The second-team defensive line during the media portion of practice highlighted the fluid state of UNC’s position groups.
Junior Gnonkonde lined up at defensive end after moving this summer from Bandit. Defensive tackle Justin Thomason played at defensive end at the start of last season, while true freshman Mikey Bart lined up at Bandit after entering training camp last week at end.
Second-year UNC head coach Larry Fedora stretches his depth charts through versatility. Fifth-year senior Terry Shankle, for example, has played the bulk of his career at cornerback but is currently working at Ram to be able to play both positions, if needed.
“You’re always an ankle away at any position of being depleted,” Fedora told reporters following practice. “It’s never enough. I don’t think any football coach out there feels great about depth. Maybe a few do, but I haven’t been in that situation. It’s always a concern, especially in camp because there’s a lot of hitting. This is the toughest part of a football season.”
Fedora, who is known for being secretive regarding injuries, was asked about the notable absences of Bandit Shakeel Rashad and middle linebacker Nathan Staub, who was sporting crutches at Saturday’s photo day at Kenan Stadium.
“Just banged up right now,” Fedora said. “Banged up and they’re taking a look at them to see where they are. That’s all I know right now.”
Weakside linebacker Tommy Heffernan was able to provide more insight into Staub’s injury situation.
“He tweaked his knee a little bit, so I think we’re just waiting on the results and see what happens,” Heffernan said. “Hopefully he can get back. He’s just rehabbing and doing what he can do the best he can.”
One sizeable change on the depth chart came in the form of 6-foot-4, 310-pound J.J. Patterson. The red-shirt freshman opened camp as a backup at offensive guard, but has since been moved to defensive tackle.
“We flipped J.J. over to the defense,” Fedora said. “I heard them all yelling over there in 1-on-1s, I looked back and he had done something good. We tried to throw another guy in there to try to give us a little bit more depth on the defensive line. He’s played the position in high school, so he’s just got to play catch up. He’s a big, strong guy, so hopefully he can take hold of a center and a guard and hold on to them and let a linebacker make a play.”
Bart, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound true freshman, is capable of adding a layer of toughness to the athletic Bandit position.
“That’s a physical kid,” Heffernan said. “I was telling him all day, ‘Just keep going, keep going.’ He’s a smart kid, so I think he’ll learn the playbook quickly. He’s still lost here and there with certain things, but he’s a physical guy and that’s what we need. He’s down there throwing those tight ends and linemen around like it’s nothing.”
Former safety Clint Heaven, a 6-foot, 220-pound red-shirt freshman, has moved up to the linebacker position and former Ram Joe Jackson (6-2, 210 lbs) is also working with the linebackers.