Oct 17, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora with linebacker Norkeithus Otis (8) before the game at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Can Norkeithus Otis break out for the Tar Heel defense?

The success of the 2014 North Carolina Tar Heels will have a lot to do with how both the offensive and defensive lines play. On the offensive side of the ball, the Heels lost Russell Bodine and James Hurst to the NFL Draft and are left with a young but talented group. Young and talented can also describe the defensive line, which lost Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson from last season. Norkeithus Otis is the default leader of the defensive line, as he appeared in all 13 games last season and finished with 7.5 sacks.

A lot is being placed on Otis this year. He will be expected to be the go-to guy in the pass rush and will have to deal with constant double teams all throughout the season. But Otis also has a chance to be really good this year – he was named to the Bednarik Award Watch List earlier this summer.

One of the big questions heading into the season for the Tar Heels, along with the play of the offensive line and the quarterbacks situation, will be if Otis can carry the pass rush. In order to better answer that question, let’s take a look at the tape.

Let’s start with what Otis does really well. Below, he is going against the Miami Hurricanes last season on the far right of the line (this is the only GIF in which Otis doesn’t have the blue rectangle around himself). Look at how quickly Otis jumps off the line. On the broadcast, the commentators pointed out that Otis probably just guessed the snap count correctly and got lucky here. Regardless, this shows how Otis can beat bigger offensive tackles off the line of scrimmage (look at how Otis takes two steps before the tackle even moves!) and disrupt the quarterback. In this case, Stephen Morris threw an interception after he felt Otis coming on his left.

Here is Otis again beating his blocker and attacking the quarterback. This time he attacks standing up, rather than with a paw on the ground. The offensive tackle is overwhelmed with Otis’s speed and his pressure leads to an incomplete pass.


Here is another Otis sack below. (You will have to zoom out by clicking and dragging towards the corner of the GIF)
Otis has good hands here, shedding the blocker and finishing with a powerful sack. Brendon Kay, Cincinnati’s quarterback, has no chance of getting off a pass here.

But Otis isn’t just a one trick pony. Here he uses an inside rush to beat his tackle and sack the quarterback. The tackle is expecting Otis to go to the outside, but he darts inside, staying low and using his strength to get to the quarterback. This is the GIF that gives me hope for next season. Otis proved here that he can beat a tackle one on one and sack a quarterback not just by using a speed bull rush but by beating him with an inside move.

One thing the UNC defensive staff does well is leverages Otis’s speed in useful ways. Here, Otis takes two steps out and then slides back inside in a move called a “stunt.” Here is how the very useful Dictionary of American Football terms defines a stunt- “[a] defensive rush that takes an unusual path or has unusual timing.”

This has both of those. It takes awhile to develop, but Otis evenutally darts inside and is able to get a paw on Connor Shaw before he breaks out of the pocket for a gain. The key to this tackle is Kareem Martin, who ties up three blockers while Otis is left unblocked to get to the quarterback. What worries me about this play as it relates to next season is who will play the Kareem Martin role that frees up Otis for the sack? One good thing is that #98 on the play, Justin Thomason, returns. But he doesn’t get the same drive that Martin does. Watch this play a couple times to see what I’m talking about.

There is no doubt its an effective maneuver. Look at #51 for South Carolina helplessly looking around wondering where everybody went right before Shaw breaks out of the pocket. But I just worry the Heels won’t be able to pull off the feat with the new defensive line this season. Yes, a stunt is effective because of the “unusual path or unusual timing,” but somebody needs to get a good push and eat up blockers. I will be watching closely for this maneuver in the first few games of the season to see how it works.

Our final GIF introduces us to Otis’s weaknesses. Nobody is perfect. Otis gets pancaked here by #53 on South Carolina’s offensive line while attempting a speed rush. (I’m not a fan of getting real technical with all the terms, but check out this article if you want to learn more about different types of pass rush and to familiarize yourself with proper terminology.)

The offensive tackle here isn’t overwhelmed by Otis’s speed. He uses good footwork and pushes Otis down to the ground as Shaw gets the football out of his hands quickly.

Otis also struggles with double teams and in the running game. Otis is a smaller pass rusher at 6’1″ 235, so when faced with a double team, he is understandably sometimes overmatched. He will be facing more double teams this season for Carolina, so he has to learn how to beat those with his speed and strength.

Also, Otis isn’t great in the run game. He excels as a pure pass rusher but hasn’t yet flashed elite run stopping skills. Here, on this Mike Davis 75 yard touchdown run, watch how Otis is taken out of the play by a good block by the fullback, leading to the long run by Davis. (A flubbed tackle by Jabari Price doesn’t help either.)

So what does all this mean? We have watched plenty of GIFs and talked about Otis, but lets put it to use and project out to next season. I think 10 sacks for Norkeithus Otis is a very attainable goal if he can stay healthy. He will be really successful on passing situations when he can face a blocker one on one and beat him with his outside or inside rush. But I worry that Otis will get double teamed and that the rest of the defensive line won’t be good enough to allow Otis the space he needs when the defensive line stunts.

Its going to be tough for Otis to carry the load of the defense, but his numbers, 7.5 sacks last season, and the tapes above lead me to believe that Otis can be the man for the Carolina defense.

Thanks to draftbreakdown.com for the cut ups of Otis, and go follow them on Twitter and head over to their website to check out their videos.

Tags: Football Norkeithus Otis North Carolina Tar Heels

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