Spring Game Breakdown: Defense

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While North Carolina's defense may be termed a 4-2-5 scheme, in reality it's a multiple-look approach that allows for adaptation on the fly.

Don't let the 44-21 final score fool you into some misgivings about the defensive production on Saturday.

First of all, the White team scored more points in the locker room (14) than it did on the football field (7). Secondly, the Blue team offense actually benefited from injuries to the Blue team defense.

The White squad served as a pseudo farm team to its Carolina blue counterparts. For example, when starting Bandit Dion Guy left the game with a minor injury, Curtis Campbell took off his white jersey and took Guy's place with the Blue team.

Head coach Larry Fedora told reporters during his postgame press conference that there positives and negatives to his defenses' performance.

"I would've liked a few more early stops with the Blue team defense," Fedora said. "I would've liked them to stop the White earlier than what they did. Once they settled in, they started stoning them, but I would've liked that starting off the game that way. We've got to start quicker. We've got to figure out what it will take to get those guys started quicker. Overall, there were plays made. There were guys who were making plays. The thing that I didn't like is that we didn't have enough takeaways on defense."

What stood out from the press box is the versatility of the defensive scheme. Fedora's no-huddle offense is designed to prevent a defense from substituting to match personnel, but the defensive brainchild of Vic Koenning and Dan Disch allowed for multiple looks without needing substitutions.

"We hope the strengths of [the defense] is that it's got some versatility and it gives you the opportunity to give people different looks without subbing," Disch said. "The more looks you can give an offense, the hard it is for the offensive linemen, the harder it is for the quarterback. It just makes it tough on them."

On one second-half series, the Blue team defense ran a four-man front on first down, a three-man front on 2nd-and-long and a five-man front on 3rd-and-short. Campbell put his hand on the ground on two of the plays and lined up over tight end Eric Ebron in the slot on the second-down play. Linebacker Kevin Reddick put his hand on the ground on the third-down play.

"We have different fronts, but sometimes bring the same play, sometimes different plays," Reddick said.

Learning the multitude of responsibilities isn't the algebraic equation it may sound like upon introduction.

"It's pretty basic once you learn it, but it might be difficult for the other teams because they may see us in the base a lot and then we can go back and change to an odd, so that can get them confused," Reddick said.

That's precisely the reason this coaching staff elected to install this defensive scheme.

"What this defense allows you to do is just give you a lot of looks, so you can go from an odd front to an open front to a four-man front to a five-man front," Disch said. "You can do it all."

Pressure can come from traditional locations – defensive tackle Sylvester Williams was a load on the interior – but also from blitz hot spots. The four sacks on the day came from a cornerback (Kameron Jackson), a Bandit (Norkeithus Otis), a linebacker (Keeon Virgile) and a Ram (Pete Mangum).

"You can attack from a lot of different places, you can attack with a lot of different people," Disch said. "Just like for an offense, it's hard to prepare for all of the looks. Now, you've got to execute all of those looks, too, but I felt our kids did a good job. If you can keep it simple for the kids and show the offense different looks, that's the key.

"That's what good offenses do – they keep it simple for their kids and give you tons of looks."

Jackson led the White team defense with eight tackles from his boundary corner position. Blue team field corner Tim Scott gave up his unit's lone touchdown pass after getting turned around in coverage and allowing Jhay Boyd to pull in a seven-yard fade route, but the sophomore also delivered a 35-yard pick-six to solidify the victory.

Backup cornerback Terry Shankle had an impressive pass break-up in the end zone, and White team nose tackle Devonte Brown trucked Gio Bernard early in the game, effectively knocking the starting tailback out of the game.

There was also some solid hitting by Otis, Virgile, D.J. Bunn and Alex Dixon.


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