The Dallas, Texas native broke his foot in late January and was forced to turn his attention away from the practice field to the weight room and playbook to improve his game.
“I stayed focused and didn’t let the injury get to me,” Schoettmer said. “I just knew that once training camp started, it was an open competition. Whoever played the best was going to get the job.”
Red-shirt freshmen Nathan Staub and Dan Mastromatteo were ahead of Schoettmer on the depth chart entering camp, but his experience last season – he played in all 12 games and made 23 tackles – after red-shirting in 2011 provided a solid springboard.
When Staub suffered an undisclosed knee injury during the third practice of camp, Mastromatteo quickly subbed in with the ones. Halfway through that practice, however, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Ron West told Schoettmer to run with the first team and that’s where he’s remained.
“Nathan’s a great kid and a great player,” Schoettmer said. “We need him back – he’s going to help this football team win. But when he went down, somebody had to fill his shoes. I saw that as an opportunity.”
Schoettmer has excelled over the last three weeks, seemingly cementing his position. UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters on Monday that his starting middle linebacker had a “really good camp.”
“Schoettmer’s come a long way,” Fedora said.
Associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning had an inkling that Schoettmer would challenge for the starting spot during training camp.
“I told Coach West in the spring that Schoett’s going to be hard to beat out,” Koenning said. “Nathan Staub getting hurt probably accelerated that, but I thought Jeff would be a guy – from how far he progressed last year – I knew he’d be a guy that we could count on.
“Jeff’s a tremendous person. It’s important to him and he’s got good wits. He’s not scared. Is he to the werewolf status yet? No, but he’s a good solid player.”
Schoettmer, who stands 6-foot-1, packed on 18 pounds since the end of last season and currently weighs 228. He told reporters on Monday that his transition up the depth chart has been a smooth one.
“It’s been fun,” Schoettmer said. “It’s great working with the first-teamers. Kareem Martin is a big help out there. He’s always talking to me. Tre Boston in the back end is doing a great job. I’m enjoying it. I’m trying to help this team win however I can.”
While middle linebackers in most defensive systems are responsible for calling plays on the field, UNC’s approach is different. Koenning and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore relay signals from the sideline for the entire unit. From there Schoettmer makes checks by communicating with the defensive line about gap control and with the secondary about coverages whenever offensive shifts and other movements occur.