Last month, North Carolina went into spring practice with as many questions as it’s had since Larry Fedora took over three years ago. With four new coaches on the defensive staff, several positions up for grabs and multiple players sidelined with injury, not much of anything was a given in spring ball.
With the 15 practices now out of the way, it will be months before there’s any significant movement on the depth chart. Until then, here are three players who are likely to see greater roles this fall:
OT Bentley Spain
Bentley Spain arrived in Chapel Hill with high expectations, and while it’s common for linemen to redshirt in their first season on campus, the offensive tackle from Charlotte, North Carolina, saw immediate action with the Tar Heels. If not for nagging injuries in the preseason, Spain possibly could have started at left tackle.
Following a 2014 campaign in which UNC’s offensive line struggled, Spain is now in the mix to start. He’ll take on the responsibility of protecting Marquise Williams’ blind side, which is an important task considering how much Williams got hit last season.
Fedora saw four of his offensive linemen drafted into the NFL after his first two years at North Carolina, but guard Landon Turner was the only starter from last fall who looked like he had a future in the pros. Could Spain be the next NFL-caliber tackle to don a Tar Heel uniform?
DE Dajaun Drennon
Hailing from Sicklerville, New Jersey, Dajaun Drennon was another player surrounded by buzz coming out of high school. Drennon put on roughly 25 pounds while redshirting in 2013, but last season he became a full-time starter at defensive end.
As a redshirt freshman, Drennon was a difference-maker in games against Georgia Tech and Duke, and he was one of the few bright spots on a defense that was among the worst in the country. In all, he registered 36 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks.
With multiple injuries at defensive tackle, there are still concerns along the front four of the defense. At end, Drennon is not one of those concerns.
CB M.J. Stewart
North Carolina’s secondary was the worst unit on the worst defense in the ACC last season. As a result, there’s no reason to think new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren will hesitate to play younger players if he feels they can get the job done.
One of those players is M.J. Stewart. A rising sophomore, Stewart logged 26 tackles and picked off two passes in his first season at the college level.
Brian Walker and Desmond Lawrence figure to fit into equation in some way, but Stewart is a guy likely to see the field more often in 2015. As a big-play corner, he should be in for a breakout year.