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July 17, 2012The one thing we should be able to say with certainty is UNC's defensive players will be in peak condition this fall.
There is no other choice, given the task the defense will have of working against an up-tempo, spread offense every day in summer camp and practice, once the season begins.
"Every time you chase the ball, you have to turn around and run back to the huddle because there is another play," senior linebacker Kevin Reddick said. "The offensive line is already set."
After this quality, there are mostly questions about what to expect from a new 4-2-5 scheme and how it will perform. This is not to say it will not be a success.
But how can one honestly say with the same feeling of confidence it will operate as well out of the gate as the offense should?
The offense is directed by an excellent quarterback with experienced linemen blocking, athletic wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Those kids should be made to order for this offense.
Defensively, however, what will this team be like against the run, for example? Just in the time between Mack Brown left and Butch Davis took control, the Tar Heels suffered against the run and this was due, at least in part, because Carolina lacked a viable running game for years.
Can operating out of the spread adequately prepare a defense for stopping the run?
"They're having to process things quickly, which makes it difficult," first-year coach Larry Fedora said.
In the end, who knows, forced, quick thinking may prove the saving grace for the defense, that and the athleticism of the players on the team.
"Attacking is not fun to the other team," Reddick said. "But for us, it's going to be fun. That is how our coaches are. They are very enthused and want to attack at every point they can."
But let's face it, no team can fully attack until the players can move out of habit more than thinking. Defensive players do not have time to think their way through the players in the modern game of football. There is simply too much speed and offensive schemes are excellent, by and large.
"We've got some new guys who are really fast, but they have to know what to do," Reddick said. "Once everybody gets to know what they're doing, I think that is when everyone will be running fast."
Reddick insists that maturity will help the veteran players catch on quicker and be ready to perform.
"I've been playing with Jabari [Price] for a couple of years now," Reddick said. "When he came in, he was a typical freshman, not knowing what to do, a little scared sometimes. I've seen him grow from a little boy to a man."
Reddick said he also took the reigns of leadership early and tried to set a tone of moving forward with enthusiasm and total commitment to winning and doing what the new coaches ask.
"I think guys are buying in because it's something new," Reddick said. "We had a little team meeting before Coach Fedora got here. I said, 'This is something new. Don't sit back. Let's go out here and make it happen. Don't sit back and keep pouting because we have new coaches.'
"Some of these younger guys are going to be here for several years, so get used to the coaches and buy into the program," Reddick said.
A good attitude is always an asset, particularly when the goal is building habits and consistency of excellence.
"We're looking for guys who don't just do it once," Fedora said. "They don't just do it every so often, but are consistently making plays. Those are the guys who are playmakers. There are always going to be a guy or two who do something special every other game.
"We're looking for those guys who are consistent playmakers so that we can mold things around them."
And that goes for both sides of the ball.