As we get ready to begin fall camp, it’s time for another one of the Heel Tough Blog’s exclusive in-depth position previews. The series will take a look at every player on the Tar Heels 2019 roster and tell you the impact we expect each to have and give you the projected depth chart position-by-position. We continue with a look at the Tar Heels 2019 defensive backs.
In the spring, Mack Brown raised concerns about the depth in the defensive backfield. With Myles Dorn and Myles Wolfolk back from spring injuries, the secondary is in better shape than it was in the fall. There are still question marks, though, in a secondary that has plenty of talent, but like the rest of the defense, has some depth concerns.
The Tar Heels quietly have one the best starting secondaries in the ACC for the 2019 season, led by four projected starters who all have starting experience. Senior Patrice Rene is back after a junior season where he allowed just a 40.0% completion percentage and a 41.3 passer rating against him last year. Rene tied for the team lead in interceptions with two and also tied for the team lead in pass deflections with five. Last year, prior to the season, Rene was challenged to become more consistent and he did just that last season. Now, just one year later, Rene is the leader of the Tar Heel secondary.
Opposite of him at the second outside cornerback position might be the most purely talented member of the Tar Heel secondary. Sophomore Trey Morrison moves outside after starting all eleven games in the nickelback spot and showed out, finishing with 46 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and four pass deflections. The move to the outside will provide a challenge, but Morrison has answered every challenge that he has been faced with so far, so there is no reason to believe he won’t thrive this season, filling a big hole for the Tar Heels this season.
The safety spots are strong once again, led by senior Myles Dorn at free safety. In eight games a year ago, Dorn tied for the team lead in interceptions with two and finished third on the team in total tackles with 54. It is important for Dorn to stay healthy this season, something he has had trouble doing early in his Tar Heel career, but if he can, the Tar Heels will have a playmaker on the back end of their defense that should be able to create more turnover this season with the Tar Heels new aggressive defensive scheme.
Junior Myles Wolfolk will start at his third position in three years in 2019. Last year, as the backup to Dorn at free safety, Wolfolk finished with 24 total tackles in four games before suffering a season-ending leg injury. The better tackler between himself and Dorn, Wolfolk moved to strong safety in the spring and seems to fit the position well. With his seven career starts, Wolfolk brings experience to the table, also. If he can stay healthy, 2019 could be a big season for him.
The only battle for what is basically a starting spot is at nickelback. Based on pure talent, true freshman Cam’Ron Kelly would be the pick. There only one problem: the NCAA has yet to rule on his eligibility despite the season sitting just five days away. If he does get clearance, he would be a big addition even if he doesn’t win the starting job here. Kelly has the ability, though, to start right away and the nickelback position feels like a perfect place for him to continue to grow steadily.
Redshirt freshman DeAndre Hollins is the other option at the starting nickel spot. Hollins has made a nice impression on the new staff during both spring and fall camps and is one of the main reasons the staff was able to move Morrison outside. Hollins played in five games a year ago, showing flashes against East Carolina and Virginia, and this offseason’s improvement has us confident that Hollins will play a significant role this season.
The depth overall in the defensive backfield is thin, but especially at safety. Sophomore Bryson Richardson was lost for the season during summer workouts, leaving just three scholarship safeties on the roster behind the two starters. Junior D.J. Ford looks primed to have a breakout season after a good offseason in the new system. Health has been a big issue for him in his first couple of seasons on campus, but when he has been on the field, he has shown some upside. There’s a reason that he factored in as a true freshman and now, as a junior, he’ll be the primary rotational option at both safety spots.
Redshirt Javon Terry looks like he’ll also have to play a bigger role with Richardson’s injury. Terry was a playmaker that bounced between corner and safety at the prep level, but played in just two games a year ago. If he can become that playmaking safety that he was in his time at Wake Forest High School, he could take that step forward, but that won’t be easy.
True freshman Giovanni Biggers joined the team in the fall and should have the chance to make an impact this year. Biggers received some buzz during training camp and his skill set allows him to provide depth at both safety spots if needed.
The corner positions are in a little better shape, especially with Morrison moving to the outside. That allows junior Greg Ross to settle into a rotational role, something that fits him better than the starting role that he was thrust into last year when K.J. Sails and C.J. Cotman suffered season-ending injuries. Ross had a strong spring, as well, and if he can build on that when he takes the field, he could help to correct the bad taste he left in many fans mouths a year ago.
The player he was battling for the starting job on the outside before Morrison’s move, sophomore Tre Shaw, is another player who should factor in somewhere in this 2019 Tar Heel secondary. Shaw feels like a better fit at nickelback than anywhere else, but can play on the outside if needed. No matter where he plays, the Tar Heels are hoping he can improve on what has been a quiet start to his career in Chapel Hill.
Three true freshmen will battle for reps at the three cornerback spots this season. Early enrollee Storm Duck is the most likely to factor in after being with the team in the spring and performing well. He had a quiet training camp, but don’t be shocked if he factors in this year.
Obi Egbuna joined the team in the fall and his ability to create turnovers at the level he did at the prep level will be hard to ignore for a team who has struggled to take the ball away. He might not have a major impact this season defensively, but his special teams ability should allow him to have an early role.
Don Chapman is another fall enrollee who may have to wait for impact to be felt defensively, but the good news is he has the ability to play both corner and safety. Chapman’s coverage ability is strong and one would expect him to contribute sooner rather than later.
Four walk-on’s will be apart of the team this season, with two possibly having sizable impacts this season. Senior Graham Eklund was one of only two active safety in the spring and he will be listed on the three-deep at one of the safety spots. With inexperience in front of him, he may be counted on to provide rotational help this season.
Sophomore Ben Stobaugh was a special teams standout a year ago and should be a valuable member once again this season. Defensively, he will be on the three-deep, but will likely only see garbage-time reps barring injuries.
Redshirt freshman Drew Homschek and true freshman Val Edwards will be depth guys at safety.
Two other cornerback transfers will have to sit out the 2019. Virginia Tech junior transfer Byrce Watts and Clemson sophomore transfer Kyler McMichael will wait until 2020 to make their impacts felt.
Projected Depth Chart
# 5 Patrice Rene, Sr. (suspended for first half against South Carolina)
#10 Greg Ross, Jr.
#25 Tre Shaw, So.
# 1 Myles Dorn, Sr.
#13 Don Chapman, Fr.
#27 Giovanni Biggers, Fr.
#19 Drew Homschek, RFr.
#11 Myles Wolfolk, Jr.
#23 Javon Terry, RFr.
#39 Graham Eklund, Sr.
#38 Val Edwards, Fr.
# 4 Trey Morrison, So.
#29 Storm Duck, Fr.
#20 Obi Egbuna, Fr.
#16 D.J. Ford, Jr.
#15 DeAndre Hollins, RFr.
#40 Ben Stobaugh, So.