Breaking Down Gene Chizik’s Scheme: The Defensive Line


After 18 days of rumors swirling around the Tar Heel Athletic Department, Bubba Cunningham finally announced hiring Gene Chizik as the replacement defensive coordinator, following cutting ties with Vic Koenning. Chizik not only bring a new scheme (he runs a 4-3 instead of 4-2-5), but also a new dynamic of simpler read and reactions to a defense that often times looked confused over the last three seasons. Chizik, a student of the Tampa Two, is a defense whose roots stem from the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers Dynasty. The Tampa Two scheme is known for its simplicity, its speed and aggressive mentality. Team tackling, or gang tackling, as it’s known in this world, is often a feature of this team speed. In this first segment we’ll focus on the defensive line, the work this group will go through this offseason, and what we should expect on Saturdays next Fall.

A New Look at Defensive Line

After a first glance at the players returning on the depth chart, it’s a fair statement to make that the returnees could be in for an interesting off-season. Aside from a new coaching staff, the defensive line will put their bodies through the off-season gauntlet to adapt to this new style on defense. In Chizik’s scheme, a predominately 4-3 over look, while playing Tampa two in the secondary, the defensive line must be quick and agile enough to apply pressure to the Quarterback without blitzing. Getting pressure from the front line was a tedious task this past year without blitzing. In this new defensive set, the front four must be violent off the ball, get after the QB, and stifle the offensive line at the Line of Scrimmage. The most important figure on the defensive line in the new look is the three technique. The three technique defensive tackle, along with the nose guard, must be above average tackles and learn to play behind the line of scrimmage. The best examples of three techniques that have flourished in the Tampa Two include Warren Sapp and Nick Fairley.

Nov 20, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone (7) throws to a receiver as North Carolina Tar Heels defensive end Junior Gnonkonde (44) defends in their game at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

In the run defense sets, the defensive line operates in single gap defense where each player on the defense is responsible for covering their own gap. A generally smaller, but faster front line operates to disrupt the offensive line from reaching the second level, to win control of their assignment(gap), to play violent first steps, and to must solidify the edge and tackle well.

In the passing game the defensive line will be looked to getting after the quarterback. We’ll see a variation of pass rush sets between bull rushing and stunts with the defensive line’s sole purpose of getting after the quarterback. In on over look with 5 on the line expect the Strong Side (Sam) Backer to play a hybrid pass rusher, coverage linebacker. His presence will aid the defensive line in pass rushing situations as the offensive line and backfield will have to account for the extra player at the line of scrimmage.

Way Too Early Defensive Line Depth Chart Predictions

With 6 of the top 8 returning along the defensive line, we should find some stability in a group that was banged up and didn’t possess quality depth for the duration of the 2014 season.

** only players who are currently enrolled on this depth chart. does not include players who are set to enroll in Summer 2015**

Oct 25, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers quarterback Greyson Lambert (11) throws an interception as North Carolina Tar Heels running back Shakeel Rashad (42) chases in the third quarter at Scott Stadium. The Tar Heels won 28-27. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Weakside Defensive End

T1  Junior Gnonkonde (#44) 6-4 250 lbs – Redshirt Junior

T1 Dajuan Drennon (#17) 6-4 250 lbs – Redshirt Sophomore

3 Kemmi Pettway (#52) 6-2 235 lbs – Sophomore

Gnonkonde will split time with Drennon this  year after Drennon getting the majority of snaps at Defensive End. I’m a believer that Gnonkonde takes a big leap in the offseason this year as he adds another year of off-season training under his belt(started playing football Junior Year of High School). Both players should add weight this off-season and maintain speed to be a fit in Chizik’s scheme. Both players must also work to get off blocks in the run game as both players struggled in that phase in 2014.

Three Technique (Defensive Tackle)

1 Nazair Jones (#90) 6-5 280 lbs – Redshirt Sophomore

2 Jessie Rogers (#43) 6-4 270 lbs – Senior

3 Robert Dinkins (#93) 6-1 270 lbs – Redshirt Freshman

Late in 2014, Nazair Jones separated himself as the strongest pass rushers of the returning defensive tackles and nose guard candidates. I hope the weight room treats Jones well this offseason as hell need to add good weight to his long frame. Jessie Rogers had sparks last year and I hope he makes the most of his last season in Chapel Hill. Redshirt Freshman Robert Dinkins should make the move inside. I like his violence off the ball and penetration he got against the slower (interior) linemen in high school. I’d love for the defensive coaching staff to give the Charlotte native a look at three technique, with a look at defensive end for rushing situations.

Oct 4, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer (12) scrambles during the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Memorial Stadium. The Virginia Tech Hokies won 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports


1 Justin Thomason (#98) 6-4 275 lbs – Senior

2 Tyler Powell (#95) 6-4 285 – Sophomore

3 Jeremiah Clarke (#49) 6-5 275 lbs – Redshirt Freshman

Thomason and Powell will have the tedious task of filling the void left by Ethan Farmer and will battles both under their belts the duo should fare decently in 2015. I’m intrigued to see where this coaching staff puts Jeremiah Clarke. I think he would be a candidate for the interior where I think he has greater upside than on the edge.

Strongside Defensive End

1**** Shakeel Rashad (#42) 6-2 245 lbs – Junior

2 Mikey Bart (#45) 6-3 255 lbs – Junior

3 Jalen Dalton (TBD) 6-4 260 lbs – True Frosh

More from North Carolina Tar Heels

I starred Shakeel Rashad because I imagine there’s a high chance Rashad could move to the linebacking corps for his third year in Chapel Hill. He’s pound for pound one of the most athletic players on the roster and I’m convinced he could shine as outside linebacker, especially as a Sam Backer. He should see his fair share of snaps as defensive end in pass rushing situations. With as thin as Carolina’s linebacking Corps could potentially be, Rashad would be a welcome fit at outside backer. Bart and Dalton will be battling it out for the majority of the snaps at strong side defensive end. If Dalton lives up to the hype, he could be a nice addition to Carolina’s defensive line.

I hope the young men make the most of the winter workouts and spring ball. Bigger, faster, stronger. It’s a new day in this program. A new scheme and an exciting addition to the Tar Heel coaching staff.

Go Heels.