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Heel Tough Blog: 2022 Position Previews- DB

The Tar Heels are steaming towards their August 27th opener in Kenan Stadium against Florida A&M and we at the Heel Tough Blog are getting you ready the way we always do with our in-depth positions previews. Today, we look at the unit that might need the biggest overhaul on this defense after last season, the defensive backs.

This unit may have been the most inconsistent of any on the roster last year. With the addition of co-defensive coordinators Gene Chizik and Charlton Warren, the latter of who is heavily involved in coaching the defensive backs, they are expected to be much better overall this year, though, something that this defense really needs to take a step forward.

Communication was the biggest issue for this unit a year ago, but that has been one of the main focuses for Chizik and Warren since they got here and the hope is that there will be a lot fewer mistakes back there this season.

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Junior cornerback Tony Grimes is the guy that most are expecting will have the biggest bounce back season after an up-and-down 2021. He is looked at as a guy that could not only rebound, but become one of the top corners in the country, something he looked like he could be heading towards as a freshman. He has to become more aggressive as a tackler and be able to shed more blocks, but with the mindset of physicality that this staff is pushing, that shouldn’t be much of an issue. He was one of the countries best man coverage corners in 2020 once he took over the starting role and if this team get more pressure up front, that could help him to showcase that once again in 2022.

Jeffrey A. Camarati- Tar Heel Athletics

The team is hoping that junior Storm Duck can stay healthy this season at the other corner position and help to form one of the best cornerback duos in the conference. When he has been healthy, Duck has certainly showed the abilitty to be a lockdown corner is his own respect, as he showed almost immediately back in 2019 as a freshman. With him supposedly fully healthy after missing some practice time early in fall camp, the hope is that he can return to making receivers lives in this ACC difficult week in and week out.

Jeffrey A. Camarati- Tar Heel Athletics

The depth behind these two guys is talented, but not overly experienced. Sophomore Ohio State transfer Lejond Cavazos was expected to push for that primary rotational role in camp, but has missed a majority of it because of a lower body injury. He is expected to be ready for the season opener, but this means that is will likely take him some time before he can actually contribute at a high level for the team, meaning that the door seems to be open for others right now.

Neil Redmond- USA Today Sports

Senior Dae Dae Hollins is one guy who could be counted on a lot this season with him now back from the leg injury that cost him nearly all of last season. He has proven to be a capable rotational option on the outside as his career has progressed and with the injury to Cavazos, there is a good chance that he could be counted on as that top rotational option, at least early in the season.

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Redshirt freshman Dontae Balfour took one a sizable role for the team back in the spring with Duck banged up, Hollins still working to return and Cavazos still waiting to enroll. While he certainly won’t have to play as big of a role as he did, he showed some really promising things and will have a chance to push for some rotational reps as we head into the season.

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The Tar Heels have had a lot of success in recent years at playing true freshman at the cornerback spot and the one that may factor in this season is summer enrollee Marcus Allen. So far, he has reportedly impressed the staff and he will have a chance to climb the depth chart throughout the season if he can prove himself to be consistent in coverage. It’s far from a guarantee, but don’t be surprised if this is a name that you become more and more familiar with as the season goes along.

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At the nickelback spot, which they are calling the STAR, it appears that the team will use Duck there some once everyone is fully healthy. Until that happens, though, we could see a lot of sophomore DeAndre Boykins there after he won the battle that he was a part of there in the spring. The nickel spot is one that he is very familiar with, having thrived there in his prep career as well. The nickel corner was such an important part of the success of the Tar Heel defense in Chizik’s first stint in Chapel Hill and the hope is that Boykins bring to the table even half of the production that the team got from MJ Stewart there during that time.

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

The guy that he beat out for the job is senior Obi Egbuna who looks as if he will help to provide some deeper depth at both of these positions once again this season. He has never been able to really earn a significant role for this team, but the good news for the team is that they likely won’t need him to be a significant contributor The versatility, though, for him does make him a valuable depth option.

