Breaking Down H-back

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It's fitting that head coach Butch Davis has introduced the hybrid-back position to the North Carolina football program – after all, Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs created the position as a means to control former Tar Heel and New York Giants great Lawrence Taylor.

Designed to maximize and blend the abilities of tight ends and fullbacks, the H-back will become a crucial element in future Carolina offenses. Versatility is the key to the position, as players must be well-versed in the offensive scheme, since they are responsible for blocking, pass protection, passing routes and occasional running plays.

True freshman Zach Pianalto switched his college commitment from Texas to UNC after Davis took the Carolina job, and the new head coach quickly sold the Springdale, Ark. native on his H-back role.

"He told me ‘I see you doing what Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow did at Miami," Pianalto said. "Moving you out [and] finding the best mismatch for you, which if you're on a safety, you're a little bit bigger than him, if you're on a linebacker, you can outrun him – maybe run a better route than he can cover.'"

Sophomore Ryan Taylor has also taken a liking to the new position in coordinator John Shoop's offensive schemes.

"It confuses the defense -- it's match-up problems," Taylor told Inside Carolina on Friday. "I like it personally because if I was just playing wide receiver, you couldn't get up there and get your nose dirty. I get to be down on the line, back [as] the fullback, split out as a wide receiver and I really prefer that because I feel it plays into more what I can do as a player."

Tight ends coach Steve Hagen has the added responsibility of teaching both roles in the two-tight end sets.

"He teaches it all almost as one position," Pianalto said. "He takes the tight-ends and the H-backs and we'll go over the same play, and he shows us what the true tight-end does and what the H-back does."

While Hagen is the primary coach for the position, Davis' love for the H-back is evident in practice, as nearly the entire offensive staff has a hand in teaching technique. Running backs coach Ken Browning may pass along some tips on blocking, while wide receivers coach Charlie Williams may offer instruction on route running.

The beauty of the H-back role is that opposing defenses never have a good indication for what a tight end is going to do on any given play.

"We can line up in a tight formation -- three receivers tight into the line -- and then the quarterback says 'set' and we all move, and I could go to fullback in the backfield and run a play out of there, or I could go from that first formation and split out to a slot receiver," Taylor said. "We can run any play out of anything.

"It's a lot of fun because you're doing everything. You really are a hybrid-back."

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