Preseason Letterman's Roundtable, Part III

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders hosts a collection of former Tar Heels for a roundtable discussion previewing the 2012 season. In the third part of this four-part series, the group takes an in-depth look at UNC's defense.

Buck Sanders: Just like changes have come on offense, changes are coming on defense too. I know Mark has got some strong feelings about the Bandit position and not feeling comfortable with setting the edge over there. Mark, you want to talk about that a little bit?

Mark Paschal: Right now, just looking at what we've got at the defensive end and Bandit position, Dion Guy is the guy that comes to mind who has been at Carolina for four years now. He's a big fella, 6-4, 250. But, the main concern for me, and you've hit right on it, is the inability to really set an edge when you're playing against a power pro-style, hit you in the mouth, run downhill type team. We're going to have plenty of speed on that defense; we've got a lot of guys that can run. We've got Sylvester Williams, who I think is probably the best defensive tackle in college this year. But just the inability to set the edge and really get up the field on passing situations, are going to be the things I will hold judgment on right now. But those are the two things that make me a little bit nervous going into game one and going into the year. We've got to make sure these guys are capable of setting the edge. I'm sure they'll be drilled or worked every day to make sure they can hold up against a big offensive tackle or a guard, whatever it may be. But, that's one thing that I'd like everyone to keep their eyes open for, it's our ability to stop the run when we have to and when they're coming right down at us.

Matt Baker: I think when you run a defense like this, you're going to run into those mismatches a lot. A lot falls on the defensive coordinator to get you in the right sets at the right time. You're going to have mismatches against offensive lineman and fullbacks sometimes. When you play undersized and you play with some hybrid positions, you're going to run into that. As part of that, those can be mismatches for you as well. A defense like this is really hard to identify for a quarterback. Tank and Chacos can attest that offensive football is all about identification for the quarterback and offensive line. It's all about figuring out who is who and making quick calls. In a defense like this, it's really tough. And, you can flip that mismatch over to your side if you're in the right personnel in the right place, then you can really confuse an offense that way. There's no doubt, you're right Mark, you're going to run into mismatches sometimes when you guess wrong and the other team has the right play call on, there are going to be some big holes.

Mark Paschal: Yeah, that's the thing that you hit on. There's going to be a lot of different pressure from a lot of different fronts. They're going to move guys; they're going to stunt guys; they're going to stunt tackles. They'll have enough in the package, in the plan, on defense where a guy like Sylvester will start as a nose and wind up in the three from the snap of the ball. So there will be a lot of movement, a lot of things to confuse an offense, which can play into a defense's advantage and just have an offense on their heels. 'Where are these guys coming from? What are we looking at?' I think that will help mask some of that undersized hybrid positions that we talked about.

Scott Lenahan: Well, I think, hopefully, that there is somebody that can complement Sly this year to really take some pressure off. I know that we lost a lot of talent; he's going to get double-teamed this year. I think if somebody can complement him and somewhere along the line take some pressure off him that will really help. He's going to take up a lot of blockers this year.

Matt Baker: To that point, you can't double-team him if you don't know where he is.

Mark Paschal: Exactly.

Buck Sanders: That's a good point.

Scott Lenahan: Well, he's a pretty big dude; they'll see him.

Buck Sanders: You guys have already talked about it a little bit, but some of the really highly recruited, big time players that Butch Davis brought in, guys like Coples, Powell and Donte Paige-Moss, are all gone and there are a few players that are considered really good players, like Sly and some other, maybe, on the DL, some of the other guys, Kareem Martin might have a big year, we don't know what Dion Guy may do, Shawn Underwood is kind of an unknown coming in, and depth behind them is speculative. So, does the defensive line take a step back? Is this going to be an atypical UNC defensive line?

