Coach, who are some of the incoming freshman who have impressed you the last few months?
First of all I don’t get to see them. We don’t get to watch them during the summer. Just talking to some of our kids, Desmond Lawrence I hear has been really impressive. Brian Walker has been really impressive. I’m going to forget guys here, but Ryan Switzer, T.J. Logan has really been doing some good things, Khris Francis, Mitch Trubisky and Lucas Crowley, the center they say is really doing some nice things. I’m looking forward to seeing these kids on August 1 and seeing what they’re going to bring to this football team this year.
How much more (schematic knowledge) does the defense have this year versus last year?
It’s not even close knowledge-wise. They understand the scheme now, they understand what’s expected. What Vic (Koenning) and Dan (Disch) and Keith (Gilmore) and Ron (West) want from them on the football field, just from practice alone. Now what you get to see is you see guys aren’t thinking all the time. If you watch football players and been around as long as I have, guys that are thinking… their feet aren’t moving fast. They don’t look athletic; they don’t even look like football players, or good football players I should say. Now you get to see guys turn it loose and just play football and just be more natural so you’re seeing their athleticism come out now.
Is Darius Lipford ready to go? Is he going to be a factor?
As of right now, my understanding is that he’s going to be released at the beginning of fall camp. I can’t wait to see Darius Lipford in a uniform and see him on the football field. I’ve heard great things about him and everything he can do. So I’m excited about seeing what he’s going to bring to us.
No postseason penalties this year and you can have the same goals as everybody else. What does that do for your outlook, mentality, morale and everything around the team?
I’ve thought about that - what’s going to be different this year compared to last year. Obviously we can play for a championship; we can play for a bowl game. I don’t want to discredit what happened last year because it was really good for our football team. You go back and you dig deep and figure out ‘why am I playing the game of football? Why do I love putting on a uniform? Why do I love the grind of the off-season and the summers?’ You love it because you love playing the game. This is just an added bonus for these guys. We’re still going to play 12 (regular season) games, they know that, and we hope to make each and every one of them like a bowl game.
What kind of challenge was that for you last year though, to make them know they have to play because they want to?
It was probably less of a challenge than I expected, because we had a unique group of seniors. We had 17 guys that all chose to stay when they could’ve left. They were the ones leading that football team, they were the ones saying ‘Hey, we’ve got 12 games let’s make the most of each and every one of them.’
Can you talk about the offense in its second season with you?
From one spring to the next spring, I can tell you we were much more efficient and we got in a lot more plays. We were faster this spring than we were in the fall. That’s familiarity and the guys understanding what’s coming next. They understand what’s expected from them. The great thing about is the young guys coming in, that’s all they know - they don’t know anything different. The older guys are doing a good job leading those guys and saying ‘Hey, this is the way we do things. This is our style. This is who we are at Carolina.’ So those guys don’t know any different.
How much deeper are you at wide receiver this year?
That’s a good question, that’s hard for me to answer until we get through fall camp. I hope we’re much deeper than we were last year. It was tough last year. There were a lot of games where we didn’t have the number of receivers that we needed to do what we really needed to do.
Do you think Quinshad (Davis) has got a chance to catch 100 balls this year?
I don’t see why not. If he stays healthy, I think he’s very capable of doing that. I don’t see why we wouldn’t try to get the ball in his hands as many times as possible.
How good can Bryn (Renner) be this year?
You guys go back and you look at his last five games, and what he did in the last five games. I think he threw for more than 300 (yards) in every one of them. His touchdown to interception ratio was really good and he really picked up where he left off in spring ball. From my understanding he’s having a great summer and is doing a great job leading our football team. Now, he can make all the throws and he’s making good decisions, now it’s about managing our offense, managing our football team. It’s understanding when do I need to thread that needle, when do I need to force that throw and when is it okay to punt? There are times in a game where it is okay to punt. As he learns that and does a better job of managing and still making those good decisions, he’s going to be a great quarterback, and that’s what I’m anticipating.
I don’t want to put a limit on him, that’s for sure. He really can take this thing where it’s never been before, this offense. Because he has the arm strength, because he has the knowledge, because he feels comfortable now. He can just play. He doesn’t have to worry. I think last year he felt like he had the whole team on his shoulders a lot of times, especially earlier in the year. I think that pressure really got to him because he’s a very competitive, very fiery guy. I think this year will be a whole lot smoother for him.
Do you have a plan going into the year on how you’re going to use your running backs?
I’ve got a very thought out, well-detailed plan on how we want to use those guys during camp. Now from that point on they will determine who’s going to be on the football field. With us, every position on that football field, it’s about production. If you produce, you play - if you don’t, you stand over there by me. I’m not mad at you, you just stand over there by me.