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Another guy who will provide deeper depth at the corner and nickel positions is Tymir Brown. He showed some nice things while playing a bigger role for the team back in the spring with all of the injuries, but has returned to his role as a depth guy here in the fall. He provides some similar versatility to Egbuna and could help the team on either the outside or in the nickel is needed this season.

Jeffrey A. Camarati- Tar Heel Athletics

True freshman Tayon Holloway will be a deeper depth option on the outside as he looks to settle in. He hasn’t been able to grab as much attention as Allen has, but he is still a guy that has a ton of potential and could play a role for this team on special teams this year.

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The safety spots are the biggest mystery for this unit despite having a multitude of experienced options. Right now, it still doesn’t seem like anyone is guaranteed a starting job, but it seems like a pretty safe bet that some guys will be major contributors back there. Junior Ja’Qurious Conley will be a major part of this group whenever he can return from the lower body injury that he suffered late last year, something that we know will not be in time for next week’s opening game. He had a solid start to the season last year at safety before being moved back to the nickel, but with the struggles that the team had back there a year ago after that move back, he should be back at one of the safety spots when he does return.

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For now, the rest of the unit will have to make up for his absence. Senior Cam’Ron Kelly is back after one of the biggest rollercoaster seasons of any player in Tar Heel football history. He led the team in interceptions (4) and was third on the team in tackles (68), but made some major mistakes, including in the final game of the regular season, that really hurt this team. He needs to be more consistent this year and eliminate the silly mistakes or the team will simply have to find someone else that can handle that role at free safety.

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Fellow senior Don Chapman looks like he will be back at safety after not playing a ton early last season before converting to safety to help the team when they were depleted back there in the middle of the season. Like Kelly, Chapman has had moments where he has shined throughout his career, but he simply has to be more consistent if he is going to play a ton of reps for this team this season.

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Giovanni Biggers is also entering his senior season and will to finish the season stronger than he did last season. As we found out after the season, those late year struggles may have been because of a lingering injury, but he simply has to provide more consistency to hold on to a similar role to the one that he had last year.

Kenzie Hoffman

There are a couple of new names, though, that will attempt to factor in on the back end this season. Redshirt freshman Dontavius Nash was forced into a starting role for the team back in the spring with all of the injuries that the team was dealing with and made the most of that opportunity. However, he hasn’t been heard from nearly as much in fall camp and you have to wonder how much the injury that he suffered in the spring game has ruined his momentum. If he can regain his stride, there could be a chance for him to play a significant role here at free safety this season.

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True freshman Will Hardy is another one of those summer enrollees that has burst on to the scene with a strong camp so far. He likely won’t be an immediate contributor for this team with all of the experience that is in front of him, but if he can continue to prove himself on the practice, he could have a chance to factor in as the season goes along if some of those veterans were to struggle once again.

The unit will also have plenty of walk-on depth with seven in the room as a whole. Junior Val Edwards and sophomore Christopher Holliday are back from last season at the safety spots. Meanwhile, sophomore Naari Short and freshmen Phillips Alvarez, Major Byrd, Jaden Selby and Thomas O’Sullivan are the newcomers that will be a part of the unit.

Projected Depth Chart


# 1 Tony Grimes, Jr.

#15 Dae Dae Hollins, Sr.

#29 Marcus Allen, Fr.

#20 Tayon Holloway, Fr.

#37 Thomas O’Sullivan, Fr.


# 6 Lejond Cavazos, So.

#14 Dontae Balfour, RFr.

#28 Tymir Brown, RFr.

#35 Jaden Selby, Fr.


# 3 Storm Duck, Jr.

#16 DeAndre Boykins, So.

#13 Obi Egbuna, Sr.

#26 Naari Short, So.


# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.

# 2 Don Chapman, Sr.

#21 Dontavius Nash, RFr.

#18 Christopher Holliday, So.

#30 Phillips Alvarez, Fr.


# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, Jr.

#27 Giovanni Biggers, Sr.

#31 Will Hardy, Fr.

#38 Val Edwards, Jr.

#40 Major Byrd, Fr.


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