Rampant Versatility

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- With so many fast-paced and complicated offenses in college football today, it can be difficult for a defense to keep up. North Carolina's approach hopes to fight back with versatility of its own via the Ram position.

In the past, the hurry-up offense was reserved for end of game situations in which the losing team needed to score quickly in order to get back in the game. In recent years, more and more teams, North Carolina included, have implemented the no-huddle offense as their base system.

A defense must fight fatigue and speed against this offense. There is no time to substitute quicker or rested players onto the field, so a traditional defense with seven men in the box oftentimes wears down. North Carolina's new 4-2-5 defensive scheme attempts to match the pace of the hurry-up offense through the addition of the Ram.

"The main idea behind this defense is just to get more speed on the field," senior walk-on Pete Mangum told InsideCarolina.com on Wednesday. "By putting a Ram out there, you're adding another [defensive back] kind of person, so your speed for the defense will be quicker."

At the moment, Mangum is competing for playing time at Ram with fellow senior Gene Robinson and sophomore Brandon Ellerbe. Robinson is currently getting the majority of the run with the first-team defense, but all three are expected to contribute this fall.

Mangum has played in every game the past two seasons, almost exclusively on special teams. Even though the Raleigh, N.C. product has not seen much playing time on the defensive side of the ball, the aggression it takes to fly downfield and hit the gap on kickoffs is a necessity for the Ram as they are called on to help stop the run.

While Ellerbe does not have as much live action to his name -- on special teams or elsewhere -- as Mangum, he does possess perfect size for the position. At 6-foot-0 and 210 pounds, Ellerbe is big enough to fight through blockers and make a tackle on the ball carrier, yet quick enough to stay back and defend the pass.

"He's got good speed," Mangum said. "He's got good burst. If he puts his foot in the ground and breaks to the ball, he'll be able to make some plays."

The 5-foot-11 and 200-pound Robinson is undersized for the ideal Ram prototype. However, the Memphis, Tenn. native has played a similar role to the Ram in the past. Robinson played mostly nickel back for the Tar Heels last season. Similar to the Ram, the nickel back takes the place of a linebacker in a traditional 4-3 scheme. Robinson recorded 49 tackles and an interception last season.

"You have to have football savvy," Robinson said. "You have to know the fits in the run, you have to be able to cover and you have to be physical."

There is nothing traditional about the no-huddle offense. However, as offenses change, defenses must break away from accepted norms as well and adapt. The versatility provided by the 4-2-5 defense and Ram position are not only a response to the changing offenses, but they also give the defense more flexibility of its own.

"It's one of the hybrid positions – a guy that can play in the box and a guy that can play outside of the box," head coach Larry Fedora said "… It's a guy that we can do a lot of different things with. I think you'll see that guy in multiple blitz roles and also in some different types of coverage."

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