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An introduction to Jay Bateman’s hybrid-as-hell defense

What does Jay Bateman run? How does UNC’s current personnel fit in the new defensive coordinator’s scheme?

NCAA Football: Colgate at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Well, this was a project.

In twenty minutes of film study from a quick highlight package of three Army games, I saw the following personnel alignments on defense: Base 3-4, 3-3-5, 2-3-6, 2-4-5, 4-1-6, 4-2-5, 5-2-4, get the idea.

Jay Bateman deploys a basic package based on the opposition’s offensive personnel, then everything changes. This is a bear to even attempt to break down, much less articulate in words.

Part I: What, Exactly, Does He Run?

In the most basic interpretation, Bateman’s scheme is dictated by the opposing offense. At its core, you would probably call it a 3-4 — but you could just as easily characterize it as a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 Nickel package depending on how you define the rush linebacker and hybrid safety.

This interview with Jones Angell doesn’t give too much away, but Bateman has been known for creating new packages of personnel and reads based on the opposing offense week-to-week. It puts a premium on adaptability and versatility, and there may be a learning curve, but once he gets his guys to buy in...look out.

In modern college football, most teams run some variation of “11” personnel— one tight end, one back, three receivers. The Oklahoma game this year is Bateman’s most famous work, as the Sooners scored on their first three possessions...before Army shut them out for the final 35-odd minutes of regulation.

On this play, with the Oklahoma tight end motioning back towards the line, Bateman runs essentially a 3-3-5, with the linebackers all pinching towards the ball, and a Cover 3 in the back. The result of the play is a lucky incompletion, as the Oklahoma receiver found a soft spot created by the strong safety getting sucked to the play side and leaving his original zone open, but it’s the look that we care about here more than the result.

The very next play, Oklahoma runs a similar look— same base alignment, but with the TE attached. Army’s coverage? Completely different, more of a Cover 1 “Robber” look (where the strong safety collapses into the hook/curl — though this GIF won’t really show it, he’s off to the right side of the screen). The result is another off-target throw from Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray despite a clean pocket and open receiver, and you start to get the feeling that he’s not comfortable analyzing this defense with all the looks he’s getting. For the record, I’m not worried about open Oklahoma receivers against Army. At UNC, Bateman will have the recruiting strength to match up with anybody. The looks and schemes themselves are clearly sound.

I can tell you this much for sure — after watching four years of Gene Chizik and John Papuchis, I know what a basic, Tampa 2-based defense looks like. And this is not a defense based out of Tampa 2 principles.

On third down (yes, this is but one sequence of three plays), Oklahoma goes back to the detached Y, Army goes back to a Cover 3— but delay blitzes the Mike linebacker, who goes untouched to Murray for the sack, giving the Army defense a tangible result of their causing on this series.

In the second half, Oklahoma countered with more “12” (one tight end, two backs) and “20” (two backs, three receiver) packages, and we possibly see here a legitimate base look from Bateman:

I have no clue how Oklahoma didn’t manage to score in the second half. Their best chance is here, but they employ another 11 package on 4th and Goal at the 1-yard line, and Army stands it up out of a base 3-4 with two safeties joining the line of scrimmage:

At a very basic (according to me, who last played in 2006/last coached 9-10 year olds in 2015) level, with Bateman’s defense, you run into a few steadfast defensive tenets regardless of opponent:

  • Two down linemen;
  • Two between-the-hashes linebackers;
  • Two corners capable of playing man and zone.

Every else is variable, and that’s what makes this hire so damn fascinating.

(Videos and clips courtesy of Luke Carlton on Youtube)

Part II: How Carolina’s Personnel Might Look in 2019

Carolina has a serious depth issue on defense going into 2019. The previous staff’s seemingly ambivalent attitude towards recruiting linebackers will force Bateman to get extremely creative as things start out— not ideal with Carolina’s tough early schedule.

In order to hazard a guess at what the Heels’ two-deep might look like, I had to get extremely creative in defining roles and functions for specific players. As the scheme changes week-to-week, what a player is asked to do may change as well. For example, Myles Dorn has great size for a safety. Against a pro-style attack, he may stick to playing free safety, as he has done in his Carolina career. Against a spread, he may be a box safety/fourth linebacker. Bear with me here.

Any guesses at position changes are in italics. If there is a 2019 signee who seems likely to see significant snaps (i.e. not redshirt) I’ll try to add them.

