Withers, Part V: Path to Improvement

When analysts dissect North Carolina's defensive personnel for next season – the Tar Heels lose only safety Trimane Goddard and linebacker Mark Paschal from 2008 – they'll pencil in the number of returning starters and assume those spots in the starting lineup.

Not so fast, says defensive coordinator Everett Withers. No starter is locked in for the 2009 season.

"Some of the guys who started for us this year may not be starters next year," Withers said. "To get better, we may find a guy who has been a second team guy who might be better than the guy who started."

Withers also strongly hinted that changes might be made to get more speed and more athleticism on the field. The goal to establish an identity as a more aggressive defense as well may bring changes to the depth chart.

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with UNC defensive coordinator Everett Withers earlier this month for a one-on-one interview. This is a five-part series running all this week from that interview session.
Part I: Fitting In
Part II: Football Junkie
Part III: Prevent
Part IV: Changing With The Times
Part V: Path to Improvement
"We have to gain an identity of being a tougher defense, being more physical on defense," Withers said. "I think we've started in that direction, but we've got to do that. If we continue with that, then we'll be on the right track. We want to be faster, and obviously to do that I think we've got to find a way to be more athletic on defense.

"We've got to be a better tackling defense -- I say toughness, but we've got to do a better job of tackling. We got to be more physical when we tackle. We want to be more physical in the secondary; I think that is one area where we want to be more physical. We want to be more physical at corner, we want to be more physical at safety as far as tackling, and we want to be more physical at linebacker.

"We want to be athletic, but we still want to be able go and be physical at those positions. If we can get there, I think we'll be a better defense. The best thing you can do with your football team, if you have guys, is to put them in a position where they have to compete for jobs."

When it comes to finding ways to put more speed and athleticism on the field, Withers and the UNC staff won't hesitate to use true freshmen, if they find a player in that class who can compete at a spot on the depth-chart, or even as a starter.

"When you are recruiting, you are recruiting guys to come in and be starters," Withers explained. "You are recruiting guys to come in and compete, not guys that will just fill back up roles -- you're recruiting guys to come in and play for you. So as we grow the recruiting each year, we hope that each position becomes more competitive, and that's what we're working towards."

For returning players, Withers and his staff focus on turning weaknesses into strengths.

"If you can get your football players to work on their weaknesses, work on those things that give them problems, then you've got a chance to have a better football team," he said. "That's what we try to emphasize to them. If I am a guy who can cover one-on-one from press coverage really well, then I need to go work on my off coverage, and work on being a better off one-on-one player. Not neglecting what I am good at, but understanding ‘This is what I have to be better at.'

"'Here's what you do well, here's what we think you do well that you can continue to work on, here's what you need to work on.' The one thing I always preface those talks with is I tell the guys that good football players don't work on the things that they do well. They do that well because they've been working on it. What they do is they work on those things that they are weakest at. They take those things and make them a priority.

"We're pushing them to be the best team in the country, and that's how we have to push them every day."

Did you miss Inside Carolina's series on offensive coordinator John Shoop last week? Catch up on all five segments:
Part I: Acclimation, Part II: Game Planning, Part III: Play Calling, Part IV: Strategy, Part V: QB Growth.

For much more from both Withers and Shoop, be sure to read Buck Sanders' "Offseason Report" in the March Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine.

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