Fortunately, defensive end is one of the few positions on a football team where a true freshman can make an impact, due to simplicity of the basic fundamentals. In a worst-case scenario, a coach can say, ‘See the quarterback? Go get him.' But that doesn't make the adjustment any easier.
"The game speed from high school to college is a big change, so when I got in, I had to use my speed and recognize that everyone was stronger, so I just had to get in here and grind hard," McAdoo said.
Coples echoed his teammate's comments, saying, "When you get out there, you're making plays on your athleticism instead of going out there and knowing what you're doing. Because when you first get in the game, it's confusing. You worried if you're going to make this play or if you're not. Or if you're going to look good or look bad, so there's a lot of things that run through your head."
While their overall athleticism provides a strong likeness between these two 19-year-olds whose birthdays are only 17 days apart, the similarities essentially end there. McAdoo enrolled at North Carolina standing 6-foot-7 with 225 pounds on his frame and speed as his lone ally. But after an offseason dedicated to the nuances of the game, as well as packing on 16 more pounds to get to 241 pounds, the Antioch, Tenn. native is expecting more consistent results in '09.
"I used my athleticism last year, but now that I've got my technique and just the basics down, I'm going to put two-and-two together and maybe I can come out better than how I did last year," said McAdoo, who indicated that his goal was to reach 250 pounds before the season opener against The Citadel on Sept. 5.
Coples, on the other hand, admits to being the slowest of the sophomore defensive ends – although it would be tough for anyone beat out Robert Quinn's 4.5 40. The Kinston, N.C. product arrived in Chapel Hill looking like a grown man at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, and all he's done since is add 30 more pounds to that total. Like his fellow second-teamer at defensive end, technique was just a fancy word 12 months ago.
"I definitely didn't know technique," said Coples, with a wide grin. "I had to pick it up real fast as the season went along. Basically, I was strong and fast, but not as fast as [McAdoo] so I had to use my strength more so than my speed… But technique eventually paid off for me being successful last year."
Shortly after the Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to West Virginia, the duo went to work on mastering every part of their game. For McAdoo, the focus was getting off the line better and becoming more efficient with his hands in battling offensive linemen. For Coples, offseason film regiments often included critical looks at his own play in '08, breaking down the infinite details that prevented more disruption.
The ultimate goal in those trials and tribulations was to meet Davis and defensive line coach John Blake's expectations in allowing for a seamless transition between the first- and second-team units along the defensive line. Through six days of preseason practice, that objective has apparently been met as there is minimal difference in the rep count between the first two groups.
"No question – our defensive line is definitely interchangeable," Coples said. "We can rotate them at any point in time. We're a lot more focused, a lot more disciplined and we're working on staying in shape and getting in better shape, and then just chasing the ball and setting the tone."
There are plenty of differences between these two sophomore defensive ends – for instance, McAdoo talks of leading the ACC in sacks while Coples talks of general team success when asked about personal goals in '09 – but both players agree that the end result will ultimately be the same. That is, with opposing quarterbacks living on borrowed time and running for their lives.