Brown: Unsung DT

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – There's a good chance during the season opener against James Madison that a North Carolina fan will turn to the person sitting beside him and ask "Who is No. 96 on defense?" The answer is Tavares Brown, and you shouldn't be surprised if he is the starter at defensive tackle on Sept. 1.

Senior Kentwan Balmer, sophomore Aleric Mullins and highly-touted freshman Marvin Austin have served as the media's darlings this preseason, but the lack of attention does not seem to bother the Rockingham, N.C. native.

"Oh, no – I'm a team player," Brown said. "I just sit back. I know they're all going to give credit to the whole [defensive] line, so I don't mind."

Several recruiting analysts speculated during Brown's high school days that had the 6-foot, 290-pounder been a little taller, his stock would have sky-rocketed. The sophomore just adds his height into the mix of things that have allowed him to excel at North Carolina.

"Being quick off the ball and playing low," Brown said. "I'm already short – shorter than all of the other defensive linemen…Playing [defensive] line, you've got to have leverage – the takeoff off the ball has to be vicious."

Brown admits to struggling with his offseason conditioning, but his dedication on the field and in the classroom has slowly moved him up the depth chart at tackle. He also credits strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors with his improved play, citing a weight room change in focus, dating back to December.

"We worked more on speed and quickness, and more on our lower body," Brown said. "We're actually moving faster to the ball."

Defensive line coach John Blake has been the mastermind behind the line's emergence this training camp, and Brown only adds praise to the long list of Blake fans.

"He's one of a kind – you won't ever meet a coach like him," Brown said. "Before practice, he's out there getting us hyped up. He just does his own thing. And he teaches technique like no other."

With the preseason hitting the stretch run, Brown has begun thinking about James Madison, but he also plans to use the remaining time in camp to improve and hone his skills.

"I'm focused on the first game, but I'm still trying to prepare myself in becoming a better player as it goes along," Brown said. "I know the coaches are going to have the game plan, and have it scripted up for us. Today is our last two-a-day, so we still have room to back out there, work some technique and get into the flow, because next week is starting game day [work]."

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