CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Outside linebacker Shakeel Rashad is no stranger to changing positions, and in the week leading up to North Carolina’s win against N.C A&T, he had to adjust to a new spot yet again.
“We moved him to another linebacker position during the week,” head coach Larry Fedora said during his weekly radio show on Tuesday night, “so we could keep him on the field in nickel situations.”
Rashad practiced in the spring and during training camp at the Will position, which happens to be the larger linebacker in defensive coordinator Gene Chizik’s 4-3 scheme. By moving to the Sam linebacker position, the senior is able to stay on the field on passing downs in the 4-2-5.
Rashad responded with arguably his best game as a Tar Heel, recording two tackles (one for a loss of 10 yards), forcing a fumble and intercepting a pass in the UNC’s 53-14 rout of the Aggies. Rashad posted that stat line despite playing just 28 snaps in the game.
Rashad moved this offseason from the bandit position along the defensive line to the linebacker corps, a move that required him to lose a large chunk of weight.
“I’m between 230 and 235, slim,” Rashad said last month. “I didn’t feel slow, but I just feel faster.”
That added speed and lightness has paid off, especially when combined with his knowledge of the game.
“He’s a very bright kid and understands the game really well,” Fedora said. “And it was an easy transition for him, and he made a lot of plays.”
What was your message to the team up 36-0 at halftime against North Carolina A&T?
“For me, I’m probably harder on them at that time than I am at any other point in the game. I’m challenging them to come out with the same edge they had in the first half at the beginning of the game. That’s hard to do, human nature is to relax and enjoy it. For me, the only thing enjoyable is to win and win the right way. I challenged them, and I thought they reacted really well. I thought they came out and they put some drives together, and the defense did some good things early on, and I thought throughout the game, even as we played all the guys on the team, that there was never a point where I thought we were sloppy.”
What can you tell us about Brandon Fritts?
“The first time I saw Brandon, he was on the basketball court, and I was there recruiting Mitch (Trubisky), they came from the same high school, and I didn’t know a whole lot about him. But I was watching him on the basketball court as Mitch and I was talking, and Mitch started telling me about him, and we got film on him and started recruiting him. He’s grown into a tight end, which is what we expected of him. He came in weighing about 205, and now he’s about 240. And he’s really picked the position up well. He’s learning to be more physical at the point of attack, which is something he’s never had to do, and now he’s learning how to do that. His ball skills are really good. He can run routes and all those things. I think you’ll see more and more from Brandon in the future.”
With injuries along the defensive line, do you have any concerns with your depth up front and would you consider removing true freshman defensive end Jalen Dalton’s redshirt?
“That’s something we talk about every day. Where we are injury-wise, where we are with depth, and how that’s going to play out as the season goes. That’s the balancing act you’ve got to do when you’re figuring out what to do with some of these freshmen, because if you’re going to use them, you want them to get enough reps throughout the year that they’re going to be able to help you and be effective. It’s a tough thing to do, and that’s why I’m a big proponent of having five years of eligibility. That way when a kid’s ready to play, you play him, and you don’t worry about burning a year. That way when a kid doesn’t get ready until the eighth game of the season, you’ve got a lot of guys hurt, he can come in and help, and it doesn’t hurt him. I’m always concerned. I don’t think we’ve got enough depth anywhere on the field, so any time we have a guy who goes down, I’m always worried.”
Which reserves stood out against North Carolina A&T?
“I was really pleased with the way Andre Smith played at Mike linebacker. To throw him in that situation in the third series of the game, and get [Jeff] Schoettmer out of the game, because that’s like, I know nobody else looks at it this way, that’s the quarterback of the defense. As a coaching staff, it’s very critical for us to make sure that the guy playing behind Jeff can carry his weight if he needs to. I was really proud of the way he performed.”
What have you thought of Donnie Miles’ season thus far?
“Donnie, first of all, just really bought into everything that Gene (Chizik) and Charlton (Warren) are wanting to do on that side of the ball. He spent his time, he worked extremely hard on perfecting the techniques that they wanted to use, and he’s really, for two weeks in a row, he’s really played well. In fact, the first week he played extremely well, also. He’s done a really good job, and I’m proud of what he’s doing.”