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April 1, 2011Zach Brown has a high opinion of what North Carolina can accomplish in 2011.
The rising senior linebacker, who finished second on the UNC roster last fall with 72 tackles to go along with three interceptions and a team-high 113 interception return yards, doesn't shy away from lofty goals for his final collegiate season.
"This is not a rebuilding year. We're just going to keep it moving," Brown said.
"If we don't make it to the BCS we'll be disappointed---if we don't win the ACC."
Brown thinks UNC has a shot at an Orange Bowl berth because of the fact that so many defensive players have experience.
"Basically our whole defense is returning this year. Everybody has starting games under their belt. Experience---nobody is really a rookie. We have a lot of people returning on offense and defense," he said.
Unlike most Tar Heel players who went into the 2010 season projected as backups who became starters, Brown's insertion in the starting lineup wasn't related to the NCAA situation.
Brown wound up seeing a lot of playing time after Quan Sturdivant went down early in the season with a leg injury and missed several games.
Playing the weak-side or 'Will' linebacker spot, Brown found himself in position to make a lot of plays for the Tar Heels.
"Coach always says be ready when your time is called so I was ready," he said.
Brown, along with those teammates who were on the field with him, developed a unique bond through their experiences.
"We all got a lot closer as a whole. Without the 'superstars' that everybody was counting on, everybody was just stepping up playing their role, playing their part. A lot of people got a lot smarter and some of the young guys had to grow up fast."
This spring he's looking to keep everyone on task and fired up to perform.
"I'm just trying to help the defense and not miss a beat on defense and just keep everything going," he said. "Try to keep everybody together and make plays, so when we're down, keep hope and spirits alive. Never stop playing, because you never know what might happen in a game."
This spring, the Tar Heels have some interesting position battles developing at both of the outside linebacker posts.
With Sturdivant and Bruce Carter preparing for the NFL, this spring is all about creating depth in a group consisting of players such as Brown, Herman Davidson, Ebele Okakpu, Darius Lipford, and P.J. Clyburn.
"Right now it's a battle because people have still got to learn it. It's spring ball so everybody's getting back in the groove of everything," Brown said.
"At the end of the day, we're going to have at least six linebackers. Coach Kaufman, he wants six."
While Brown is currently projected as the starter at the 'Will' spot, there's always the possibility he could move over if need be.
Having played all three linebacker spots in UNC's 4-3 scheme at various times in his Tar Heel tenure, Brown is confident he can get it done wherever he plays.
"If I have to move over to 'Sam' and let somebody play 'Will,' that's what he (Coach Kaufman) is going to do, but right now it's still the same," he said.
In addition to his anticipated large role on defense, Brown also relishes the opportunity to see a lot of time on the field on several UNC special teams units.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to help the team," he said humbly. "If that means being on every special team then I'm going to be on every special team and defense."
"If they say, "Zach, we want you to play running back' I'll play running back. I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win," he joked.
Brown concluded our conversation by breaking down some of the reasons why he enjoys playing special teams so much.
"It's you and one person---mano y mano---and you really don't have to worry about schemes. The schemes are not really that difficult. You've probably got like four plays you run on special teams, so that's what I enjoy. And I like blocking people a lot."