“I told our team in our welcoming team meeting last night that it's not about finding the best 22 players because it's going to take a lot more than 22 guys to win football games,” Davis said. “Roles on special teams, nickel, I'm a big believer that we play somewhere between 7-8-9-10 defensive linemen in every game. That's how you grow depth.”
Seniors Kyndraus Guy and Kentwan Balmer lead the way, having seen live game action in each of the past three seasons. They were forced into action as freshmen, as attrition and recruiting mishaps left the tackle cupboard bare during the 2004 season.
Those troubles began to improve with the 2006 recruiting class, as the previous coaching staff added Tavares Brown and Aleric Mullins to the group, after signing Cam Thomas in ’05. Then Davis and defensive line coach John Blake drew national headlines for landing Marvin Austin in February, arguably the nation’s top defensive line prospect, as well as top-10 signee Tydreke Powell.
That infusion of talent has been a blessing to the upperclassmen.
“Since I’ve been here, we haven’t had depth,” Guy said. “It hasn’t been a talent issue, it was depth. There were like 7-8 guys all together on the line, so having those young guys in here is a good thing. We’re trying to get them ready to play as soon as possible. We want them to contribute, because they are coming out of high school and they can make some good contributions on this team but you still have to remember the fact that they are young. They still need to be taught – they don’t know what’s out there.”
Balmer acknowledges his early seasons were difficult, but he’s thankful that he made the journey.
“I’m glad I was a part of it,” Balmer said. “Just seeing guys grow like Cam Thomas, who’s been here for two years now, and Kyndraus Guy – he’s been here for a long time, and I’ve seen him develop as a player. Watching Aleric Mullins and Tavares Brown and some of those younger guys. Just to see those guys grow, working everyday and getting better and better kind of makes me want to cry, sort of like a proud dad watching his children grow.”
It helps to have a nationally-recognized defensive line coach in Blake, who brings a level of confidence to the group. His ability to build relationships while teaching the fundamentals is what separates him from the rest.
“He’s more of a teacher than a coach,” Mullins said. “He gets with you one-on-one, and tells you this and tells you that. He’s excellent on the field and off the field, so that’s what makes him an effective coach and recruiter.”
In order for the 2007 version of the Tar Heels to win on the football field this season, the collective group of defensive tackles are going to have to control the line of scrimmage, and it appears North Carolina finally has the horses in the stable to get that done.