UNCs defense doesnt blink an eye when attrition hits

Malik Carney was ready when his number was called

Brett Davis—USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina’s defense was already down a man before it left for Atlanta last week because of an injury to starting defensive end Dajaun Drennon. It lost another member shortly before the game started when Drennon’s replacement, junior Tyler Powell, turned up missing in action.Powell made the trip with the Tar Heels and participated in pregame warmups at the Georgia Dome. But he didn’t play a single snap in Saturday’s 33-24 loss to Georgia.Coach Larry Fedora explained Powell’s absence Monday by saying “he’s dealing with some personal issues right now.” The UNC coach added he’s uncertain when or even if Powell will return to the team.”I don’t know what that situation will be,” Fedora said.Powell wasn’t at practice Tuesday, making it all but certain that sophomore Malik Carney will make his second career start this Saturday at Illinois. Carneya finished with five tackles and a half sack against Georgia on 55 snaps, far more than he expected to play in his projected backup role.”I didn’t know about the Tyler situation until pregame,” Carney said. “My number was called and I didn’t blink an eye when the opportunity presented itself.”UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik praised Carney for his performance Saturday, especially under the circumstances, saying he was proud of the youngster for the way he handled himself.But the fact is, that at just 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Carney is built more like a strong safety than a defensive end. And he often got pushed around physically by a Bulldog offensive line that helped its offense rush for 289 yards against the Tar Heels.”He’s kind of a lighter guy,” Chizik said. “He’s a guy that we moved positions with him when he got here. He held up. It’s a big man’s game down there, he’s not a big man for that position. And all of that being said, I thought he really played tough, he played physical.”Carney’s size will continue to be a limitation with which UNC will have to face at least until Drennon is ready to return. Carney’s backup is true freshman Tomon Fox, who isn’t much bigger at 6-3, 235.Drennon is still recovering from a foot injury suffered during spring practice.Carney said he’s always “played heavier” than he looks and that he makes up for his lack of size with quickness. He also believes he can improve on his performance in the Georgia game by correcting a number of subtle mistakes in positioning and alignment he noticed on film.One thing that won’t change, despite his expanded role, is his approach to the game.”I prepare the same way every day, no matter if I’m a one, a two, a three. I just approach the game like I am a starter, no matter where I am on the depth chart.”UNC’s defense did get one bit of good news this week. Chizik said starting tackle Jalen Dalton, who was limited to about 30 plays Saturday while recovering from an injury, should be at full speed and ready to make more of an impact this week against Illinois.”There are some question marks in terms of guys that we’re counting on, experience wise, and there’s nothing you can do except getting them in the game and getting them experience,” Chizik said. “So it’s just kind of the way the game rolls.”