While most of the attention is on Larry Fedora's new spread offense, the Tar Heel defense is also going to bear a new look. Unlike the offense, there is much more uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball owed mostly to a new scheme and attrition.
Over the past few years, UNC has seen steady bleeding in terms of top shelf defensive talent. While the NCAA issues get cited for part of that, the truth is whether the NCAA showed up or not, UNC was going to lose a boatload of NFL caliber defensive personnel after 2010. UNC got by, to some extent in 2011 but with recruiting taking a bit of a hit, 2012 really shows the attrition. That is not to say UNC is without good players but outside of Kevin Reddick and maybe Sylvester Williams, no one is really getting any NFL scout focus. That basically means several young players will have the opportunity to step up and make plays.
Those plays will happen in a new 4-2-5 defensive scheme which Fedora prefers and associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning has successfully used at various stops in his career. The defense is pretty basic at nine positions with two that most people have not heard of before. The first is the "bandit" which is a linebacker/defensive lineman hybrid. That means this position could line up on the line or drop back as a linebacker depending on the look UNC wants to show. The other new position is the "ram" which is basically a fifth defender in the secondary. Outside of those two, the positions are much what you would expect.
Fedora's preference is for the defense to be aggressive. He has stated he wants players flying all over the field and he feels the 4-2-5 gives them the best opportunity to do that. The aggressive tone for the defense will be a welcome change after four years of Everett Withers and the feeling by many UNC fans that Withers went out of his way to restrain the defense. Not so with Fedora who is all about attacking on both sides of the football. As much as Fedora wants the offense to be pushing the ball down the field he also wants a defense that will attack relentlessly.
Among the defensive players leading that attack will be Kevin Reddick. The senior could have left for the NFL and probably been drafted but decided to return. That is even more compelling when you consider Reddick had to know UNC probably wasn't going to a bowl this season. Reddick certainly will be motivated to show off his game to pro scouts and he is every bit the impact player UNC needs. Also making an impact will be Sylvester Williams. The senior transferred in last season from JUCO and showed signs of being a solid defensive player. Now thirty pounds lighter, Williams has the conditioning to play in this defense.
In the secondary, particular attention will be paid to Jabari Price and Tre Boston playing cornerback and safety respectively. These two juniors in particular have had interesting careers at UNC. Both were thrown directly into the fire during the 2010 season when multiple players were held out of action due to the NCAA investigation. This will be their third different head coach in as many years at UNC but this time a totally new defensive scheme. In a defensive backfield littered with younger players Parker and Boston stand out as true veterans. Assuming they play like veterans it should set a tone and combined with Reddick and Williams should also give UNC's defense a significant boost.
As with the offense, seeing the new defense in action has added to the anticipation for the season opener on Saturday. The fact UNC will play a more aggressive style will be a welcome sight providing it happens with purpose and produces results.