Hurricanes defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio opened camp Tuesday feeling the best he has ever felt regarding depth on the defensive line and in the secondary.
“Last year I don’t think we had a stretch where we had more than three healthy safeties available,” D’Onofrio said. “Now I’m looking at six guys and I’m no longer forced to play two of the young ones.
“We have some options at that nose tackle position between Earl [ Moore]. Calvin [ Heurtelou], who was here in the spring, [freshman] Cortel [Jenkins] and [junior college signee] Mike Wyche. The competition is really going to make everybody better.”
Linebacker? That’s another story. The dismissals of Alex Figueroa and JaWand Blue last month following their arrests on sexual battery have made developing depth at linebacker D’Onofrio’s top priority in camp.
“I felt like we had seven guys coming out of the spring,” he said. “Now we’ve got to go back and find No. 6, 7, and 8. That’s going to be my focus. Just trying to figure out who the best combination of guys are on the field, particularly in passing situations.”
After seniors Denzel Perryman (middle), Thurston Armbrister (strong side) and junior Raphael Kirby (weak side), there isn’t a whole lot in the way of playing experience. D’Onofrio said 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Jermaine Grace, the team’s fastest at the position, is currently fourth in his eyes on the depth chart but freshman Darrion Owens (6-3, 236) is coming on strong.
Tuesday, sophomore Walter Tucker, who spent most of last season and the spring as a fullback after being first recruited as a linebacker, was back taking snaps at linebacker. D’Onofrio said junior Tyriq McCord, who plays the rush linebacker position in the team’s 3-4 formation, has strong-side experience and will be used there “while we develop other guys.”
“There are going to be some guys that get shots early, and we’re going to look at different combinations there,” D’Onofrio said. “It will be good. We’ll have competition. We’ve made some adjustments, made some moves. We’ll work through it.”
THIS AND THAT• What was senior defensive end Anthony Chickillo’s first thoughts when he heard about the arrests and dismissals two teammates on charges of sexual battery last month?
“Our thoughts were all with the victim and her family,” he said. “Obviously, a huge mistake was made.”
Wyche bench-pressed 225 pounds (the NFL Combine testing standard) a total 35 times, good for second on the team behind Corey King’s 37 reps. Wyche said coaches want him to play at 335 pounds.
“I’m more about the action than talking, so I can’t wait to get out there and just try to make some plays and learn about the defense,” Wyche said.• Former basketball player turned tight end Raphael Akpejiori said he spent the summer working with former Hurricanes Jimmy Graham and Santana Moss on route-running and catching.
“At first I was getting jammed a lot [in 7-on-7s],” he said. “I didn’t know how to get a release. But I’ve been doing pretty well so far. I’ve been finding myself open a lot. I dropped a few balls, but I think I caught more than I dropped. It’s been great. “