CHAPEL HILL — University of North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik was asked what he wanted the identity of his latest defense to be in Chapel Hill.
Without hesitation, Chizik looked out at the sea of reporters and said “Physicality. Period.”
Under head coach Larry Fedora, UNC’s motto has always been ‘Smart, Fast and Physical.’ Chizik and the Heels are determine to make sure the physical part stands out in 2015.
“Everything in this game is about physicality,” Chizik said at North Carolina’s media day. “I’ve never been around a good defense that wasn’t physical. Never. Everything starts with the point of attack up front, the fits of the linebackers, where they’re supposed to be. The safeties fit off of those guys. Everybody has to have the mentality of physicality.”
Chizik said the staff points out everyday when the Heels were physical, and days when they weren’t.
“Anybody can look at a film and you don’t have to be a football expert to know if we’re playing physical or we’re not.”
At times the last two years, the UNC defenders had their physical toughness questioned. Former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning questioned, more than once, if guys on the defense wanted to tackle. So Chizik and his staff started from square one. Chizk said the defense has to go from point A to Z, and it starts with being a more physical group.
The mentality had to change and that happens in practice. As opposed to what they did under the old regime, the Heels do a lot more hitting. Everyday they are in pads the Tar Heels have some kind of contact, the philosophy being you can’t talk about being a more physical team without actually going out and doing it on the practice field.
“During the spring we would hit everyday, trying to make us tougher players,” linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “Same thing with this fall camp. We’re doing hitting drills every time we’re in shoulder pads and helmets, trying to create that physicality.”
Schoettmer said it starts with the defensive line – the unit closest to the line of scrimmage. They are the point of attack and either push the line back or get pushed. That sets the tone for the linebackers, safeties and corners. According to Schoettmer, everyone is held accountable.
“You can’t hide out there in this defense. You need to be physical each position out there on the field.”
As a linebacker, Schoettmer said he welcomes this new approach, smiling and his eyes lighting up when asked about the new style. Shakeel Rashad, also a linebacker, said this has, without a doubt, been a more physical camp.
“The days we are in pads, we line up and we just go at it,” Rashad said. “Guys like to hit. We go out there and we hit and we enjoy it.”
North Carolina held its scrimmage on Sunday, giving coaches the first look at the team in game situations. Fedora pointed out that both sides of the ball were physical, but the defense was right where the coaches wanted them to be this early in camp.
“I thought there was some great hitting,” Fedora said. “Being physical was not a factor in that scrimmage at all.”
A lot was made of the 4-3 scheme Chizik brought with him. For that scheme to be successful, the players still have to run and tackle. While the scheme puts the Heels in a position to be better in 2015, none of it will matter if the players aren’t physical. So far in camp, they are willing to lay the leather the way Chizik wants.
“We don’t have a choice,” defensive tackle Nazair Jones said. “It’s his way. Being known as that physical presence, that will just help us as a whole.”