Junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles knows his defensive line is predicted to be one of the best in the country this season, and he's focused on turning those expectations into reality. The 6-foot-4, 306-pounder from Hodges, S.C., says both he and his linemates have big things in store for them this fall.
"We can be the best line (in the country) if we work," said Quarles after practice Wednesday morning. "If you don't work, you don't eat. It's like coach Adams tells us all the time; statistics and what the media says, that's all great and fine but you've got to go out there and prove them right."
Coming off a sophomore season where he registered 38 total tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 11 starts, Quarles positioned himself to ripen in 2013 with a strong offseason. He's happy with where he's at now after a summer in which he added eight pounds, ran a good 40-time for his size, and recorded the highest bench press max on the team.
"I know so," Quarles said when asked if he hoped to have a breakout year. "I've been doing everything to prepare myself for a good year. I've been coming out here every day busting my butt. I feel like this can be my year, but I've just got to continue to work."
But Quarles' self-confidence doesn't blur his vision of the big picture. He knows he's just one cog in the larger defensive machine, and says he's challenging himself, his linemates and the rest of the defense to get better every day. Both he and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney have been very vocal in practices, encouraging the other players to match their own intensity. Quarles said Clowney tells each of his teammates to "grind" every day, and to be better than the man beside them.
"We just challenge each other," Quarles said. "We're in a competition with each other, but we're trying to collectively be great together."
With no one player filling D.J. Swearinger's former role as the team's prominent vocal leader in practice, Quarles said the veterans are collectively staying on top of the rest of the team.
"When we see somebody fall off, we get on them," Quarles said. "When we go into team periods, we just let each other know. It's tough, we're in camp. Most people don't want to do this, but when you come out here...we're working."
"All those guys, we just get on each other," the junior added. "I don't feel like it's one person over another, I just feel like it's a collective thing because we know what we expect out of each other so we expect that every play."
Quarles said that their main focus in camp has been to get better, but the defense has already started preparing for North Carolina's up-tempo offense. The coaches are stressing getting back to the line of scrimmage quicker after each play in order to get set before the Tar Heels can snap the ball. Quarles said the first day of working at such a quick pace was "a little shaky," but he and the rest of the defense feel much more comfortable now.
"You just have to be focused, keep up pace with them," Quarles said. "We just try to slow their pace down so we can come out and play our game, and when we do that, we'll be fine."
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