Kevin Seifert/Inside Carolina

Gene Chizik Moving UNC's Defense Forward in 2016

Gene Chizik sat down with Inside Carolina to discuss entering his second year leading the Tar Heel defense.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- With a year as UNC’s defensive coordinator under his belt – a year in which the defense made significant progress and helped the Tar Heels to an 11-2 record - Gene Chizik aims to take the next step in Year 2.

How is this spring different for you and the team?

It is totally different your second year. There are so many variables you don’t know - you’re literally just a year ago trying to remember names. We just got done with Blue Dawn workouts, right? This time last year I was trying to look at how guys were competing and I was trying do all that, but at the same time, I didn’t really know who was who.

I didn’t know what to expect from any of these guys, and when you know the players intimately after a 14-game season with them, you just have a much better idea about who they are and what to expect out of them, what you expect to see, and as individuals, what they’ve shown you in the year that you’ve been here, what you feel like their growth potential is moving forward: things like that matter.

So in that regard, with the players, we’re in a completely different realm right now, which is good – it’s been fun.

As a coach, you emphasize teaching, how has that changed in year two?

It’s different, in a good way. Because when you teach defense, if you go back a year ago, we were literally trying to teach the details and the intricacies of our specific defense - of course you always do that. But once they know that, and it has become kind of ingrained in them, then you can start teaching offense - and that is huge. We were just talking about that in our meeting in there, that we now have the opportunity to really go back and teach offensive football.

Because defensive football is a game of reaction. So I can react better when I can anticipate that the offense is doing ‘this,’ and the reason I am anticipating that is because they are in this formation, okay, and they are trying to get ‘this’ accomplished by the receivers being tight, or the splits being wider, or things of that nature.

So, to be really efficient on defense, you definitely have to have the capacity to know what’s going on within the structure of your own defense, but when you start knowing offensively what to expect - the ‘whys’ of offense - then you can really be on your way in terms of playing fast, and playing physical, and we have the chance to do that now.

The last two games were not pretty on the defensive side of the ball, what did you and the team learn from those games?

Overall we had a great year, but you don’t ever want to end the year we way we did. That was disappointing, but I think the teaching moments that you gain from the last two games are simply this: If you’re ever going to be a nationally elite program, to play the caliber of offenses you’re going to have to play to get in the final four, this is who you have to be better than. We definitely have some great teaching moments from both of those games.

Arguably, Baylor was the No. 1 offense in the country and Clemson wasn’t far behind, since they’ve got a Heisman candidate quarterback and great players all around him as well. I think the story is simple for our players. When we get to that level of play, we have to do things better, and we have to do things, maybe, even differently.

You look at it as coaches right now and say, ‘What would we have done different? What certain things could we have done to give ourselves a better chance to succeed when we play those types of teams?’ A lot of learning moments, but the big takeaway is simply that you got a taste of what the next level of offense really is, country-wide.

It’s tough. I mean Alabama has the best defense the country and it wasn’t even close, and Clemson scored 40 on them and went up and down the field on them and had over 500 yards of total offense, and that’s on the best defense in the country - that’s what people would think. That’s the exact same offense that we played, and minus a couple of mistakes, here and there, could have played out much differently in that game.

Not proud of the outcome, at all, in either one of those games, but we’re definitely moving forward having those teaching moments from those games, for sure.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2, as Chizik takes a closer look at the 2016 team's defensive personnel.

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