Tommy Ashley, radio show co-host
Greg Barnes, beat writer
Mark Paschal, analyst (former Tar Heel LB)
Buck Sanders, columnist
Opposing offenses are obviously going to have to game plan for defensive end Robert Quinn, with extra players assigned to limit the havoc he has the potential to create. Can Quinn still rack up a huge season statistically with that extra attention, and if he can't, can UNC still get enough pressure on the opposing quarterback with its defensive line?
Greg Barnes: Yes, Quinn can still rack up insane numbers this fall – he's that good. As for the second question, that's tough to answer right now, given the uncertainty of Marvin Austin's availability this season. If Austin is able to suit up, then opposing defenses are just going to have to pick their poison. And even if Austin is on the sidelines, tackle Tydreke Powell and end Quinton Coples have plenty of NFL potential and can capitalize on opportunities if opponents show the mighty Quinn too much respect.
Mark Paschal: Robert has the potential to get to the quarterback a lot this year. He will be tested week in and week out by different blocking schemes. Opposing offenses will use running backs and tight ends to chip him and will use play-action to freeze the pass rush. Look for Carolina to mix up its rush by using stunts and twists if he struggles beating double or triple teams. The good thing for Carolina is that with all the attention on Robert during pass plays, the other guys on the defensive line will face a lot of one-on-one opportunities, especially the backside defensive end. Look for whoever lines up at the opposite defensive end spot of Robert to have a nice statistical year.
Tommy Ashley: He'll get his numbers, but how big a season he has depends on how much help he gets from the inside – i.e. defensive tackle, andd if Austin is on the field. Powell can command double teams inside but not on the level of Austin – at least not thus far. Even so, the great thing for Carolina is teams will have to choose their poison, as Greg said. Double Quinn and that leaves most everyone else one-on-one. If opponents use backs to help on Quinn that takes another receiving option out of the play. Simply run away from Quinn and he'll have a field day. It should be interesting to see how the staff moves him around to create mismatches across the line. Whether Quinn has a huge statistical year or not, this should finally be the season Carolina can get constant pressure with the front four alone.
Buck Sanders: As everyone else has mentioned, just the presence of Quinn alone changes the equation for offenses. To answer the second part of the question first, there are three very talented defensive ends - Coples, Michael McAdoo, and Donte Paige-Moss - who have got to be licking their chops thinking about playing opposite of Quinn.
Back to the first question, can Quinn put up big numbers even with all that extra attention coming his way? My guess is that he can - the really talented defensive ends seem to always find a way to get to the quarterback and make plays, regardless of how offenses try to account for them.
North Carolina, as good as it was defensively last season, still gave up over four hundred yards to good-to-great offenses – Georgia Tech, Miami, and Florida State. Is the Tar Heel defense ready to limit even the high-powered offenses on the slate this year to under 400 yards of total offense?
Mark Paschal: Coach Withers and Coach Davis have done an outstanding job of bringing elite talent to Chapel Hill and have done an even better job of teaching the system to these guys. Many of these guys will be starting their fourth season for Carolina - they know the defense, they know what to do before the ball is snapped and they know what it takes from a preparation standpoint during the week so they can be successful on Saturday. This unit, if it maintains a team-first mentality, continue to improve, and stay motivated, has the potential to be special.
Tommy Ashley: Georgia Tech just kicked Carolina's tail. The Yellow Jackets were out to prove a point after the ‘08 loss in Kenan and they did. Period. Carolina's offense was AWOL, and there you have it.
I think the other two games mentioned were a direct result of Carolina's lack of aggressiveness on the field and in the play calling. The Tar Heels seemed content to let the opposing QB try and make plays and both Ponder and Harris made enough to have big offensive days. Ponder was off the charts that night in stealing that win for FSU. Fortunately for the Heels against Miami, Harris also hooked up with Kendric Burney for 170 yards the other way and Carolina won that game.
Will that change this year? On paper it should – Carolina has the total package defensively. But all three of those teams are going to be strong this year so we'll see.
Buck Sanders: The offense and its '09 deficiencies has been, perhaps fairly, the focus of most fans and media in the off-season, but the North Carolina defense also had some almost inexplicable breakdowns, for example, giving up three field goals and a touchdown to a Virginia team that couldn't move the ball against tall grass in 2009. Of course the offense going three-and-out didn't help, but the defense has pretty much gotten a pass in the off-season.
We know how talented the individual players are on the defense – just ask Mel Kiper – but it is time for the defense to come together as a unit and be greater than the sum of its parts. Up to this point, they haven't been.
Greg Barnes: I don't think the yardage statistics are much of a concern. Florida State's numbers were skewed due to the fluke 98-yard touchdown pass, and UNC was content in letting Miami throw the ball all over the field, tallying 214 interception return yards and two touchdowns along the way. Georgia Tech's 10-of-19 third-down conversion rate is a legitimate concern, but the one statistic that Tar Heel fans should be most concerned about is that UNC has lost seven ball games despite holding a fourth-quarter lead over the past two seasons.