While plenty of people are struggling to fill their newfound free time during the COVID-19 epidemic, the UNC football team is keeping itself busy.
During a press conference held over Zoom on Monday, Jay Bateman, UNC football's co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, said that he sees this unique situation as an opportunity to get a leg up on the competition. Bateman said his experience coaching at Army has prepared him for situations somewhat like the one the world is in now.
“We laugh at some of these coaches,” Bateman said. “At Army, it wasn’t uncommon to get ‘Hey, you’re not gonna have your sophomores on Tuesday.’ You could spend your whole day complaining about it or just say ‘Okay, how do we make this work?’”
Bateman and UNC’s other defensive coaches are making it work by holding position meetings over Zoom twice a week. This gives the players an opportunity to review film and schematics in preparation of the upcoming season.
One of the changes in scheme that Bateman is most excited about is having more players he trusts to get the job done. At all three levels of the defense, Bateman said more depth by way of experience and recruiting will be a difference-maker come the fall.
“I think our ability to play a few more people will help,” Bateman said. “There were some lulls in games, like I didn’t think we were very good early in the second quarter. And I think what happened a lot was that we were starting to get a little tired.”
The position groups that he highlighted as having significantly more depth are the defensive backs and the linebackers. In the latter group, the clear starters are Jeremiah Gemmel and Chazz Surratt, but rising sophomores Khadry Jackson and Eugene Asante also intrigue Bateman.
“I have no pause whatsoever with one of those kids going in the game, where a year ago we would’ve been pretty nervous," Bateman said.
Although the defensive backfield and the linebacker corps are ready to go, Bateman said he has some worry about the defensive line. That position group lost two of the team’s best players from last season in Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge and needs to find a way to fill the gap, which can be difficult without spring practice.
“The DB's and linebackers, in the summer, can do seven-on-seven stuff and drill work,” Bateman said. “D-line is a physical, hand-to-hand combat kind of thing, so I think it’s harder to simulate that without practice than anything else on defense.”
Another thing that could be more difficult during quarantine is recruiting. Bateman said coaches planned to have recruits visit campus two or three more times throughout the spring. Instead, the North Carolina coaching staff has been forced to recruit without any face-to-face interaction.
“I spend a lot of my time with recruits, you know, texting them, texting their moms, because they’re out of school too,” Bateman said.
And though they can’t show recruits the facilities in person, UNC football began dropping a series of videos on Twitter showcasing its new facility upgrades.
The North Carolina football program is full steam ahead despite the coronavirus intervention. According to Bateman, this break shouldn’t change anything.
“I played Division III football,” Bateman said. “We came back to campus the day before camp started, and we knew what we were doing by the time games started.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.