Kaufman, Part III: Team Impact

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Linebacker coaches are part of a team, and Art Kaufman recognizes how his group of players benefits from the play of others around them, and how they can contribute in ways other than from strictly playing the linebacker position.

The Tar Heel linebackers have benefited from playing behind stout defensive lines during Kaufman's tenure, and have also made large contributions to special teams.

Cam Thomas and E.J. Wilson graduated in 2010 and were selected in the NFL draft. Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn were also a part of that line, and will be selected in this year's draft, perhaps both in the first round. Quinton Coples was an All-ACC first team selection this year, and along with Donte Paige-Moss, Tydreke Powell, and some younger Tar Heels like Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson, formed a solid line that returns intact in 2011.

"I think Coach Davis has done a great job of bringing defensive linemen in," Kaufman said. "That's what made us at linebacker, is because of those guys."

With talented defensive lines in front of his linebackers - and the Tar Heels should have another such defensive line in front of them in 2011 - Kaufman is able to do things with his linebackers he wouldn't otherwise be able to do.

"What an offensive lineman is to a running back, is what a defensive lineman is to a linebacker; it's the same thing, " Kaufman said. "If you've got guys that are holding the front and holding the point, then we can run and go make the plays in the holes that the running back is going to go."

Though it hurt the Tar Heels to miss out on the services of Michael McAdoo, Quinn, and Austin last year, Kaufman sees a silver lining – the experience gained by those who did play.

"The rebuilding that was going to get done this coming year, got done a year early. It makes a lot of difference," Kaufman said.

It probably doesn't get talked about as often as it should, but when it comes to special teams, linebackers are usually front and center. Even as a star linebacker, Bruce Carter remained a big part of special teams throughout his career, during which he blocked seven kicks. As a linebacker coach, Kaufman sees the double-duty as just part of the territory.

"It one of those things that we know going in that that's going to be part of the deal," Kaufman said. "What we try to do is if we can get younger guys to step up, because if you're a backup linebacker here, you should start on every special teams."

The demand for linebackers on special teams stems from their combination of size and speed – the usual job description of special teams players , to make and shed blocks downfield, to protect or get to the ball carrier – are a place where linebackers can make a big contribution. It is also a training ground for would-be starters on the linebacker unit.

"Our linebackers are the fastest, per size and explosiveness, that are trained to get off blocks, to read blocking schemes, to tackle – those are the things they're trained to do every time," Kaufman said. "Plus, they are athletic shields. It's to a point of, you better be on a special teams and then we'll see if you can start – then we'll see if you can be a starting linebacker."

It is a place where both physical ability and mental toughness are tested.

"If you (as a linebacker) are not starting on every special teams, especially in our situation right now, either you're not good enough or you're not willing enough," Kaufman said. "If you're not good enough, you're probably having to struggle playing linebacker. If you're not willing enough, you're probably having to struggle playing linebacker."

As a final note, Kaufman discussed what he asked his players' to focus on during spring practice.

"Fundamentals, the little bitty things of how to do your job technique-wise - playing blocks, eliminating false steps, being more efficient with where you go," he said.

"Those are the things we try to improve on because those kids see it on film now. We talk about it, but now they get a chance to go back and study themselves from what happened this year and say, ‘Yeah, I need to do this better.'"

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