Preseason Letterman's Roundtable, Part IV

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders hosts a collection of former Tar Heels for a roundtable discussion previewing the 2012 season. In the final part of this four-part series, the group discusses UNC's special teams.

Buck Sanders: Let's talk about one out of every six plays in the game – special teams. The first thing is, Casey Barth is back. I actually think him being out actually may have cost UNC a game or two last year.

Brian Chacos: It absolutely did, and I hope you were talking about the Virginia Tech game. Is that the game you are discussing?

Buck Sanders: That's one of them, yes. UNC couldn't kick the ball 30 yards. I mean, I know there was a strong wind, but, still. I think having him back is big. But then again, we're also dealing with rule changes. Have you guys looked at those and tried to figure out what people are going to do now that they've changed the kickoff line and moved it up five yards? And, touchbacks are now out to the 25 on kickoffs? How's that going to change things?

Mark Paschal: I think you'll see a lot of sky, kind of corner kicks. On the kickoffs, a guy will just come at it and hit it as high as he can and try to drop it on the 15, and have your whole squad down there ready to tackle him when he catches it. I think that's something we will probably try to do. I just don't think that you can give guys . . . I think maybe this might help us too with the way that our kickoff teams have performed in the past couple of years. Maybe we can kick it deep and say, ok, we'll just take it on the 25. I think a lot of teams will try to use a higher kick and land it on the 10, 15, and have your coverage team down close when he catches it. That's what I would do. I just don't like the fact that they are changing all these things. I guess it's for player safety and I understand that. But, the kickoff in college, if you have a return game, is so electrifying; it can change a game so quickly. This is, I guess, to try and protect kids and all that, but it will be interesting to see how a lot of teams make changes and . . . The word of the rule, the onside kick has to bounce once or twice and you get a so-called fair catch, stuff like that. It's kind of crazy.

Matt Baker: I think it's a lot like the NFL. Everyone made a big deal out of the rule changes last year, and then, all of the sudden people are taking kicks back to the house at record pace. I think everyone got all worked up; at the end of the day, it was pretty much the same. You saw a few more touchbacks, but you also saw a lot of returns because players couldn't get the head start as they had in the past. You talk about the sky kicks, when you only get a 5-yard head start; the sky kick is a little bit tougher to deal with. Guys aren't getting down field as fast.

Buck Sanders: Yeah, that's a new rule. You can't be lined up more than five yards from the 35, except the kicker. The kicker can be, but you can't get more than a five-yard start.

Mark Paschal: You'll see a lot of kicks go in the end zone, but a lot of people will end up taking those out. But the 25 is a solid start. So, it will be interesting to see.

Buck Sanders: And, if people do kick off to T.J. Thorpe, I think they'll pay for it. Even if they sky kick it, I mean, I think he's a real weapon for UNC there in the return game. He did a great job last year, I thought.

Brian Chacos: With regards to Casey, I think it was one of the biggest offseason positives that we had. Like I said, I think, unfortunately, the Virginia Tech loss -- obviously, no game comes down to two or three plays -- but the two missed field goals were absolutely critical in the loss. Again, the kicking game did hurt us. It hurt us with our strategy on what we wanted to do play-calling wise, and it put us in a lot of tough spots last year. So, obviously, I think having Casey back is going to be a huge plus for us. I think it's going to be . . . anytime we have a guy who has an extremely high percentage of putting three points on the board at a given time, is a huge benefit. And, with regards to T.J., I think the sky is the limit for this guy with regards to his return abilities – kickoff and punts. He had a couple of great returns last year and he's just one of those exciting guys – anytime you get the football in his hands, anything can happen – big return, touchdown. Get him the football and give him an open space and let him do his thing and good things are going to happen.

Buck Sanders: When I was talking about costing UNC games and you mentioned Virginia Tech, I was really more referring to what you just mentioned, how much did it change UNC's offensive strategy not to have somebody that could routinely boot a field goal through from over 40 yards, or at least 40 yards? I mean, it changes everything offensively in terms of what you do on down and distance, and the play you call. That's got to be a handicap, or at least a ball and chain around your leg if you know that you are going to have to scale your offense to the point where you can't kick that field goal that you need.

Matt Baker: Yeah, Buck, you're absolutely right on that. As a coaching staff and as an offensive coordinator, you're extremely handcuffed when you can't kick a field goal past 30 yards or so; it's tough. And, that's the toughest part of the field sometimes - that fringe area, as we call it, you know, we're talking the high red zone and the just out of the red zone, that's a tough area to call plays in. And, just as you move forward, the field gets smaller and smaller. You have less room once you get down there. It's tough to call plays when you can't rely on your field goal kicker.

Brian Chacos: I just wanted to quickly add something. When you get to the point when you've gotten so close to be in the potential field goal range, as a lineman - I know Tank can attest to this- and you don't come away with any points and you worked so hard to get down the field, it can be deflating. They went through that a little bit last year. I think getting Casey back is going to fix a lot of that.

Scott Lenahan: I agree with Chacos on that. It's a lot nicer knowing that if you drive the ball down 50 yards, you can kind of walk away with three points instead of nothing at all. It's something to put on the board and hang your hat on.

Buck Sanders: It's been real fun to talk about actual football for a change. I look forward to doing these throughout the year. I appreciate you all joining in.

Featured Lettermen in Today's Roundtable

  • Matt Baker quarterbacked the Tar Heels in 2005, while amassing the 7th-highest season passing yardage total in school history. Following his UNC career, he was a member of six different NFL teams.

  • Brian Chacos's UNC career (2001-06) included 35 starts at offensive tackle, a selection to the Lombardi Watch List, and All-ACC Academic honors.

  • Scott Lenahan manned the center position in Chapel Hill from 2003-07, overlapping two coaching regimes. Nicknamed 'Tank' for his weight room exploits, he earned the top senior honor on the '07 Tar Heel team.

  • Mark Paschal captained the Tar Heels in 2008. As a middle linebacker, he led the team in tackles prior to a career-ending injury and didn't miss a game in his four-year career up until that point.

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