Jared Fialko

UNC's defensive improvements: fluke or for real?

Posted August 27, 2016

Entering the 2015 fall camp, North Carolina's defense was regarded as not much more than a walking, padded, punching bag.

Suffice to say, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik had his work cut out for him.

"There wasn't 100 percent belief that we would have the season we had last year, in the beginning of the year," linebacker Cayson Collins.

"Great defense is not real rocket science, it's everybody doing their job," Chizik said. "What we preach to them is that bad defense usually isn't because you're soft, it's usually because one guy, two guys, three guys on a call aren't where they're supposed to be."

As for the results to back Chizik's claim, the proof's in the statistical pudding.

UNC made improvements in almost every major category in 2016, including the only one that matters to Chizik.

"The bottom line for us, is scoring defense," the defensive coordinator said. "That's the line in the sand."

The lone bug in the new system: stopping the run. The flaw was exacerbated by two rushing nightmares in losses against Clemson in the ACC Championship and Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl to close the season.

An expanded defensive playbook could be the solution, seamlessly swapping seven- to eight-man fronts.

The 'who, what, where and when' are all falling into place as the Tar Heels continue to improve their defense. But it's that fifth 'W,' that could really translate into improvements in the standings.

"In the offseason we spent a lot of time learning about the 'Why.' Why we run certain plays," Collins said.

"We know the why's of what the offense is out there trying to do to us," safety Donnie Miles said. "So, I think you're going to see a defense that's out there flying around having fun."

So, once again UNC's D will be a question mark, but this year preceded by a different Q: Was last year a fluke, or a sign of what's to come?

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