After a season-and-a-half of allowing game-changing plays, something changed on the North Carolina defense midway through last season. Finally, the Tar Heels seemed to get it, grasping the 4-2-5 scheme they’d seemed lost in so many times before.
UNC’s turnaround after a 1-5 start could be attributable to a lot of things – an easier second-half schedule, the emergence of Ryan Switzer, the job Marquise Williams did when he took over for Bryn Renner at quarterback. The difference on defense was noticeable, too.
If UNC is to pick up where it left off, senior bandit Norkeithus Otis, who played at Gastonia Ashbrook,will likely have a lot to do with it. The Tar Heels lost their best player in their front six from last season, defensive end Kareem Martin. Their most productive player in the secondary, safety Tre Boston, is also gone.
So who can UNC most count on entering this season? Coach Larry Fedora answered quickly.
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“Norkeithus Otis,” he said. “He’s the answer. I mean, he’s the guy that makes it tick over there. And they all listen to him.”
Otis, who had 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss a season ago, is UNC’s most proven pass rusher. That’s hardly his only responsibility, though, at the position that is half defensive end and half linebacker.
Otis wasn’t recruited to play the position. He was already at UNC when Fedora arrived in 2012. Slowly, though, Otis has become what defensive coordinator Vic Koenning seeks in a bandit. It took time, and some long sessions with Tommy Richardson, a graduate assistant who worked with Otis last season.
“It was just until last year that I really got it,” Otis said.
Years ago, the bandit position was among UNC’s greatest questions. Now the position is one of strength.
“You’re a pass rusher, you’re a guy that drops into coverage,” Otis said. “You’re a guy that has to help with run stop. You have to be a guy that’s willing to run to the ball each and every play, you’ve got to be a guy that’s just ready for it.”
Otis seems to be and, from what Fedora says, the Tar Heels’ defense will follow his lead.