North Carolina ranked 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in pass defense last season, allowing 226 passing yards per game, and junior cornerback Kendric Burney knows that some may look at UNC's secondary as a weak spot heading into 2009.
"We've been hearing a lot of talk about how our secondary being the weak link, and we kind of take that personally, me and Deunta (Williams)," said Burney. "I believe our secondary, with Da-Norris (Searcy), Melvin (Williams), Charles (Brown) back, and Jordan Hemby, I believe we're going to be a great secondary if we just put our minds to it and work together."
Having back both Burney and Deunta Williams, along with two more juniors in Charles Brown and Da'Norris Searcy, in the other starting secondary spots, is a real bonus for the Tar Heels.
UNC will also have a veteran presence in the two-deep with seniors Hemby and Melvin Williams.
"It's a lot easier (to be a veteran), I tell you that," Burney said. "Your body knows exactly what it's going up for, and it's just exciting because you're a lot smarter, a lot faster. You can get a lot more physical and do some things that you normally don't do. I'm just looking forward to the year and I'm definitely looking for big things out of the offense, defense, and special teams."
"I think that both Kendric and Deunta, obviously the one thing that we're excited about is the experience that they bring, the ability to make plays," said UNC head coach Butch Davis. "There comes a point in time defensively---and especially in the secondary more than maybe any of the other positions on defense---when those guys playing together, they know each other's strengths. They know their capabilities."
"Sometimes it's just as much as maybe a look that lets them know this route is coming, or 'I'm going to take a chance and I'm going to jump this route, You've got my back,'" Davis added. "When the rookies, they're playing for the first year and they don't have a lot of experience, a lot of the times those things don't happen. Those guys (in the secondary) have played a lot of football, and I think that they'll play well."
Both natives of Jacksonville N.C., Burney and Williams have now gotten a full two years not only to feel each other out on the football field, but also to live together and make notice of each other tendencies.
"It's crazy how hanging out off the field can go on the field," Burney said. "You know exactly what somebody is going to do, like me and Deunta, just being roommates for the last three years is definitely helped us on the field gelling, because I know exactly what he's thinking, and he knows exactly that I'm thinking."
As Coach Davis said, the familiarity should help them on the field this season as the Tar Heels look to improve across the board defensively.
"Just from me and him (Williams) being from the same town, it gets us a little bit more gelling than anybody else, just joking around, talking a little trash still, just the fact of being around each other you'll learn more and more about each other every day," Burney said. "It's definitely a plus getting to know each other."
As well as playing cornerback heavily on game days, Burney will also make contributions on special teams for UNC. He returned some punts last season, and may very well serve in that capacity once again while also serving on various coverage units.
"Either way, whether I'm back there or not (returning kicks), I'm definitely going to find a role on special teams this year," he said. "Special teams is fun, and it's an aspect in a game that you've got to win to win the football game, so if I've got to go back there and catch punts again this year I'll do it, and definitely I know I want to go try block a punt this year."
"Whatever Coach Davis and the team needs us to do, we're pretty much going to do it on special teams this year," he added. "I'm out there catching punts (in practice) and returning and seeing how it goes."
Certainly there are plenty who feel that the Tar Heel secondary, despite their struggles at times last fall, is capable of helping UNC be a Top 25 program this season.
In addition, there are plenty who feel that Burney is prone to have an excellent junior season, indicated by his being named to the preseason All-ACC defense that was selected by the media.
For his part, Burney is taking the same approach with the preseason No. 20 national ranking and preseason All-ACC selection that he took with North Carolina's next-to-last statistical rankings in pass and total defense last fall.
That approach, specifically, is to not worry about it.
"You know, we don't put a lot of stock into it (a preseason ranking), but that's something that you want your program to see that you're rising up every year," he said. "But the thing is, it's just a preseason number. No matter who you play, like The Citadel. We play The Citadel the first game of the season. They're undefeated just like we are. Whether we're ranked or not, whether they're ranked or not, it's going to be a war, and we've just got to get our minds right for it."
"When you hear it (the preseason All-ACC selection) you're happy about it, but the thing is, you've got to go out and play," Burney added. "You've got to perform. Everything is preseason. Thanks for the awards, but I've got to go out there and do what I've got to do. We're not nothing yet until we go out there and prove what we've got to do. That's also on me. I've got to go out there and prove that I'm supposed to be All-ACC."