No Longer Green
Dominique Green knows his role on North Carolina's defense.
The sophomore understands the intricacies of his playbook better than he did a year ago. He gets that his responsibilities have grown and that even though he's the youngest member of the safety group with any playing experience, he's expected to be a leader in the backfield. But most importantly, the sophomore is comfortable and confident with his job description as the start of the season nears.
"I would say (my change happened) probably around the spring, but more toward the summer," Green said about his change. "During the spring, we built that bond, but during the summer it really felt like I was just around everybody and all times and I was able to get to know people and their personalities and all of that. Then with the newcomers coming in and telling them about how things were going to go, it was just good. I felt like the bond is stronger."
Green ranked sixth on the team in tackles in 2013 after starting all 13 games at strong safety as a true freshman. He finished the season with 59 tackles - 34 of those were solo stops - and had the second-most team interceptions (3), including one 62-yard return for a touchdown.
The 20 year-old spent time in the defensive playbook in the offseason, though, and feels equipped to better his numbers this year.
"I'm processing a lot better," Green said. "The competition on the team has gotten deeper because we have a lot more depth so that's pushed me a little bit more. I'm way ahead, actually, (of where) I was last year."
A 2012 Scotland County High School graduate, Green played just two prep seasons at safety before becoming a Tar Heel. He spent a semester at Hargrave Military Academy, then enrolled at North Carolina in January of 2013 and joined the football program as a walk-on before earning a scholarship and starting spot.
"He got thrusted into a role last year that you really don't want freshmen to have to do, especially ones that weren't even on scholarship to begin with," co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Vic Koenning said. "It's sad that he was put in that position but he bailed us out a little bit and that's why he feels more comfortable, because I think he knows what to do."
There's no doubt that the time spent in the system is an encourager itself, but as Green puts it, he's always been "one of the more quiet guys on the team," and knows he, "was always the one that wouldn't talk as much," last season while playing alongside secondary veterans Tre Boston and Jabari Price.
The most significant development since last December for Green, he says, is his vocality and the way he's adopted what those veterans emphasized he needed to in his play and how he's done what the coaching staff has asked of him.
"Tre used to always tell me to work on my man coverage but usually, it was more just to play with confidence," Green said. "That's what they would try and beat in my head, 'Play with confidence, play with confidence. You're going to mess up, but you've got to get past that and play with confidence.'
"They all came at me with the same thing, play with confidence, so I always felt like that's what I felt like I needed to do in the offseason."
Boston and Price advised the then-freshman to avoid psychological traps can not only be detrimental on a given play, but stagnate growth, too. Koenning agrees Green's head was down when tackling too often last fall, but that's from a technical standpoint, and also dangerous.
"He had his head down a lot, which was scary," Koenning said, but that's not much of an issue anymore.
Koenning said Green is, "progressing into his second year as he should." Knowledge, applying that understanding, and confidence have become consistent attributes. So much so that it's not even a question anymore. Koenning and the staff are seeing it first hand every day.
"He seems to be the guy in the back end that's taking charge sometimes," Koenning said. "If we have to have a check, or a change in the call, he seems to be the guy that's verbalizing it the best. From a guy that wouldn't say, 'Boo,' when he got here, it's been a big change."
But, "it's never a surprised when guys do what they're asked," the coach believes.
Senior Tim Scott aligns both leadership and work ethic with Green in a way that makes it understandable how easily a shy-guy sophomore has jumped into a vocal leadership role of the backfield - one of UNC's most personality-packed units.
"He knows that he's one of the leaders of the defense now, after starting last year, and he took the time to learn his position even more and learn the defense even more which is helping him with his position," said Scott, now a safety after previously playing cornerback. "He's been very positive since he's been here."
But in his positivity, Green is hard on himself.
"Not really on the field anymore, but in the film room - he doesn't like to get anything wrong," Scott said. "But when he does get a question wrong, he puts it on himself to make sure that he doesn't get it wrong again.
"It's great, you never want somebody that's excepting that they're doing the wrong thing. He makes sure that he's doing the right thing."
And Green, "wants everybody to be on his level," Scott said, which makes it clear that the newly-vocal leader by example has heeded the most repetitive advice from his freshman season.
"Confidence is there," Green self-assesses. "From playing, and from the other older guys that left - Tre Boston and Jabari (Price) - and just telling the younger guys what I learned from them last year, it's like 'Alright, I know how this is supposed to go,' so now I can tell them.
"I kind of feel like an old head myself, but then again I still feel like I'm a young gun, I've got a lot of stuff to learn."
Green laughs at the contrast in his statement.
He also recognizes that in claiming he's a confident leader in the safety group, he has a high standard to follow. Where does he place himself on a scale of one to Tre-Boston-Ten?
"I'm not at Tre's confidence, because he had high confidence," he said. "I'll put myself at a nine but I've still got to work on it."
As for when Green believes he'll match the previously set standard of confidence...
"Oh, it's going to be before the first game," he said. "I'm just ready. I'm ready to get on the field with these guys, just to fly around, tackle."