CLEMSON -- Marcus Gilchrist is a hybrid.

In college football's spread-heavy offensive environment, Gilchrist is an eco-friendly option for Clemson coordinator Kevin Steele.

Gilchrist played cornerback, safety and nickel in summer camp. The NFL prospect can cover man-to-man, play as a center-field type safety, or nearer the line of scrimmage in run support

Gilchrist will play a variety of roles against North Texas' spread offense in the season opener Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. The Mean Green is as likely to run as it is to pass out of its multiple-receiver formations, and Gilchrist can counter both.

Gilchrist finished second on the team in tackles (107) and third in pass breakups (6) last season.

"I was raised to be a defensive back," said Gilchrist, avoiding labels like safety or corner, "to be able to play all the positions."

North Texas is the first of nine FBS teams featuring spread offenses Clemson will face this season.

To counter such offenses, defensive coordinators have fielded more defensive backs.

Clemson faced Texas Christian's 4-2-5 defense last season, a scheme responsible for TCU's rise to power outside a power conference. The defense marks a move away from traditional seven-man fronts.

Like TCU, Clemson played with an extra defensive back twice as often as it played in a traditional seven-man front last season, essentially Steele's own 4-2-5.

While teams spread to throw, they also spread to run.

Three and four wide receiver sets typically remove a running back-thumping linebacker from the field.

"With the multitude of formations you see, motions and shifts, personnel groupings and four and five wide receivers out there," Steele said, "(as a player) you have to be able to do a lot of things."

North Texas's new offensive coordinator, Mike Canales, used the spread at his last stop at South Florida. Canales said he looks at his wide receivers as slightly-built fullbacks able to open lanes and create angles in the running game.

The Mean Green's spread will attempt to create lanes for star back Lance Dunbar, who rushed for 1,378 yards (6.9 ypc) and 17 touchdowns last season.

The spread has made versatile players like Gilchrist more valuable.

Players like former Texas safety Earl Thomas -- drafted 14th overall by Seattle in April -- who play the run and patrol center field, but are also able to drop down and cover man-to-man if needed.

"It's a plus when you are able to play a multitude of positions, especially the way the game is right now," Gilchrist said. "There is a lot of spread, a lot of 11-personnel (formations including one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers), a lot of 10-personnel (one running back, four wide receivers) lot of receivers out there."

Like Gilchrist and safety DeAndre McDaniel, Steele cites emerging cornerback Xavier Brewer as a "cerebral," hybrid-type player, effective at a number of positions in the secondary. It's a positional group Steele said must have versatility.

Brewer and Gilchrist have split time at nickel this summer.

"I like being in the box and trying to do what I can to help out against the run," Brewer said.

To Brewer and Gilchrist, being a hybrid simply means being a football player.

Hawkins sets bold goal

Clemson middle linebacker Corico Hawkins wants to silence critics of Clemson's run defense.

Hawkins will get an early test Saturday as North Texas' Dunbar finished 15th in the country in rushing yards last season.

"I want our defense No. 1 in the nation as far as rushing defense," Hawkins said. "I am going to challenge the rest of the guys to be with me each and every Saturday to stop the run." Clemson finished 67th against the run last season.

Extra points

Clemson receivers coach Jeff Scott said eight receivers will likely play Saturday. Scott said no starters have been named and the staff has not drawn up a rotation plan for the opener … The staff is on the fence on whether freshman tight end Victor Beasley will redshirt.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com, check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow him on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).