North Carolina junior defensive end Robert Quinn is a young man of modest goals. "I've been telling anyone who asks that I'm going for more than ACC player of the year," he says. "My goals are 27 sacks and the Heisman Trophy. If Big [Ndamukong] Suh was up for the Heisman with 12, I think 27 should do it."
Yes, it should. Quinn had 11 sacks last season and figures there were 16 or 17 additional opportunities he missed. His measurables—he's 6' 5" and 270 pounds and runs 4.5 in the 40—have NFL scouts drooling. Tar Heels coach Butch Davis says Quinn has "freaky" upper-body strength and compares his ability to slither past linemen with that of Charles Haley, whom Davis coached while defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys in the mid 1990s. "Some guys run extraordinarily well in a straight line, but the minute you ask them to bend and turn or run in circles or through linemen, they don't run as fast," Davis says. "That doesn't hamper Robert at all. When you couple an explosive athlete with someone who is tenacious and relentless, that's a pretty good recipe for success."
North Carolina's recipe for success this season starts with defense. The Tar Heels are loaded with future NFL picks, including Quinn, tackle Marvin Austin (assuming he avoids suspension stemming from possible improper contact with an agent), linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant, and free safety Deunta Williams—all seniors. Last year the unit ranked first in the ACC in total defense (269.6 yards) and sixth in the nation. It's likely to be even better this season, with nine starters back, including seven who have started 22 or more games.
Despite its highly regarded defense, North Carolina will need improvement on offense to win the ACC. In 2009 the Heels ranked 108th in total offense (307.8 yards a game) as quarterback T.J. Yates (14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions) struggled with an injury-plagued offensive line and inexperienced receivers.
But, according to Quinn, the Heels' offense does not have to light up the scoreboard. "This is not to put our offense down," he says, "but if they put up 21 a game, we'll be all right all season."
COACH Butch Davis (5th year)
2009 RECORD 8--5 (4--4 in ACC)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 19
Offense 10, Defense 9
4 LSU (in Atlanta)
18 Georgia Tech
25 at Rutgers
2 East Carolina
16 at Virginia
23 at Miami (Fla.)
30 William & Mary
6 at Florida State
13 Virginia Tech
20 N.C. State
27 at Duke
If he remains eligible, the 6' 3" 305-pounder will be the interior space eater for what should be a formidable defense.
A superathletic 6' 3", 235-pound outside linebacker, Carter (65 tackles in '09) is on the verge of a breakout season.
Though he's a three-year starter, Yates felt the ire of Carolina fans during an up-and-down '09.
TIM STEADMAN/ICON SMI
With his size and speed, Quinn spearheads a unit that was the ACC's best in '09 and has future NFL players all over the field.
TIM STEADMAN/ICON SMI