Tre Boston, UNC's secondary under pressure to play better

A snap-shot view of North Carolina's questionable defense: Sophomore walk-on Jeff Schoettmer, who was a safety last season, entered fall camp as the third-string middle linebacker. He exited it on scholarship, and as a potential starter.

While there are no concerns with the Tar Heels' high-powered offense, a unit that should rival Clemson's as the ACC's best, there are a lot about the defense, which was mediocre last season and may not be much better this fall.

UNC favors a 4-2-5 set and senior end Kareem Martin is a given; he should be a first-team All-ACC performer. Senior tackle Tim Jackson is solid. But there are issues elsewhere.

The secondary returns three starters, but the secondary was strafed to the tune of 246.9 passing yards per game last season (83rd in the nation) and was carved up by Louisville, Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech.

Senior free safety Tre Boston (6-feet-1, 205) has good speed and size, but takes too many chances and frequently was burned last season. Senior corner Jabari Price (6-0, 200) and junior corner Tim Scott (5-11, 190) have good physical attributes -- Scott can fly -- but lack consistency. The likely starting strong safety, Dominique Green, is a true freshman. The starting "ram," a hybrid safety/linebacker spot, will be Brandon Ellerbe, a sophomore who appeared in four games last season, primarily on special teams. And despite the questions, the secondary is the strongest position group on defense.

Injuries have hurt. Sam Smiley, who was the almost-certain starter at strong safety, will miss the season with a foot injury. Shakeel Rashad, the likely starter at the other end spot, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman middle linebacker Nathan Staub hurt his knee in the first week of camp and has missed most of camp; if he can't go in the opener against South Carolina, Schoettmer would start. The third-stringer at middle linebacker? It's backup tight end Jack Tabb, who could see action on both sides of the ball in the opener if Staub can't play.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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