Brian Chacos: Is it going to be what Butch Davis was bringing in? Maybe not right away, I mean, there's still some talent here. Kareem Martin is a great prospect; he's a great NFL prospect. I know Mark can attest to that – he's in the business. He's a 6-6, 260-pound prospect. He's long, rangy, can rush the passer very well. I think he can hold the edge and can match up with a lot of tackles. Obviously, we were talking about Sly earlier; I think he's a premier defensive tackle in the league. He's was being heavily recruited by a lot of SEC schools when he was coming out of junior college. I think that's obviously a staple that we have there. You know, when you look down at some of the other guys that we have, Shawn Underwood and some of those kinds of guys on our roster, Devonte Brown, we've got some young talent on this team. Again, when we were talking about the Bandit position and, I wasn't able to chime in, I will say that there is a little concern there, but we were talking about the youth we have coming in and I think another guy who might be able to come in and contribute is Junior (Gnonkonde). I think Junior, now that he's cleared finally by the NCAA, that's a guy that we need to keep our eyes on during training camp. From everything that you hear, the kid is just a physical freak. He hasn't played football very long, but he's got the raw skills and athleticism to be a really good football player. Who knows, freshmen can play. Given the opportunity, you know, if Dion doesn't step up in the first two or three games, don't be surprised to see a guy like Junior get in there and get an opportunity.

Buck Sanders: We've talked about the Bandit a bunch. Let's move on and talk about the other hybrid position, the Ram spot. Gene Robinson, he may not be the perfect fit for that, but he's the guy that's playing the position. He played nickel back a lot for UNC, and played safety a lot, but that position almost confuses me more than the Bandit does. I mean, I kind of know he's a fifth defensive back, but he's also concentrating on run support too. Somebody fill me in.

Mark Paschal: This is another position that I'm concerned about because we don't have a 6-2, 220 safety. We've got 5-11, 200. This is a position that requires a guy that will bring his big-boy pads every Saturday because, if not, you're going to get run over. There are a lot of lanes that are going to be opening up and this guy is going to have to come down and support in the run game. And, he's got to be a smart football player. He's got to be able to identify a pass run from jump street or else he's going to be behind his pads and be facing a running back coming right downhill. With the movement that we plan on installing, with the movement that we had, it will clutter some of the running lanes at times. But this guy is going to have to come in every Saturday and bring his lunch pail and fill gaps and come and strike running backs. That's not really what Gene signed up for when he decided to come to North Carolina and play safety in the cover-two defense that we were running for so long. So, it's going to be a big change. I think Gene has got the makeup to do it. He doesn't strike me as somebody that's scared of contact, but we've got to find a guy that a tough you-know-what to come in there and support the run game because when you take away a linebacker, you need this guy to come in and fill some holes. So, it will be interesting to see. He does have enough speed and the range to be effective in the pass defense game. This is the best guy we've got for this position at this time, right now, in my opinion.

Brian Chacos: Mark, not to put you on the spot, but in your opinion, who is the guy that we've had over the last, maybe since Coach Davis was there, who do you think would have been the ideal kind of player to play that position?

Mark Paschal: Bruce Carter; Bruce Carter would have been ideal because Bruce is a freak. Bruce can run a 4.4 and come in and he's so physically talented that he could play both those . . . but I think a guy like Deunta Williams would be a great fit. You're talking about a guy who is 6-3, 220. Just think Virginia Tech; think Virginia Tech safeties. I think that's kind of what we need to recruit, what we need to go after. Those guys are 6-3, 6-4, can run and they're physical. When I look at this position, I think that's what we need to get to is the 6-2, 6-3, lean but just a mean guy that can come in and fill the run game, sort of like the Virginia Tech safeties do.

Matt Baker: Yeah. It's a good thing those guys grow on trees, Mark, those Bruce Carters are everywhere (laughing).

Buck, I'm with you on this Ram and Bandit position and what is the hybrid. I'm going to hold judgment. I don't know what a Bandit is. I don't know what a Ram is. I don't know, is it more a defensive end or is it more outside linebacker? Is it more safety or is it more linebacker? I think that's going to play a part of ... just like offense, we were talking about them adapting to what they have, it's the same thing with the defensive coordinator. It's not a specific guy, if this guy doesn't fit, maybe another guy can play it. We don't know. The hybrid position, what's it more of, is it going to be more one or the other? Can you put a guy in who we don't feel right now could play that position – they find out ten days into camp that this kid fits what we want to do with this hybrid position better? I don't know. I think it's just too early to tell. I think, if I learned anything from reading some of the comments about this coaching staff, it's they take their philosophies then they take the players on the roster and put it together to find what fits best. I think, just as we talked about on offense, they'll do the same on defense.

Buck Sanders: If he was two or three inches taller and about 15 pounds heavier, I'll tell you who would be perfect for it that's on the current roster – Pete Mangum.