Strongside DE: Jason Strowbridge (Sr, 6’4 270), Xach Gill (RsSo, 6’4 280), Lancine Turay (RsFr, 6’4 240)
Weakside DE: Chris Collins (RsFr, 6’4 215), Allen Cater (Sr, 6’5 245), Jake Lawler (6’3 235)

Lawler, Turay, and Collins all could profile as outside linebackers in this scheme, but the depth there is stronger than it is on the defensive line. If his brother Tomon is any indication, Tomari Fox could arrive on campus physically ready to contribute, but I view Kristian Varner and Kevin Hester as guys who will need a year or two to develop— though they fit the mold very well. JuCo commit Raymond Vohasek could see some snaps here as well.

Nose Tackle: Aaron Crawford (Sr, 6’1 310), Jahlil Taylor (RsFr, 6’1 310), Marcus McKethan (Rs So, 6’6 340)

Cynically, the best result from the 2018 season may have been Crawford’s injury issues— he is an NFL talent, and his return makes this transition a lot more palatable. McKethan, who has been rumored to be switching to defense despite having been recruited as an offensive lineman, has the potential to be a monster but will need to learn quickly, because the Heels need his size in the middle. Taylor drew rave reviews in limited time last year and I expect him to be a factor long-term as well.

NCAA Football: California at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

In a pinch, Gill may dive in here— Carolina needs to find a couple more big bodies if disaster strikes.

Outside/Rush Linebacker: Tomon Fox (RsJr, 6’3 245) & Dominique Ross (Sr, 6’3 215); Tyrone Hopper (RsJr, 6’4 235) & D.J. Ford (Sr, 6’3 210)

These guys need to be athletic enough to drop into coverage, and strong enough to hold up at the point of attack. Without knowing the bona-fides of some of the 2018 recruits at linebacker, I’m going to categorize most of them as...

Inside Linebacker: Jonathan Smith (Sr, 6’1 230) & Matthew Flint (RsFr, 6’0, 215); Jeremiah Gemmel (RsSo, 6’1 215) & Kyle Wright (RsFr, 6’1 235); Kayne Roberts (RsSo, 6’3, 215) & Antwaun Branch (RsSo, 6’1, 225).

This is the red flaggiest of red flag positions here— the previous staff relied on walk-ons such as Jeff Schoettmer and Cole Holcomb to clean up in the middle of the field, and the new staff may not have that luxury. We’ll see if Bateman can get creative, as I have done. Right now, these guys are the “purchase max player development” on NCAA 14 targets.

Hybrid LB/Box Safety: Myles Dorn (Sr, 6’2 210), Josh Henderson (Fr, 6’0 205), Khadry Jackson (Fr, 6’2 210) Chazz Surratt (RsJr, 6’3 215)

I had trouble defining a role for Dorn, as his pursuit angles will need some work— but he will be called upon to be a star in this defense. As I said, the role may shift week-to-week. All of these guys can slot into other positions as necessary.

I’m basing Henderson’s position change from running back based on a crowded running back depth chart, and think Jackson ends up settling into the OLB role as he adds weight.

As for Surratt, rumor has it he is taking seriously a potential transition to defense— I don’t see him as a pure linebacker, so a role where he can be versatile may be in the cards.

Corner: K.J. Sails (Sr, 6’0 195) & Patrice Rene (Sr, 6’2 205); Trey Morrison (So, 5’10 187) & C.J. Cotman (RsSo, 5’10 175); Greg Ross (RsJr 6’0 175) & DeAndre Hollins (6’1 200)

The Heels have some solid depth here as Sails returns from injury. Rene emerged as a borderline all-conference caliber cover corner late in the season, and one can’t help but be fairly comfortable with how the position stands— at least for 2019. Storm Duck and Obi Egbuna shouldn’t be asked to do too much, though Duck could crack the depth chart as an early enrollee.

Free Safety: Dorn; Myles Wolfolk (RsJr, 6’0 195), Giovani Biggers (Fr, 6’1 180)

A difficult position to peg, with the departure of the underappreciated J.K. Britt. The position has been Dorn’s home for the past 3 seasons, so he’ll be a factor. I have Wolfolk moving over from corner, and project Biggers to move into more of a hybrid role as he develops— go watch his film if you haven’t yet, the dude lays lumber.

Strong Safety: Bryson Richardson (So, 6’0 180), Javon Terry (RsFr, 6’2 180)

Another spot that is hard to project (again, I am hazarding a guess on all of these). Richardson was mighty fine out of the Nickel role as a true freshman, and he is listed here because of his nose for the football and ability to step up in run support.

Is this depth chart an accurate reflection of what the Heels will look like on August 31? Probably not. Are the roles loosely defined to cover for my potential wrongness? Absolutely.

Bateman’s scheme is one so revolutionary that I’m not quite yet sure how to define personnel or roles, and I can’t wait to see it in action. There will be some growing pains as with any transition, but once the Heels can get the right personnel— look out.