CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Gene Chizik’s 4-3 scheme and his teaching philosophy have been praised by the Tar Heels throughout the offseason for the simplicity involved. One confusing positional element, at least for fans and media, took until the last week of training camp to figure out.
When UNC shipped out its 2015 media guide this summer, senior Shakeel Rashad was listed as the starter at Sam linebacker, which is a traditional designation for a strongside linebacker that lines up over a tight end, among other specific responsibilities.
That listing wasn’t particularly newsworthy considering InsideCarolina.com reporters watched three scrimmages and several hours of practice time during spring ball and we arrived at the same conclusion. It also matched with Joe Jackson and Cayson Collins manning the Will – or weakside – linebacker spot, which is the position they played in 2014.
That belief held until UNC video segment last week included Rashad talking about learning the Will linebacker position, not the Sam.
Linebackers coach John Papuchis explained the terminology involved in an effort to eliminate the confusion.
“Our Will is a little bit of a misnomer,” Papuchis said. “Our Will is our bigger, more physical bubble backer. He’s going to stand in an open B-gap and he has to be the guy that takes on a lot of the physical run game stuff. Our Sam is more covered up. I know it’s counterintuitive based on their names, but the Will is not our weakside backer. Will, for us, is our bigger, more physical backer.”
Rashad stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 235 pounds, while Sam starting linebacker Joe Jackson checks in at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds.
“The position is different,” Rashad said. “You see the builds of guys at different positions. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what goes into the way they decide who goes at what positon, but these coaches are brilliant, so if they say it, I’ll do it.”
Papuchis also provided insight into Jackson winning the starting job at Sam over Collins, who had jumped Jackson on the depth chart at the end of last season.
“It wasn’t as much of anything about Cayson – I thought Cayson worked hard and had a really good camp and spring – it was more what Joe did,” Papuchis said. “I thought every day he came prepared, every day he worked. He competes in the meeting room and he competes on the field. He put himself in a position where he really took advantage of the opportunity and he earned the right to run with the first group.”
While senior Jeff Schoettmer has locked down the middle linebacker job, true freshman Andre Smith has moved past junior Dan Matromatteo on the depth chart to claim the backup role.
“I’m hoping that when he gets in the game it’s only because we’re either giving Schoett a rest or we’re in a situation in the game to do it,” Papuchis said, “but there’s no question if he had to step in there, I would have no concerns and no worries. He’s had a great camp.”
Papuchis described Schoettmer and Rashad as veteran presences with plenty of playing experience to go along with solid leadership traits, but while their jobs have long since been solidified, the youth at the linebacker position group has been competitive this August in battling for playing time.
“I think we’ve built it to where we have a solid two-deep and parts of a three-deep,” Papuchis said.