When a pair of backups wind up being the defensive stars of the spring game, either your starting players stink or you've got a chance to have a pretty darn good defense with a lot of quality depth.
The performances put forth on Saturday by junior defensive end Michael McAdoo and sophomore cornerback Mywan Jackson---combining for 11 tackles, four sacks, and three interceptions---are evidence that even with nine returning starters back, the 2010 Tar Heel defense has a wealth of talent all over the field throughout its two-deep rotation as well.
"It felt real good knowing there was a whole bunch of people in the crowd, fans going wild, my first spring game---it felt real good making plays out there," said Jackson, who had six tackles and two interceptions.
"Over the years I've been slowly progressing to this year. I'm a junior now and I have to step up," said McAdoo, who had a whopping four sacks, five tackles, and an interception.
McAdoo has gotten legitimate action over the past two seasons as the primary backup to weak-side DE starter Robert Quinn, and he's been trying to learn as much as he can from the All-American candidate.
"I'm playing behind Robert Quinn. I talk to him and he talks to me," McAdoo said. "He tells me what I'm doing wrong. He pushed me throughout these 15 days of spring and I just went out and took everything he said this spring and just ran with it."
As for his performance on Saturday, McAdoo says he simply played hard and let things happen.
"Coach (Blake) just told me to get focused and give it all I've got, and if I go hard four plays he'll get me out of there. So I just gave it all I got and reached down inside," he said.
"A little fatigue is just for cowards, so I just reached down inside and went down to get it," he added.
While he didn't go in expecting to get as many sacks as he did, it's evident that the hours of toil on the practice field and in the film room this offseason have paid off for McAdoo.
"I would have never thought that (I'd get four sacks)---it kind of shocked me and surprised me myself---but like the coaches say hard work pays off, so I guess it paid off," he said.
Jackson, on the other hand, says he went into the day planning to make some big-time plays after making a promise to his mother, who celebrated her birthday Saturday.
"It's my mom's birthday and I told her I was going to get two picks for her, and it played out how I wanted," he said. "She's back at home in Florida. She couldn't make it but I know all of them (my family) were watching it on TV and stuff."
Jackson went into detail about both of his picks.
"The first one, we were in 'cover three.' He (the receiver) ran like a 10-yard 'dig' (route) and he bobbled the ball and then (Da'Norris) Searcy was right in front of him but I guess I just jumped over him to make the pick," he said. "I was trying to find the end zone (for a return for a touchdown) but I got tackled."
"And then the second one we were in 'man' coverage in the goal line, and I played underneath him (the receiver). He had the ball and I just grabbed it," he added.
Jackson enjoyed the second interception better because it was the only play he was in the game that defensive segment.
"I think the second one was my favorite because they only sent me in there for that one play and in that one play I got that pick, so that one had to be my favorite," he said.
Jackson says he feels he's improved most this spring in his 'man' coverage skills---which will be a key for him in seeing the field next fall---along with reading the quarterback and improving his footwork and other technique.
"(I've) probably (improved most in) my 'man' coverage---I felt liked I played better 'man'---and then reading the quarterback's three-step drops and finally just playing technique-wise, I feel that I've gotten better with my technique and stuff," he said.
While Jackson spent most of his high school career at the quarterback position, he admits that his natural athletic gifts have helped him make a relatively seamless transition to the secondary.
"To tell you the truth, it hasn't been any kind of transition," he said. "I've been an athlete all my life, so wherever they put me at I'm going to try to go out and play my best and do it to the best of my ability."
Jackson clearly did that on Saturday---and he and McAdoo were two definitive signs of a Tar Heel defense that heads into training camp every bit as deep as it is talented.