Playing South Carolina the first game of the season, how does that change your focus or does that make a difference at all?
It’s the first game of the year. Every year we have a first game. The great thing about it, it’s a great football team. They’re probably playing as good as they’ve ever played in the history of their school. I think what it does is excites your players. It carries them through the winter conditioning; it carries them through spring ball, the monotony of the summer. When they’re out there running and its over 100 degrees, it’s just motivation for them to push that much harder. As coaches we’re able to push them even harder. So when you do that, good things happen. You’re either getting better or getting worse and hopefully we’re getting better each and every day.
You’re not afraid of Jadeveon Clowney, are you?
I don’t plan on him hitting me. Unless he comes over there and knocks me out I’m not going to fear him. All kidding aside, the guy is a great football player. Maybe the best college football player there is this year, that’s still to be seen. He definitely has the potential to be.
Do you have a relationship with Coach (Steve) Spurrier?
Just a professional relationship. We’ve obviously played against each other; he had already left Florida when I went into Florida. I’ve heard a lot of things about him from people that have coached with him and I’m friends with guys that have coached under him for years. He’s obviously done a tremendous job over there.
It’s the first time in nearly a decade UNC doesn’t have a Barth kicking. How is that going?
The first thing I did was call the Barth family and ask them, ‘Where’s the next one?’ They’ve run out. We’re going to miss Casey obviously and Connor’s doing a great job down there in Tampa. Thomas Moore had a really good spring. He obviously got reps the year before, so I think that was really a blessing in disguise because now he comes in and he’s experienced. He was really comfortable this spring and he was very confident in everything he did. That’s the key with any kicker is just the confidence they have.
It’s been a long time since North Carolina’s won the ACC Championship…
Have you looked back at that at all?
Not specifically 1980, but we have talked about that it’s been a long time. I guess the guys I’m coaching weren’t alive in 1980. They don’t know. They just know that it hasn’t been done, so why not do it? Those kinds of things are what get you out of bed in the mornings, when it’s early and you have to go and you have to grind. Those are the kinds of things that motivate kids. I think they’re excited about having the opportunity to play for a Coastal Division Championship. If we do that, then we’ve got a chance.
When you look back at your first year in the ACC, what do you have to do to bridge that gap and take that next step?
First of all, we have to continue to change the culture at Carolina. We’ve got to play smart, we’ve got to play fast and we have to play physical. If we do those three things we can win our league, there’s no doubt about it. But we got to do it week in and week out. It starts with just the little things, if we concentrate on the little things and play one game at a time we can be a really good football team. If we start worrying about a game down the road or this rivalry or this going on, if we can stay focused on the task at hand – and that’s just getting better as an individual each and every day – if we can focus on that, you look up a the end of the season and great things have happened.
You lose three starters on the offensive line to the NFL, but return a couple of proven standouts. How big of a rebuilding job do you have there this year?
When you lose a Jonathan Cooper, a Travis Bond and a Brennan Williams, you’re talking about three guys that played a lot of snaps and they all played together. Bodine and Hurst and those other three guys were together for years and now you’re talking about Hurst and Bodine have to be the leaders of that group. They’ve accepted that role. Now you throw in some young guys that are talented but they don’t have nearly the experience of those other three. There’s going to be some heartache there, it’s going to take some time for those guys to gel. We’ve got guys on the back end that do have experience and they’re going to have to carry us through some of that. Understand those guys are going to make some mistakes -- it’s some adversity, understand it’s coming, it’s going to happen, don’t worry about, don’t blink, just keep rolling.
How concerned are you about those mistakes given who your first opponent is?
I lose sleep at night. I’m worried about both sides of our O-Line and D-Line and how they’re going to play this year. But I have a lot of confidence in both of those coaches and I know they’re going to do a great job getting those guys ready to go.
Where do you see Tommy Hibbard going as a player this year?
Tommy really brought some things to our program last year and for me was just starting to learn what all Tommy can do. Tommy’s a very good athlete and can do multiple things. You get to sit back there and think up new things all the time: what can we can do with Tommy Hibbard? What are some things that we can do that people aren’t going to expect. That’s exciting.
What can we expect from Eric Ebron this year?
He’s going to give me 12 touchdowns, I can tell you that. I don’t know how many catches he’s going to get or how many yards, but he will have the opportunity to do those things. But more importantly for me, he’s going to give me 12 touchdowns, that’s mine. What he gets beyond that, that’s up to him. Eric can be the best tight end in college football this next year. What we do offensively really takes advantage of big guys that are athletic like that. We’re going to get the ball in his hands and let him play.
(Check the site on Monday for Part II …)