One of the few bright spots on North Carolina's defense during the 2014 season, middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer led the Tar Heels with 74 tackles and started all 13 games.
Now a fifth-year senior, he enters the 2015 football season as the head of UNC's defense. After Thursday's practice at Navy Field, he talked with reporters about how he's accepted that role as well as the improvements he's seen under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
Q: Are there any specific lessons he (Chizik) has taught you that you didn’t know before?
A: He’s taught me more of the mental game. That’s a huge part of football that outside spectators don’t understand. There’s so much that goes into a play, especially as a Mike (middle) linebacker. I’ve got to be the quarterback of the defense. I’ve really got to understand what everyone’s role and responsibility is, get everyone in the right positions, gets myself in the right position, make calls and make checks. I’ve got to be talking the whole play. He’s really helped me with the metal-side of things, going step by step and how to be the best Mike linebacker I can. Through day four I feel very comfortable with the role. I’m going to keep progressing. I feel real good.
Q: How is his (Chizik's) style so effective?
A: The way he and his staff coach, they like to compete. In drills, they’re yelling at us. They’re not yelling at us, but they’re yelling to get us fired up and pushing us at all times. They don’t slack at all. They tell us every day they’re going to bring it so they expect us to bring it even more. I think that’s maybe not something we lacked, but there’s no slack out of them. They’re fired up every day. They want to compete. They want to win every drill. Our group has been competitive. Our guys are competitive in everything we do, but them adding competition and pushing us even more has made a bigger difference.
Q: Have you noticed a big change from last year?
A: You can’t compare this defense and last year’s. Through four days I think we’re already a better defense than we were the whole last season. In the first four days of practice, we’ve been doing competition with the offense. We won the first three days and they won today. Right now we’re up 3-1. Each day we want to keep pushing that and we want be on top every day.
Q: How do you make that stick come Sept. 3 (against South Carolina)?
A: It starts with leadership. I think that’s my big responsibility as the senior leader of the defense. I’ve got to make sure everyone brings it every day. By that, I’ve got to bring it myself, encourage my linebackers to bring it and encourage the other guys on the team. A lot of it goes on myself, but the way the coaches bring it every day, that kind of rubs off on us. I don’t think we’ll have any problems, because they want to win so bad and we want to win so bad that there’s going to be no slack.
Q: What sort of adjustments have you made to step into that role as the leader in the middle of the defense?
A: I’ve grown up and matured. This is my fifth season here. I’ve seen great leaders do it before me, so I’ve been learning things along the way. This is my time. This my defense. I’ve got to run the show, and I think I’m doing a good job of it. During the offseason, Coach Chizik and Coach JP (linebackers coach John Papuchis) really helped me a lot with that. Why were we so bad last year? Because we had no leadership. That was one of the things we addressed in the offseason, and I took that upon myself. If we want to be an ACC champion or beyond, you’ve got to have leadership. So that’s one of the key things we addressed, and I’ve felt like I can contribute and lead that role. It falls on me.
Q: Who is one of those older guys you’ve learned from to be able to accept that role?
A: (Former UNC linebacker) Kevin Reddick, probably first and foremost. (Former UNC running back and current ) A.J. Blue. Great thing A.J. Blue is back with us. He’s helping us with the strength program. He’s always around and talking to me daily, giving me tips and pointers here and there. But Kevin Reddick played middle linebacker here a couple of years ago, so I learned a lot of things from him.
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