under my wing. I've taken everybody under my wing, but I'm kind of focusing on him, because he's a speed guy that doesn't weigh as much, and I can kind of relate to him."
Ineligible last season, Mullins adds to the Tar Heels' growing list of big'uns which were highly touted high school prospects.
"The year was long, but I learned a lot during that year," Mullins said. "Now it's full go from here on out."
Though not recruited by him, Mullins welcomes the opportunity to tutor under the well-respected Blake.
"The bar is set so high for the D-Linemen; he wants to make every play," Mullins said of Blake. "He wants us to get off the blocks and make every single play."
Blake cherishes the high expectations put on his unit, but is aware it has yet to prove itself. Carolina gave up an average of 173 yards via the rush in 2006.
"There is still an experience (concern)," Blake said. "We've got a lot of young guys – freshmen and sophomores – who haven't played, and we've got to fill some holes. That's the key.
"The good thing about it is we've got guys that can play all those spots. They have the work ethic. They do what you ask them to do with a great attitude. They're hungry. My job is to teach and develop them, and if I get that, you can't ask for more than that," he said.