Buck Sanders has covered UNC football on the web since the 1997 season. In December 2001, he and his partners purchased Inside Carolina and now cover UNC Sports both on the web and in Inside Carolina magazine.
Sanders: First, it is great to have a home-and-home with the Badgers. Looking forward to seeing how the Heels fare on the road in an early season game with a Big Ten opponent. Now to the questions:
What is the general feeling in Chapel Hill about this year's team? Are the Tar Heels expected to be better than last year?
Sanders: The Tar Heels should be better this year. Last year was definitely a rebuilding year, especially on defense where the Heels lost six defensive players to the NFL, including Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims. Youth and inexperience will still be an issue on defense, as several true frosh will compete for playing time on the front seven.
What went wrong last season? Was the injury to Darian Durant a huge part of the 3-9 finish, or were there other factors that killed UNC's chances at a more respectable finish?
Sanders: I mentioned the defensive losses to the NFL, but a fifth-year senior defensive tackle expected to start was injured before the season started, and another was injured about mid-way of the season. Three new starters lined up at linebacker. Defensively, UNC was unable to stop the run. When Durant was injured, it put even more pressure on the defense.
Do you see any of UNC's tailbacks breaking out and having a big year?
Sanders: Actually, UNC fans have reason to be "cautiously optimistic" about the running game. First, the offensive line returns with every significant contributor back from a year ago. Second, there are more weapons at tail back than a year ago. Chad Scott, a transfer from Kentucky, (first-team freshman All-SEC by the SEC Coaches and a third-team freshman All-America by The Sporting News) is available this year after sitting out his transfer year. A true frosh who enrolled in January, Ronnie McGill, was the talk of spring ball. He is a big, tough kid. The presence of these newcomers has senior Willie Parker also stepping it up. He had his best spring by far. In addition, UNC has Jacque Lewis who started a year ago at tail back. The Tar Heels have had every component of the running game available to them since the start of spring practice. I think this may be the area that improves the most from 2002 on the UNC team.
What was your impression of the receiving corps in the spring? Are there any dangerous targets that haven't made a name for themselves yet, but could be a major factor in the fall?
Sanders: Danny Rumley is a tall target that will see some playing time this year. Along with Derrele Mitchell, they give UNC two targets that are 6'- 4" or better. Jarwarski Pollock is a little guy who is very exciting and has the potential to be a gamebreaker. However, UNC's class of frosh wide receivers may all skip their redshirt years. Adarius Bowman and Jesse Holley are two athletic receivers that also have height and speed, while Mike Mason may work himself into a reserve role in the slot. UNC signed one of the best wide receiver classes in the nation, and they should see the field early. Overall, UNC has a lot of big targets and a great pass catcher in tight end Bobby Blizzard. With Durant healthy, more experienced, and more mature, the passing game could be very dangerous.
Will UNC's defense be markedly improved from last year? How did the defense fall so dramatically from the great units in the late 90's to one of the worst defenses in the country last season?
Sanders: UNC recruited very well at linebacker and defensive line. A lot depends on how ready these guys are to play. Even if they are ready physically and mentally, they will be very inexperienced. I would not be surprised to see at least three true frosh on the two-deep at linebacker, and it is possible that two of them could start. UNC should be improved on defense, but it is hard to gauge how fast the new kids can come along and contribute.
My suspicion is that it could take one or two more years for UNC to field the type of fearsome defense they became noted for under Mack Brown. Recruiting was not what UNC had come to expect during the Carl Torbush years, and the attrition that comes with two coaching staff changes has hurt the defensive effort.
UNC Q&A: Buck Sanders
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