What makes you think moving Joe Kedra to end is a good move?
“Rushing the passer, if he can get around the edge. That’s what we want him to do.”
You have had four or five days of practice now. How do you feel things are going, in general?
“We have a lot of enthusiasm. We are getting a lot of things accomplished. We are getting a lot done with our linebackers. Tommy Thigpen has done a really good job. I’m splitting drills with him sometimes to get started. We are getting a lot of things done there. The secondary is much more experienced. The system is really starting to get into people’s minds because they have been doing it over and over again. Some of the defensive linemen are looking good. Ronnie McGill has looked really good, Barrington Edwards has looked really good, Baker has been playing well. And I’m excited about the way the new coaches have been coaching, Dave Brock and Tommy Thigpen.”
Coach Tranquill has said that he doesn’t just like to call the game the way he likes; he wants to call what his quarterback likes. Does he already know what Matt likes?
“I think that is going to take some time, but I think Gary has a great idea what Matt Baker can do and the things that he can do best for us. Already, you can see that Matt is taking charge, Matt is throwing the ball extremely well.”
What are the biggest things you want to accomplish come April 2?
“Well, I think we want to find out who can play at certain positions all around on offense and defense. We are trying to see who will be the back-ups, who can earn those roles. Our depth at defensive line has gotten shallower than I would like it to be, so we’ve got to get some guys in there. We’ve moved Xavier Rainey inside. Hopefully, he can help us there. I don’t know if he can or not--we’ll see. I want the leadership of the team--that will be the seniors--to really come together over the spring. I think that is extremely important because that helped us through last season, and a lot of it has to be replaced. I want to see how those kids perform. I want to see our kids come together by the end of spring.”
What are you seeing from Chase Page in terms of leadership?
“He’s got a lot of that. But he can’t be blocked right now--nobody can block him. But I’m not surprised by that. He was having an unbelievable summer camp last year, so he has something to prove. He wants to play well and get that year back.”
He said there were things that he had to do in the past that became a grind that he missed when he couldn’t play or practice. He said that now he is excited to be out there doing some of the things that he didn’t really enjoy in the past.
“That happens to a player that has the game taken away from him, and he probably appreciates it more than some other folks might. I may have him get up in front of the team and talk about it at some point.”
You moved Trimane Goddard to safety--what was the reasoning for that and how has he looked?
“Number one, we want to get him on the field. We’ve got two good corners, Cedrick Holt and Jacoby Watkins. Those two guys played an awful lot last year and did a lot of good things. Trimane has to get on the field for us somehow. We put him at nickel back. When we go to nickel defense, he is out there on the slot. He is going to work at that, but we also think he is a very good tackler, very, aggressive, and very smart.
"We are creating competition at the safety position. Last year, Gerald Sensabaugh did a great job coming in to play for us. We felt like we’ve got the free safety in Kareen Taylor, so we want to give Mahlon [Carey] a chance, Martel Thatch a chance. I want to create competition, so we have three guys playing that strong safety position and they are all getting about equal time.”
Matt has known that the starting quarterback position was his to lose for a couple of years now. That’s why he stuck around, to be a starter at UNC. How far along that journey to being that starting quarterback is he? Is he just now starting, or has he already begun?
“He’s the guy right now, but he knows that he has got to go out and perform every single day, and that is the only way for him to get better--to go out and perform. Matt is a smart guy, he has great knowledge of the system, he has a live arm, he has all the tools. He doesn’t have the experience, but he has been in games. It’s not like he’s never played in a game, and he has gotten opportunities to be there in the pressure cooker with Darian. He knows exactly what is going on. He just needs to work hard in practice every single day."
How are you approaching this spring differently than the previous spring?
“I can’t say that I’m approaching it too much differently. Obviously, it’s a lot different than before. Every spring--whether you are the starter, the back-up, or the third guy--you are just trying to improve yourself, understand your receivers better, understand the offense better, understand the defense better. It’s just about improving yourself, so I’m really just approaching it the same way as I have in the past.”
So you haven’t done anything any differently? I assume you are getting more rep’s with the first team.
“I’m getting all the first-team rep’s, and that is a little bit different. It makes practice easier to go with the top group of receivers, the top group of linemen. It makes it easier to play. But other than that, there is not much difference. Obviously, I have a lot more of a leadership role now, and a lot of us do as seniors. That’s really the only thing.”
Are you just now beginning your journey to becoming the starting quarterback, or have you already laid a foundation?
“It’s definitely something that I’ve been working on and building a foundation towards because I’ve known for a couple of years now that it’s been my job to lose, as soon as [Darian] Durant was gone. I stuck around here because I want to play here. If I didn’t want to start at North Carolina, I would have left a long time ago because of Durant. That’s been my goal, and my thought process all along has been, ‘I’m in a great place; I have to hold out until my senior year and take advantage of it when it gets here.’“
What were your feelings when you found out Coach Gary Tranquill was returning for another year?
“I was excited because nothing would be worse than having to learn a whole new offense going into my senior year. That’s the advantage that I have over everyone else. The advantage I have going into next year is knowing the offense so well. I know it just as well as Darian knew it. We were both around Coach Tranquill the same amount of time, both running the offense. I was very excited. I talked to him when he was considering leaving and tried to convince him [to stay], telling him that we wanted him back, even though he gets on our case all the time and is pretty tough. We definitely wanted him back.”
It seems like Coach Tranquill gets on everybody. Has he been any harder on you since you are pegged as the starter?
“No, he’s been just as hard on me for four years now. He’s not any different now than he was back when I was a true freshman and red-shirt freshman, and I see it with the younger guys. He treats them the same way he treats me. You know what to expect with Coach Tranquill. He doesn’t play favorites.”
What do you feel the most comfortable doing out there?
“I like drop-back passing. I don’t mind rolling out. Really, I can handle anything.”
Where do you have the most work to do?
“I have to say that my throwing is fine, my drop back is fine, and knowing the offense is fine. The most work is going to be seeing defenses in game situations. That’s the toughest thing for every quarterback. I have to work on it this spring and into the summer.