Heel Tough Blog: 2022 Position Previews- DL and EDGE
Updated: Aug 20, 2022
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 many predict will take a significant step forward this season for the Tar Heels after years of elite recruiting, the defensive line and edge rushers.
This year’s unit might be the most talented one at the position that the team has had since the departure of Butch Davis. The group will feature seven top 200 prospects from their respective recruiting cycle and veterans, giving this group the perfect combination of experience and raw talent. This is an important season for this group and its coach, Tim Cross, to capitalize on the talent that they have here and lead the charge for this defense.
Anchoring this group will be junior defensive tackle Myles Murphy, a guy that many around the country nationally are looking to as a potential breakout star of this unit. Based on the first half of last season, it would make sense why. In the first seven games of the season, he led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks and was on pace for what looked like an outstanding sophomore season. In the final six games of the season, though, he registered just 0.5 a tackle for loss and failed to get much pressure on the quarterback as the defense began to completely fall apart. The key to more success this season for him will simply be consistency because as he showed early last year, he has the ability to be the force on this defensive line that the team needs him to be. The move to a more traditional defensive tackle role should also be a big help to those efforts.
Graduate senior Raymond Vohasek is back alongside him at defensive tackle after taking advantage of his final year of eligibility. The move away from him having to be a two nose tackle should allow him to get off of blocks than it was in Jay Bateman’s system. Health will also be an important part of him expanding upon his success and the extra depth within the unit should allow him to stay fresher throughout the season and could lead to more production. Having his veteran experience, even as just part of the rotation, is a big bonus for this team.
Junior Des Evans is the guy who looks like he will lead the charge off the edge. He is the player that the shift in defensive systems could have the most effect on, something that he has said himself here in fall camp, as he is now able to put his hand in the dirt and simply focus on getting to the quarterback. With the role being more defined, it is time for that production to start showing up at a more consistent level, something that hasn’t so far in the first couple of seasons at the college level. The good news is that it seems like from everything the coaching staff is saying, things are finally clicking for him.
Junior Kaimon Rucker is another player who will benefit from the change in systems. His role as the power end will allow him to focus on getting to the quarterback and sealing the edge, something that has been the strength of his game in the first two years of his career. At the least, he will provide the Tar Heels an experienced option to rotate behind Evans without much drop off.
Sophomore Jahvaree Ritzie is another guy that a lot of people think could take a major step this year. He will provide some nice versatility with the ability to play both inside and on the edge. He flashed at times last year, but like a majority of this unit, he needs to make those positive moments more consistent. His name is one that has come up a lot throughout the offseason any time that this unit is asked about and if he can get off of blocks better than he did late last year, he could have a chance to break out this season.
Junior Kevin Hester Jr. is a guy that not many have talked about this offseason, but he established himself as a key part of the rotation last year. Late in the season, he was the most consistent pass-rushing defensive tackle for the defense and that may be the case once again in 2022. Expect to see more of Hester this season, especially with the shift in schemes.
Redshirt freshman Keeshawn Silver didn’t see many snaps last year as a true freshman, but he has put on the weight to play on the interior of this unit and looks ready to contribute this season. He has to prove that he can handle the physicality of playing inside on run downs, but even if he can’t this season, he could certainly earn some reps in pass-rushing situations, which was where he thrived at the prep level.
Sophomore Kedrick Bingley-Jones will also be able to factor in at the defensive tackle spots for the first time in his career after injuries derailed the first two years on campus. Brown has mentioned that he is in good shape now at 315 lbs. and should be able to be an effective member of the rotation at either spot this season.
Sophomore transfer Jacolbe Cowan is someone that the team will likely be able to use to provide depth at both power end and defensive tackle. With him being a summer addition for this team, it is hard to see him being a major contributor right away, but he is one of those guys that has the raw talent to make things happen if needed.
True freshman Travis Shaw is a guy that fans want to see on the field as soon as possible and has the raw talent to make an impact at some point this season. The big focus for him needs to be on getting into the shape that the team wants him to be for future seasons. Barring some major injury issues, it is hard to see him having much more than deeper depth reps this year.
Fellow true freshman Beau Atkinson will help to provide deeper depth at the power end spot. The extra time that he has had in the weight as an early enrollee has him ahead of his fellow true freshman at the position, but he likely won’t see many reps this season unless there are injury issues at the position.
Bryson Jennings is the fall enrollee true freshman at the power end spot that will be a deeper depth guy. His focus this fall has to be to add weight to his frame if he is going to stay at that position long term.
Two scholarship players will not be available for the unit when the season starts. Senior Tomari Fox will miss the entire year due to the use of a banned substance. Meanwhile, fellow senior Jahlil Taylor is still working to return to the field after suffering a lower body injury in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
Three walk-ons, all true freshmen, are set to be in the room this year in Nic Harvey, Kody Kovacevic and Deems May III.