The coaching staff’s decision to move Scott highlighted its beliefs on the makeup of the secondary.
“It said two things,” defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Dan Disch said on Thursday. “No. 1, I think we’ve got good players there, good young players, and No. 2, we were thin at safety, so it was a double-edged deal where we had to solve a problem and that was where the help was going to come from.”
Scott’s move to free safety, alongside of Dom Green, UNC’s returning starter at strong safety, solidified the back end of the defense. It also provided an opportunity for Walker and Lawrence, a pair of Charlotte, N.C. products, to secure starting roles in just their second season in Chapel Hill.
“They’ve got confidence and they’re not afraid,” Disch said. “At that position, you’ve got to believe in yourself and not be afraid to give up a play or get beat. It’s going to happen.”
Associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning talks about confidence and a “tremendous competitive nature” when asked about Walker and Lawrence. The former is a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder that plays bigger than his measurements, while the former thrives as a corner in a safety’s body at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.
“B-Walk may not be as tall in stature, but he’s strong, very strong,” Koenning said, “and so he makes up for his height with his strength. And then Des is tall and strong. When he runs, it doesn’t look like he’s running a 4.4, but he’s covering some ground because of his height.”
Lawrence began his career at UNC as a safety, but prefers the corner position. He played on the edge at Charlotte Christian High School and likes the idea of being a bigger cornerback.
Lawrence has stepped into Jabari Price’s role at the boundary, while Walker is working at field corner.
“He’s a little bit more rowdy than I am,” Lawrence said of Walker. “He talks a little bit more. I think that’s what I picked up from him, actually talking a little bit more because I’m a little more quiet on the field. He’s a lot more aggressive, but at the same time, I’m a little bit more physical in certain elements.”
Lawrence (11 tkl, TFL) and Walker (21 tkl, INT) offered glimpses of their potential last season. A newcomer at cornerback, however, is primed to announce his arrival to the college game this fall.
“I can tell you this – M.J. Stewart needs to be talked about in the same sentences because those three are almost the same,” Koenning said. “They’re very competitive, easy to coach, want to please, work their tails off, physical… They’re three of the same type guys.”
Stewart, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound prospect out of Arlington, Va., enrolled in January as a three-star recruit. Thus far, he’s played above that scouting evaluation.
“He’s very mature beyond his years,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “Nothing fazes him. He’s really done a great job of preparing himself. He’s very confident in what he does. He knows what to do and he does his job. He’s like any great corner that has that short-term memory. There are some times you’re going to be out on that island and you’re going to lose. It just happens. But you’ve got to forget it and go on to the next play and I think he does a really good job of that.”
Lawrence provided a more succinct summation of Stewart’s ability, saying, “He’s a flat-out baller.”
Stewart has been working in with the ones at boundary corner during training camp, although the competition battle hasn’t yielded any adverse effects in the locker room.
“One day we know we’re all three going to be out there on the field at the same time,” Lawrence said, “so we don’t really look at it like, ‘Oh, he’s coming behind me, I’m not going to tell him anything.’ We talk to each other. We want each one of us to be the best.”
Adding to the depth at cornerback are juniors Alex Dixon and T.J. Jiles and sophomore Kedrick Davis.
“It’s a position that we feel pretty good about,” Fedora said.
The youth factor, however, remains a concern. Disch said leadership within the cornerback corps would have to come later as the safeties are serving that role in the secondary and the linebackers for the defense overall.
And while Koenning noted that it will be a positive to have a secondary that UNC won’t have to protect this fall, Disch stressed that his position group’s potential still had to overcome its inexperience.
“They’re having a good camp, they had a good spring, but the proof’s in the pudding,” Disch said. “You hope that translates to ball games — I’m confident that it will — but I tell them every day, ‘We haven’t done anything yet.’ You’re judged over a game, a season, a career, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”