Dion Guy has bounced around the field throughout his Tar Heel football career. The Washington, D.C. native has been used primarily on special teams, but saw action as a reserve linebacker early in his tenure. He began the 2011 season bulked up at defensive end before injuries forced him back to linebacker. Now, at 6'4 and 245 pounds, the fifth-year senior makes for an ideal fit at 'bandit,' a defensive end/linebacker hybrid. The position, one of two hybrids in Vic Koenning's defense, allows Carolina to show different looks to an offense, depending on whether the bandit is on or off the line.
"I have kind of a bigger body (than a traditional linebacker), but faster than D-linemen. I guess I kind of fit the position when the new coaching staff came in," Guy said Tuesday. "What can I say? It's fun. We're just learning and trying to get better at it. There are a lot of opportunities to make plays."
Guy will be counted upon to make plays. Fellow bandit Darius Lipford re-injured his left knee this summer and will miss the 2012 season. Also in the mix are converted defensive back Curtis Campbell and sophomore Norkeithus Otis. Guy has 21 tackles on his career and no starts to his name, but may have finally found a home on the field. He says he saw opportunity in the new playbook. "I got excited, and I just felt like it was an opportunity. I just had to come to practice every day, work hard in the off-season to try to be the best player I can be."
To bring versatility to the Tar Heel defense, the bandit himself must be flexible. He's got to have the strength to mix it up with offensive tackles, and the speed to chase down tailbacks. The hybrid position serves the game plan. "It's kind of like a 50/50 deal," Guy said of playing as a down lineman or a stand-up linebacker. "It depends on what the coaches want to game plan on." When the defensive players 'stunt,' (a defensive lineman drops back and a linebacker rushes), the bandit brings both size and speed. "The bandit position is more of a speed guy," Guy said. "More of the 'get sacks' guy."
To prepare for his new role, Guy watched film of Larry Fedora's defense at Southern Miss and Koenning's Illinois team. He also studied the Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews. "Coach wanted me to look at him, look at how physical he is with his hands. I came out here this summer to just work on bags and get my hands where they need to be, and hand quickness."
While much talk this summer has been about the Tar Heels' no-huddle offense, it's the Carolina defense that they're practicing against day in and day out. That means the defense must think on their feet as well. The conditioning required simply for intrasquad scrimmages can only help on game days. "The emphasis is to fly around and attack the ball," Guy said of the defensive mindset. "I think that's going to make us a physical team, mentally tough when we play regular teams so I think that's going to help us in the long run."
Because of the nature of the offense they're practicing against day to day, the Tar Heel defense has to learn to shorten their own recovery time between plays. "When we play a traditional team, we're going to be faster because we have more time to recover. The other team is not going to have seen anything like that before."
Tuesday, Carolina practiced in full pads for the first time this fall. Guy said there was no drop-off in tempo with the extra equipment. "We got so used to it (this spring). I've been here for five years, and this is the toughest training camp I've been in. I feel like full pads was the same as jerseys. The tempo is always the same: go as fast as you can. Shoulder pads was nothing today. We're all in shape. Coach Lou (Hernandez) worked us all this summer."
As Dion Guy prepares for a role that's new to him and to Carolina football, he said he's not feeling a particular sense of urgency to prove himself in his senior season. No, he's taking a more measured approach. "I'm just taking it day by day, trying to get better, trying to teach the young guys the techniques and the plays, so they can get better as well," he said. "I just want our team to get better and win games, just day by day."