Mark Paschal: Yeah, Pete's not scared.

Buck Sanders: If he were just a little bit of a bigger guy, he'd be perfect for that.

Brian Chacos: My favorite guy on the special teams, no doubt.

Buck Sanders: Let's talk about the secondary as long as we're moving in that direction. It's the unit that has had some hard knocks, just from a variety of things. You know, go back to the suspensions and people getting hurt and this, that and the other. It's been a mess back there. My personal opinion is that I see it taking some form now, but am I a little too optimistic?

Mark Paschal: There are still a lot of young guys back there. There are just still a lot of young guys back there. I mean, we've got freshmen and sophomores basically throughout the whole thing. We've got couple juniors, like Jabari (Price) and Tre (Boston), but we're looking at puppies still back there and that's a tough position to play when you're a little puppy.

Buck Sanders: I can see that. I thought that Tim Scott played pretty well last year, even though he was, as you say, a puppy. I think he . . . at least the game didn't look like it was too big for him.

Mark Paschal: Right. And, I think they're going to continue to move in the right direction; continue to get better. And, having that year under Tim's belt ... That's got to be the hardest position on the field, at least in my opinion. Having to guard some of the athletes in the ACC and the teams that we play on a week in, week out basis, I mean, that's a tough position. You've got to be a special athlete to be able to play that, and I think Tim is a guy that we should keep our eye on as well. Jabari will continue to grow; he's now a junior and I think he's got a lot of talent, it's just continuing to work at it every week to trying to get better. I mean, this is what we've got.

Buck Sanders: One real unknown there is Sam Smiley. I mean, we don't really know how he's going to play. He is a real puppy; he's brand new. But, I think we know enough about the other three that at least we can form some opinion about the secondary.

Brian Chacos: The guy that I really want to see step up, and it's got to be time -- I mean, we were talking on offense, we're talking about Erik Highsmith, Jhay Boyd and those guys, it's time for them to step up -- I think it's really time for Tre Boston to step up. He sort of is the old guy on that side of the ball. I mean, he's really got to have a year. He's been in the program now, I think, going on three years. It's time for him to step up and have an all-ACC kind of year. I don't think he necessarily had his best year last year. And I think it's time for him to take a real leadership role and for him to really step up his play. So that's really a guy I'm sort of putting a challenge out to and really want to see him sort of step his game up. Sort of like we sort of put the challenge on Erik Highsmith and Jhay Boyd, I want to see Trey Boston step his game up this year.

Mark Paschal: And for him to move into the strong safety spot too. I think that's a great move. I think that's a great move for him. That's just my opinion. That's just a great move. Moving him from an island to where he can get in the middle of the field and play strong safety, I think that's a great move. I think that will benefit him immensely this year, Chac'.

Buck Sanders – And he's gotten moved around quite a bit too, since he's been here, Boston has. He was even asked to play corner a time or two.

Brian Chacos: And the reason why I say that, Buck, is because the kid has got so much raw athleticism and talent. You see him just make incredible plays. For instance, that play when he picked up the guy against Virginia and body slams him on the sideline that you see on the highlight board. You know, have fantastic plays, but then you see him on some other plays where he's out of place or he's getting beat deep. Then you see some other plays where you know he could be playing better. It's frustrating when you see a kid that's so talented and you want him to just be able to play more consistently. So again, like Mark was saying, making this position change is going to be able to elevate his game to be able to have that all-ACC kind of year.

(Check back tomorrow for Part IV: Special Teams…)

Featured Lettermen in Today's Roundtable

  • Matt Baker quarterbacked the Tar Heels in 2005, while amassing the 7th-highest season passing yardage total in school history. Following his UNC career, he was a member of six different NFL teams.

  • Brian Chacos's UNC career (2001-06) included 35 starts at offensive tackle, a selection to the Lombardi Watch List, and All-ACC Academic honors.

  • Scott Lenahan manned the center position in Chapel Hill from 2003-07, overlapping two coaching regimes. Nicknamed 'Tank' for his weight room exploits, he earned the top senior honor on the '07 Tar Heel team.

  • Mark Paschal captained the Tar Heels in 2008. As a middle linebacker, he led the team in tackles prior to a career-ending injury and didn't miss a game in his four-year career up until that point.

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