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The New Offensive Coordinator at UNC

Along with breaking in two new quarterbacks this season, North Carolina also has a new offensive cooridnator in Frank Cignetti. The N&O's J.P. Giglio writes that the early indications are he may be exactly what is needed to infuse some new energy into the Tar Heel offense.

Cignetti, who came to UNC after a successful stint as offensive coordinator at Fresno State, represents a change in the Tar Heels' coaching staff. He replaces the Yoda-like Gary Tranquill, who at the age of 66 imparted wisdom with an unabridged playbook, not by demonstration. The Heels hope Cignetti's energy and the run-oriented version of the West Coast offense translate to a better offense than the Carolina one that struggled to score points and run the ball in a 5-6 season in 2005.

As UNC head coach John Bunting, who worked with Cignetti in 2000 with the New Orleans Saints, pointed out, "We were awful in the red zone last year" scoring just 19 touchdowns last season, compared to 56 by Fresno State.

On paper it looks like a great situation. The QB question has been all consuming in the preseason but with three good horses in the backfield it makes all the sense in the world to use a running attack. Cignetti also appears to be breathing new life into the offense and team in general which, in my opinion, had become stagnant. As for the offense it is broken down like this:

Normally, the typical Bill Walsh version of the West Coast offense equates to short, timing passes. Not so in Cignetti's playbook, which he implemented in spring practice after being hired in January.

Cignetti's offense borrows from his father, with whom he coached from 1990 to 1998 at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and from longtime NFL coach Alex Gibbs. It will feature two running backs; zone blocking, a tactic perfected by Gibbs and the Denver Broncos; play-action passes; and more downfield "home run" type passes.

The nagging question will be how the different parts of the offense respond in this set. The running back issue is easily answered with a lot of quality depth. The offensive line is where matters get tricky. According to Cignetti's comments on August 17th they are "still trying to fine the five best linemen" which tells me no one has really stood out and all one needs to do is read the roster to see they are indeed very young. In my humble opinion the OL is the lynch pin for the whole offense. If the offense is meant to run and then pass long when needed that means the OL will be under enormous pressure to control the line of scrimmage to give the running backs room to move the ball and also to provide protection on those downfield passes which take longer to develop than short passes in a traditional West Coast offense would. And since the offensive line is inexperienced, there will be a pressing need for them step up. One area the coaches do not seem to be worried about is the receiving corp led by Jesse Holley. John Bunting has called this group of receivers the best he has had since coming to UNC and if they catch half the balls they dropped last season he might be correct in that assessment. That leaves the QB question and whether we will see Cam Sexton or Joe Dailey take more snaps from center. At first glance you would think the employment of longer passes would favor Sexton but a suspect offensive line could put the QB on the run which may make Dailey the better choice. Based on the divergent styles and the shakiness of the OL it looks like the QB system will be the best bet, at least until the offense shakes the kinks out in live play.

Overall it appears Cignetti is bringing a lot of positives to the team. His work at Fresno St. is fairly impressive as the article points out his teams dropped 42 points on USC and in 2004 hit UVa for 37. Given some of the anemic performances out of UNC last year offensively speaking it would seem that Cignetti's offense will fill out a missing piece.