Who would have thought in his senior season Ethan Farmer would be the designated leader for the defensive line?
As it turns out, not even Farmer.
"I couldn't really imagine that," Farmer said in a recent interview with InsideCarolina.com. "In high school, I really wanted to be a tight end and play defense as well, but I really like defense now, so it's good."
Farmer (30 tackles, 2.5 TFL in '13) may not be playing where he originally anticipated but he's shown the ability to produce, earning the role as a starter last season alongside Jackson.
"It was working hard with Coach (Keith) Gilmore and then opportunity came" Farmer said. "I had to work hard for it last year with Tim and Kareem. They came up and talked to me. They told me straightforward, 'Hey man, we need you this year and we need you to step up.' I saw myself stepping into that role, so that's what I did."
Despite the departures of UNC's two star defensive linemen, Farmer expects the current group to thrive in 2014. Jackson and Martin may have given him the confidence to step up into his role and now he hopes to do the same as a leader on the line.
"I see it being great," said Farmer when asked about the potential of the defensive line. "There's really no change. We lost two guys, but that doesn't really mean anything. We've still got young guys coming in. Greg Webb, Nazair Jones, Justin Thomason, who's been a big key this spring so far, and Shawn Underwood, so we're still good. I think we've still got a lot of work to do and that's what we plan on doing."
With Farmer entrenched at nose tackle, Thomason (22 tkl, 1.5 TFL) is currently working beside him at the three-technique. Defensive end Junior Gnonkonde (22 tkl) and bandit Norkeithus Otis (49 tkl, 13 TFL) round out the first-string defensive line.
Thomason is a potential product of the opportunity that's been afforded with the lack of depth at defensive line over the past couple of seasons. He has played since he was a freshman at defensive tackle and now feels comfortable and able to play without thinking too much heading in his junior season.
"Last year I was backing up Tim Jackson and I was just taking everything he taught me and everything he did and just trying to mirror it," Thomason said. "This year, I'm getting more playing time, I'm starting, so I'm just trying to keep it consistent."
The added time on the field is helping Thomason's play, but he's also used old game tape of Sylvester Williams, as well as Jackson, to help enhance his comprehension of the game and gap coverage during the offseason.
"Seeing them do the right things on tape helped me out a lot," Thomason said.
Thomason expects the group to fair well this year and has a belief in the mix between talented freshmen and seniority in the defensive trenches.
"We're molding into a good group together," Thomason said. "You've got the seniors with Ethan and Shawn. Then there's Jessie Rogers and me and we've been playing since we were freshmen. We're definitely young but we've got veteran guys, too."
Farmer and Thomason both had praise for a few talented young players on the line such as red-shirt freshmen Webb, Jones and Dajuan Drennon.
"Dajuan is doing really good at D-end," Thomason said. "He's getting quicker, getting stronger. Greg's really coming into form. He was already strong but he's just learning the plays and getting used to it."
The Tar Heel defensive front will be a different bunch this season but the depth in place will do nothing but benefit the group as a whole.