Confidence is common denominator of UNC CB duo
Brian Walker is talkative on the field, while Des Lawrence stays quiet. When it comes to tackling a big running back, Walker prefers to go for a knockout blow while Lawrence tries to take him down by the legs.
But Walker and Lawrence are incredibly similar when it comes to perhaps the most important aspect of being a defensive back — they’re both extremely confident.
“We both really believe in one another and ourselves,” Lawrence said. “We don’t care what everyone else thinks — we know we can go out there and make plays for our team.”
That confidence is one reason why the two sophomores from Charlotte with a combined three starts (all by Walker) are projected to be UNC’s starting cornerbacks this season.
“Those two guys feel very confident back there,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “Usually young corners — we’ve got some pretty good receivers — they get into a position and you watch them and they’re a little apprehensive. Not those two guys. Not at all. They’re aggressive, they’re getting after it and they do a great job of forgetting the last play and moving on to the next one.”
Coaches felt so comfortable with Walker and Lawrence — along with their backups, true freshman M.J. Stewart, sophomore Kedrick Davis and juniors T.J. Jiles and Alex Dixon — that Tim Scott, a three-year starter at defensive back, was moved to safety in the offseason.
“They work hard, they study film, they’ve got confidence and they’re not afraid,” cornerbacks coach Dan Disch said. “At that position you have to believe in yourself and not be afraid to give up a play or get beat … some guys get scarred and can’t go back and play the way they’re capable of, and others keep doing it.”
Both played prep football in Charlotte, with Lawrence at Charlotte Christian and Walker at Mallard Creek. Lawrence redshirted in 2012 and missed the first five games of 2013 with an injury but came on strong at the end of the season, while Walker appeared in all 13 games last season as a true freshman and finished with 21 tackles.
They will be replacing Scott and Jabari Price, who graduated after making 30 career starts. As a result, the cornerback position will go from one of UNC’s most experienced units to one of its least experienced, especially with Stewart expected to get playing time as well.
“I think that makes us closer,” Walker said. “We’re all young but we all have something to prove. We’re hungry.”
The results so far have been promising. Fedora often singles out the secondary as one of the strongest parts of the team, and associate coach for defense Vic Koenning expects to be able to use new coverages this season since he doesn’t have to worry about protecting his cornerbacks.
Still, Disch knows that the group hasn’t proven anything yet.
“They’re having a good camp, they had a good spring, but the proof’s in the pudding,” Disch said. “You hope that translates to ball games — I’m confident that it will — but I tell them every day, ‘You haven’t done anything yet.’ You’re judged over a game, a season, a career, so we have a lot of work to do.”
NOTES — Fedora said Thursday that he still didn’t know if senior defensive tackle Ethan Farmer (academics), who started every game last year, will be eligible to start the season. The Tar Heels already lost two defensive tackles because of academic issues before the start of training camp.
Follow Harold Gutmann on Twitter at @haroldgut.