The early emergence of freshman Kareen Taylor and the recent arrival of Lionell Green have added even more depth to the Tar Heels last line of defense.
“We’re going to mix up positions as we go along, especially these first two weeks,” UNC coach John Bunting said. “Mahlon [Carey] moved to free, and we moved Michael Harris back to strong safety. Kareen Taylor is going to get snaps with both the first and second units.”
Entering training camp, it appeared that Carey and Tommy Richardson would vie for the strong safety spot.
“Tommy has a little more knowledge at strong safety that I do right now,” Carey said.
That would make the current depth chart go something like this. At free safety, Dexter Reid has the arguably the most secure starting job on the team and he’s earned it. Carey, who played tailback for the final six games of the season last year, moves into the backup spot replacing Chris Curry, who moved to wide receiver.
“I played defense at the high school level, so I’ve adjusted pretty well,” Carey said. “I have to do it, it’s just mainly mental – knowing the plays and getting adjusted to that.”
At strong safety, the No. 1 spot in spring belonged to Harris, but he is being challenged daily by Richardson, who has impressed the coaches in practice. And then there is Taylor, whose speed is sure to get him frequent playing time as well.
“I’m very impressed with Kareen Taylor,” Bunting said. “I was when I scouted him at Fork Union. He’s probably our fastest safety.”
The two starting cornerback positions are up for grabs. Sophomore Cedrick Holt and junior Chris Hawkins have looked worthy, but few expect Michael Waddell to be out of the lineup long.
“Being on the second team is nothing but motivation,” Waddell said. “Come game time, if you are on the second team, you aren’t starting. Of course, you are going to compete a whole lot harder than you usually would and be on point.”
Along with Green and senior Derrick Johnson, the UNC coaching staff will certainly face a difficult decision at cornerback when it finalizes the depth chart, about a week before the Tar Heels’ Aug. 30 opener versus Florida State.
“It’s a good mix,” Waddell said. “I think [the young guys] are learning quick and working hard and it’s great competition. It will only help us during the season.”
Carolina may still be a year away from being able to shut down opponents’ rushing game. But the Tar Heels should be able to strike fear in the minds of their receivers. Provided the defensive front can keep adequate pressure on the quarterback, UNC could potentially have one of the finest pass coverage units in the league.
“We got some good ones coming back,” Carey said. “We’ve got Dexter out there, who’s aggressive and will be schooling everybody up.”