The UNC football program held a summer media day on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming season and share updates on spring practice and recruiting.
From defensive consistency to the gravity of the upcoming season, here are the main takeaways from the media day.
New coaches emphasize that “less is more”
The media day began with an appearance from a somewhat familiar face — assistant head coach for defense Gene Chizik.
This fall, Chizik will be kickstarting his second go-round with UNC since leaving the team after the 2016 season. On Wednesday, Chizik emphasized that through a more simplified approach to practices and drills, UNC is hoping to create much-needed consistency on the defensive end. According to Chizik, “less is more.”
“They’re competitive, they want to be good, but the fundamentals of the game right now — if you say there’s anything that I wanted to have an impact on when I came in immediately in terms of what we demand — it’s that,” Chizik said. “And we’re not there.”
By prioritizing the development of fundamentals in practice, rather than throwing numerous unnecessary progressions at his players, Chizik is looking to create a defense that is “consistently good instead of occasionally great.”
Alongside the addition of Chizik, the hiring of co-defensive coordinator Charlton Warren in January was another step head coach Mack Brown took to revitalize his program and restructure his defensive scheme.
When asked how he planned to shave off the inconsistencies that pestered UNC’s secondary this past season, Warren also bore down on the importance of basic concepts like talking before every snap. As he put it, “if you don’t talk, you don’t win.”
“The number one thing to me that builds consistency amongst a secondary is communication,” Warren said. “So, you show me a really consistent group of DBs, I’ll show you a group that are unbelievable communicators.”
Depth at the defensive line
When Chizik was asked about the similarities and differences he sees in this year’s defense compared to his squad back in 2015, he pointed to one unit with glaring contrast.
“The first thing when I walk through the door that looks different to me is the depth of the defensive line,” he said. “And, it’s not only big-frame guys that are very athletic, it’s the depth and the numbers of those guys.”
Headlined by junior Myles Murphy, a second-team All-ACC honoree, the defensive line’s talent stretches far past the second, third and even fourth guys on the depth chart. From five-star recruit Travis Shaw to sophomore Jahvaree Ritzie to graduate student Raymond Vohasek, talent is no longer a question for the defensive line.
“The depth is there and the talent is there,” Chizik said. “Now, the next step is making sure that we perform at the level that’s consistent with body types and body frames and athletic ability.”
And, with a group that talented and deep, defensive line coach Tim Cross sees a team mentality as the key to helping the defensive line live up to its potential.
“If we shine, all of us eat,” he said. “There’s enough at the buffet for everybody.”
Urgency of this upcoming season
At the beginning of Mack Brown’s second stint in Chapel Hill, the football program appeared to be on an upward trajectory, amassing 15 wins in his first two seasons back with the team.
North Carolina, coming off an Orange Bowl appearance, earned the No. 10 ranking in the AP's 2021 preseason poll. Despite the hype, the Tar Heels fell well short of expectations and posted a sub-.500 record, something that Brown understands can’t happen this season.
“We’ve done everything right here except win enough games,” he said. “So the next step is to continue to work to win every game. And when people say, ‘Why? Why do you say win every game?’ That’s what we want. That’s your goal. If you don’t try to win every game and have that goal and that vision, then you can’t do it.”
The urgency to win stretches far beyond the coaching staff and well into the locker room. For Vohasek, the disappointing end to the 2021 season was a reason he returned to UNC for his graduate year.
“Losing to N.C. State and losing to South Carolina, I just didn’t want to leave Carolina like that,” he said. “So I’m planning on turning that around and hopefully winning the ACC this year.”