Bad news for Tar Heel Nation. InsideCarolina’s Greg Barnes and TarHeelIllustrated.com are reporting that four players will not be returning to the team, presumably for academic eligibility concerns that first surfaced back in May.
The four players in question are senior defensive tackle Shawn Underwood, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Gregg Webb, sophomore guard JJ Patterson, and sophomore linebacker Clint Heaven. This has added to something of an exodus of sorts. Fifteen players with eligibility will not be returning to this year’s team.
On one hand that includes NFL draftees like Eric Ebron and Russell Bodine. It also includes Marcus McNeil, who was drafted in the Major League Lacrosse draft and is focusing his talents on that sport. However it also includes Darius Lipford, who ran into academic troubles and jumped to the NFL supplemental draft. Senior safety Brandon Ellerbe is not currently enrolled and is not likely to return.
The results have left the Tar Heels with an eight man senior class.
On the football field, the results will be hard to measure as well. The key loss is Underwood. Every year of Shaun Underwood’s career saw expectations for him to live up to his recruit profile. Each year someone said this is the year that Underwood will breakthrough. Now we can officially stop waiting for that to happen. I hope Underwood is able to right himself and move on.
Underwood was expected to start at defensive tackle, and that will be the biggest loss. Defenses are built on the production of their defensive lines. A solid defensive line makes life easier no matter what defense you play. Even the 4-2-5. Now the defensive line has a lot to overcome. Now they are going to have to adjust without Kareem Martin (NFL), Tim Jackson (NFL), Underwood, and whatever Webb would have offered. There could a hole in the middle of the defense, the one place you cannot have a hole.
Weak inside line play contributes to a weaker pass rush and offensive linemen getting up the field. Weak pass rush exposes your cover guys. Linemen blocking at the second level exposes your linebackers. Maybe Devonte Brown and Ethan Farmer will be enough. Maybe this will end up meaning nothing. Or maybe it will be the difference between an okay season and a good season.
Hey, at least they start actually playing in a month.