By Turner Walston
The graduations of Jabari Price and Tre Boston mean that the Carolina secondary will have a completely different look come the fall. Price and Boston sat atop the depth chart in the Tar Heel defensive backfield for nearly their entire careers, and it will be odd not seeing those two back there when the season begins in August.
Fortunately for Carolina, the 2013 season afforded several young players the opportunity to get valuable playing experience at the college level. Freshmen like Dominique Green, Brian Walker and Desmond Lawrence didn’t come in right away and dominate, but they did show marked improvement from the season’s beginning through the Belk Bowl victory.
“In training camp, I was still trying to catch on to things, still trying to get the plays and the speed and all that,” Walker said. “And then the first game came, and I knew the plays, but the speed was still a little fast for me. But, as time went on I think it all started to slow down just from reps in practice, and they started putting me in more so it really started to slow down for me.”
Walker and Lawrence both said that Boston and Price empowered them to trust their abilities last year, and the confidence they gained from quality play down the stretch gave them a platform for continued improvement in the spring. Lawrence was doubtful that any one of this group would reach the individual numbers of Boston (94 tackles, five interceptions in 2013) and Price (80 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss), but he felt that the group as a collective could be plenty effective. “As long as we all are achieving our goals and we’re doing what we need to do to win championships around here, I think we’ll all be fine with that,” Lawrence said.
Rising senior Tim Scott is a three-year starter and shared the backfield with Price and Boston. Now, he’s moved from cornerback to safety and is the unquestioned veteran leader in the secondary. “I’ve got to show a little bit more vocal leadership throughout the defense,” Scott said. “I’m used to getting calls from the safeties, and now I’m the one giving the calls to the corners and the rams and the linebackers.”
Taking a few steps backward, off the line and into the open field gives Scott a perspective of the game as a whole that he hadn’t really had when lining up across from a receiver one-on-one. He can see pass concepts develop, or pulling guards in the running game and alert his teammates to offensive audibles.
Scott is a fun-loving guy –he broke down dancing when the music changed during a drill– but he knows he’s got to balance his personality with this leadership role he’s assumed.
“I’m still going to joke around with the guys, but I know that at the end of the day, these guys are going to look up to me as a leader vocally and in my play, so I just make sure I take everything seriously at all times, and I just make sure I have everything right.”
Players like Green, Lawrence, Walker and Malik Simmons proved their value with impressive play in 2013, but that doesn’t mean the depth chart is set by any means. Scott and Walker both pointed to the emergence of walk-on Jeff Battle, a junior who joined the team in 2012. “He’s really developing into a really good safety,” Scott said. “He wants to play and he’s really proving that to the coaches right now.”
Walker said he and Battle are developing a good chemistry. “We read some of the same things, and he hits aggressively,” Walker said. “I like him back there.”
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Marquise Williams is impressed with the secondary he’s throwing against during scrimmages and drills. “That Brian Walker, he’s unbelievable,” Williams said. “I played against that guy in high school, and I always tried to go the other way against him. He’s going to be unbelievable. Des Lawrence, he’s unbelievable. Those guys learned form Jabari and Tre and they’re going to be very good for this university.”
Williams said the secondary has a savvy leader in Scott, too. “He’s a little sneaky,” Williams said. “He knows our play-calling, so I have to switch it up. I have to give some crazy signals just for Tim, so he doesn’t just key in on our things. He’s calling our plays when we’re at the line, and that just irks me. It just gets me mad when he does that.”
It’s one thing for Scott to annoy his teammates. If he can annoy opposing quarterbacks in the fall, the Tar Heel secondary will be in good hands.