The gap in game experience between North Carolina’s first- and second-team defense is 207 combined starts.
The difference in talent is not as wide, according to coach Butch Davis. But with the uncertainty concerning which players will be available for Saturday’s opener in Atlanta against No. 21 Louisiana State because of the NCAA investigation, backups could be pressed into duty. Davis, however, said he’s confident the 18th-ranked Tar Heels will be prepared.
“Part of this training camp has been about these players and getting them more experience,” he said.
With nine regular starters back on defense, and 213 starts between the 11 players on the preseason depth chart, Davis used the scrimmage time to give more snaps to his second- and third-team players.
North Carolina did not release a depth chart Monday, but based on the one published in the team’s media guide, the second team consists of five juniors, four sophomores, one senior and one redshirt freshman. Zach Brown, a junior linebacker who started six games last year, is the only backup with starting experience.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids that are inexperienced, but we think that they’ve got talent,” Davis said.
Safety Jonathan Smith is the only senior on the second team. The first team features six seniors, five of whom have been starting since their freshman season.
The second-team defensive line includes sophomore end Donte Paige-Moss, one of the top prospects in the country in his class, and junior defensive tackle Jordan Nix, who began his career at Oklahoma.
The secondary includes sophomore cornerback Mywan Jackson, one of the defensive standouts from the spring game. Davis praised Jackson’s natural talent and skill set Monday. Jackson, who played quarterback in high school, was used at receiver at the end last year after injuries tore through the depth chart.
Davis repeatedly has praised Brown during camp, saying the speedy linebacker would see action, regardless of the talent in front of him.
It’s still unclear, though, which players will be on the field against LSU.
On the injury front, senior free safety Deunta Williams has been sidelined for much of camp with a hamstring injury. Williams said Saturday he “will be fine,” but that Williams has not been 100 percent.
Then there’s the NCAA investigation into the possibility of improper contact between sports agents and Tar Heels players. Then Thursday, the university announced it was investigating possible academic misconduct between a former tutor and an undisclosed number of current players.
Defensive end Robert Quinn told reporters Tuesday that he had worked with the tutor in question but was not involved in the investigation. Quinn, an All-ACC end, did not say whether he would start against LSU.
Senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin has been working with the second team since training camp began because of his role in the NCAA investigation.
Davis did not address Austin by name Monday, but he said the school would not jeopardize the investigation.
“I’d like for this to be perfectly clear: There is no one single game that is more important, winning, than the character and integrity of this university and this football program,” Davis said.
Athletics director Dick Baddour said the school would make a decision on the players involved in the NCAA investigation if it does not receive a resolution from the NCAA before Saturday.