The North Carolina Tar Heels figure to be one of the favorites in a wide-open ACC Coastal Division race this season thanks in part to some exciting pieces returning on the offensive side of the ball. But if the Heels hope to make it to the ACC title game in 2014, it will be their defense that takes them over the top. North Carolina is looking to take positive steps defensively this fall and they will do so behind the leadership of linebacker Norkiethus Otis.
Otis was one of the Tar Heels’ most disruptive players during his junior season, finishing second only to the now graduation Kareem Martin in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (14) while he racked up 50 total tackles with an interception, nine quarterback pressures, and three forced fumbles. Head coach Larry Fedora singled out Otis at ACC Media Days as the leader of the defense this season without hesitation, citing his work both on the field and in the locker room.
But the team will need more from Otis, including raising the overall level of play from the players around him. North Carolina was pretty average on defense in 2013, ranking No. 10 in the ACC in total defense and No. 6 in scoring defense. Their tendency to bend without breaking worked more often than not, but couldn’t get them over the top in the ACC title race. This season, the Heels will need to a little less bending and they’ll need disruptive playmakers like Otis to get that done.
For North Carolina to take control in what should be a wild Coastal Division race this season, they will need more out of their defense. Norkeithus Otis has the skills to be a serious difference-maker for the Heels and emerge as an elite defensive player in the ACC. Will he be enough to get UNC a conference title?