North Carolina coach Larry Fedora and his defensive staff have had to deal with a rash of injuries in the preseason. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — For a while among the coaching staff at North Carolina it was a running joke, Vic Koenning said, about how much depth the Tar Heels possessed at linebacker.
“We’ve got them running out of our ears,” Koenning, the UNC defensive coordinator said earlier this week. “We’ve got plenty of guys. And then all of a sudden it’s like somebody shot a shotgun in there and got pellets in all of them.”
The days of joking about plentiful depth are over for Koenning, whose defense has been decimated by injuries in the preseason. Sophomore bandit Shakeel Rashad and sophomore safety Sam Smiley, two players who were vying for starting positions, have been lost for the season due to injuries.
And those two didn’t count among the six defensive players who missed practice earlier this week for a variety of ailments, Koenning said. The numbers are so thin on defense that tight end Jack Tabb has been working at linebacker, and Damien Washington, a former receiver, has been moved to safety.
The position changes and attrition due to injury has made it difficult for the Tar Heels’ defense to establish continuity and consistency. Koenning said the UNC defense is “not even close” to where he wants it.
“There’s been a handful of times where I’ve sat back and kind of started to get a feeling like, all right, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good,” he said.
But then another injury strikes, or a mistake, and Koenning is reminded of how far the defense has to go.