Wide receivers and tight ends have the best vantage point to evaluate the defense’s secondary, so A-back Ryan Switzer and tight end Jack Tabb were asked to provide their perspective.
“Sam Smiley is really athletic,” Tabb said. “He can jump out of the gym. He can run real fast. I really like going up against him in 1-on-1 coverage because I know I’m going to get a good challenge. Also, M.J. [Stewart] at corner. The young kid’s coming along real well. Tim [Scott] looks really good at safety after moving from corner and Dominique Green is really physical back there.”
While Tabb chose to focus primarily on UNC’s safety brigade, Switzer selected backs from the ram and cornerback groups.
“Malik Simmons is doing a great job this year,” Switzer said. “He’s in the slot guarding me. He’s gotten just tremendously better since last year. He’s going to be a player. And then, obviously, you can’t say enough about Brian Walker. He’s going to be special.
“We’re a lot more athletic in the secondary this year. We go against the DBs 1-on-1 every day, so we can tell. Those two guys have done a tremendous job so far.”
Green, UNC’s starting strong safety, elected to go with backup free safety Kam Jackson, noting the junior’s willingness to get in work on his off-days during the offseason.
“He picked it up a lot,” Green said. “He’s really worked on his technique and he’s sharpened up his fundamentals to prepare himself for this year.”
Green added that Smiley’s return – the junior has missed 18 games over the past two seasons due to a foot injury – has added even more speed to the secondary, which will help fulfill associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning’s desire to play more man coverage.
Koenning also highlighted cornerback Des Lawrence and ram Donnie Miles as earning a maximum of five blur points, which are awarded for quality practice performance, in Friday's opening session.
Last fall, Koenning described Green as a safety with Smiley’s speed and Darien Rankin’s hitting ability. Rankin has since moved to linebacker, and in pairing that switch with Scott’s move from corner to safety, you get a sense of the speed infusion in the secondary.
Narrowing down the most improved player in that group, however, may take a few more weeks of training camp to iron out.