CHAPEL HILL, NC — A quick look at North Carolina’s 2022 football roster reveals a new position for the UNC defense. The jack. So what is the jack position’s role and purpose?
In the most simplistic terms, it is an edge rusher who lines up on the line of scrimmage in a two-point stance (standing). Their main job is to rush the passer and to set the edge on run plays. They can also drop into coverage, but that won’t be as big as part of their duties. Physically, UNC’s scholarship jacks range from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-2.25 and anywhere from 245-pounds for Chris Collinswho is in his fifth season at Carolina, to 215-pounds for Malaki Hamrickwho is a true freshman.
noah taylor (Graduate | 6-5, 240)
Chris Collins (Graduate | 6-4.25, 245)
Malaki Hamrick (Freshman | 6-2.25, 215)
Gabe Stephens (RS Freshman | 6-3.25, 225)
“It’s basically an edge rusher,” UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik told reporters on Wednesday afternoon inside the Koman Indoor Practice Facility. “And he’s got the ability to drop and be a coverage guy as well. But his main job is to set the edges of the defense, meaning nothing gets outside of him. His job description on run is setting the edge of the defense and getting the ball turned back outside or inside, and then when it’s time to rush the passer we gotta get some mileage out of these guys as pass rushers.”
Collins is expected to be one of UNC’s main jacks alongside transfer Noah Taylor, who arrived from Virginia in the spring. Collins came to UNC in the 2018 class, a Larry Fedora recruit out of Richmond, Va. Across his first four seasons (he redshirted as a sophomore in 2019), Collins has played in 33 games and seven starts. In 2021, I have notched 29 tackles, five tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in UNC’s outside linebacker role.
Collins has played defensive end, outside linebacker, and now jack at UNC. All three positions are variations of each other with only slight adjustments.
“I love the new position,” Collins said about the jack role. “It’s kind of a hybrid between outside linebacker and defensive end, which I played both in my five years here at UNC. We are a stand-up defensive end. We can drop and we can rush. I love it. Just being able to I feel like last year I got into a lot of dropping, which I am able to do, but I definitely want to showcase being able to rush the passer.
“Chiz is big on doing what we do best. We’re all tall, long guys at the jack position and he knows what we came here to do and that is rush the passer. We definitely are going to drop some but he wants us mainly rushing the passer.”
Collins described the jack as a “mirror” position to the defensive end, which lines up on the opposite side. “They are in a three-point stance, we’re in a two-point stance. We box fill, we take on blocks just like they do, we are just a stand-up guy and we drop a little more,” Collins said.
The focus is getting to the quarterback, something every defensive coordinator wants to do, but isn’t always successful at achieving it. According to Pro Football Focus, UNC finished the 2021 season ranked No. 104 in rushing the passer with a 68.3 grade. The Tar Heels had 32 sacks and 106 hurries. fifth-year senior Tom Fox led the team with 10 sacks. He is now trying to make the New York Giants roster as an undrafted free agent.
Following suit on his much-discussed new simplistic scheme, Chizik will rely on his edge players and big defensive tackles to provide the pass rush this defense needs. He won’t get fancy and there won’t be a lot of blitzes. The hope is that individual talent and hard work will win out.
“We put a premium since the day I got here on being able to affect the passer with a four-man pass rush,” Chizik explained. “We’re not gonna live in the pressure world to be able to try to bring a guy down, right? We have really, really big, athletic, good frames up front and we’ve got to let those big guys work. So the jack is part of that front four, and they all have to learn the importance of generating a four-man pass rush.”
Added Collins, “In the jack position we want to cause a lot of sacks, cause a lot of havoc. Coach Chizik is big on us affecting the quarterbacks — it’s not necessarily sacks. It’s pressures, it’s tipped balls, TFLs, stuff like that. We just want to cause havoc. The more havoc you cause the more turnovers you cause.”
Collins believes that Chizik’s simplified scheme will also allow him and his teammates to play faster and be more effective. It will allow their natural abilities to shine.
“Coach Chizik is making it simple for us. Sometimes when you are thinking a million miles an hour on that field, it slows your play down and when your play slows down you can’t use all the ability that God gave you.”
This may be Collins’ last season at UNC (he could come back in 2023 for his extra Covid year). He is poised to earn the most snaps of his career and will play a position that fits his skill set from him.
“He’s great. He’s so smart. He can coach this whole defense right now, it’s amazing. Just a coach on the field,” Chizik said about Collins. “He is really, really smart. Great run-stopper. … I’m just really proud of him. I think he’s really, really done well. He’s an older guy that gets it and he’s great for our defense, and he’s great for our room.”