Letterman's Roundtable

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders hosts a collection of former Tar Heels for the weekly 'State of the Heels' football roundtable discussion.

BUCK SANDERS – Quincy, last year North Carolina got taken apart defensively by Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels scored their share of points, but they couldn't keep up with the Yellow Jackets. What have they got to do differently this year to make sure that Georgia Tech doesn't put 68 points on them?

QUINCY MONK – The thing about our defense is with Georgia Tech's offense you've got to be able to play sound football. Playing sound means you've got to be able to read your keys and play disciplined because they've got a particular style offense that if you make one error, they can really create a lot of problems for us. As far as our defense's standpoint, we've got to make sure that we fly around to the ball and tackle. We also cannot make any mental errors because Georgia Tech is a team that takes advantage of opponents who have mental errors. They have a particular type of offense where they'll rock you to sleep with a fake draw and then pass deep for a 50-yard bomb. So, I think what I would like to see this year as opposed to last year is that these guys come out from the beginning and set to tone early. Defense has to set the tone early and not give up big plays. I think that's going to really help carry the momentum for the rest of the ball game.

BUCK – Mark, you were on a UNC football team that took care of business against Georgia Tech at home. There aren't a lot of guys that can say that who played defense on the team that beat Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson. What do you think your keys are for the defense?

MARK PASCHAL – Well, Buck, reflecting on that game, a lot of things come to mind. First off, we did have a bye week to prepare. I believe Carolina had a bye week last year, if my memory serves me correctly. You have to take advantage of that because it's a huge advantage. We spent 10 or 11 days preparing for that Georgia Tech offense. We made it a priority as a defense to make sure that we weren't the reason that we got beat that week. Their offense is not hard to figure out. It requires toughness; it requires a physical presence at the point of attack; it requires great discipline in the back end.

The triple option and the spread are very similar; they like to put pressure on the defense and put defenders on a one-on-one match up and try and make these guys tackle. It creates this strain and stress where if you make one mistake, if one guy misses one tackle, it's six points. There's a lot of similarities between the triple option and the spread as far as having your responsibilities on defense completely sound. So, to circle back to it, we've got to understand what our goal is on defense, reading our keys, being strong and physical at the point of attack, and obviously tackling and getting the ball carrier on the ground. If you miss one tackle, it's to the house

BUCK – Brian, the question I wanted to ask you was, and I'm going to ask Matt the same question, after the South Carolina game, there was a little bit of consternation about how is Bryn Renner looking, how is he performing – a lot of conversation about Bryn Renner at quarterback. Some people even said that Matt Baker was better than Bryn Renner. I'm not going along with that; I'm telling you that now. Other than that, what are your feelings about Renner? You can't argue with his numbers, but I don't' think he looked comfortable, not as comfortable as he looked down the stretch last year.

BRIAN CHACOS – Well, Buck, I'll tell you, I don't really think he looked that comfortable on Saturday against Middle Tennessee State. Throws were getting away from him; obviously he threw that interception and just some of his decision-making just isn't there like it was last year. It's almost like he's trying to take on . . . trying to shoulder the entire offense now that Gio is gone and some of our other playmakers that we had last year. I feel like what Bryn is trying to do is he's trying to make too many plays where plays are not needed instead of checking the ball down, doing what he did last year, which was managing the game and he was able to pile up a lot of touchdowns and yards. So, if he can get to a place where he can calm himself down, I think it will be good having the bye week, giving him an opportunity to reset this week and prepare for a tough game in Atlanta.

BUCK – Matt, so go ahead and answer the question; who's the better quarterback, you or Bryn Renner?

MATT BAKER – Well, I wish I had Bryn Renner's offense; I'll give you that. (laughter)

BUCK – Ok, no admission on behalf of Matt Baker as to whether Renner has the superior skills. What did you think? When I was asking Brian the question, I was saying that I didn't think that Renner looked comfortable against Middle Tennessee State. He just seems a little bit anxious right now. His timing may be a little bit off. What do you think of that?

MATT – I agree with what Chacos said. I think that maybe a little bit of it has to do with Bryn's senior year here, putting a lot of pressure on himself to perform and maybe to show his skills for the next level. Maybe he's adding pressure to himself. As we've talked about before, I go back to more of the technical aspect of it. I've been disappointed to see how year after year, Bryn's lack of improvement in mechanics. It's something we discussed in the off season. I remember back, I sent you a picture of Bryn throwing a ball, his feet were so wide ..

BUCK – He was over striding.

MATT – He was over striding. And, just, year-to-year, I haven't seen improvement like you'd like to see – quicker feet, smaller steps – even in his drop-back, he tends to get wide and stay wide. A lot of times, that elongates ... Not only does it cause him to throw high and throw low, especially over the middle of the field, he pulls a lot, pushes a lot of balls high because he's so wide in his feet. When you're long on your stride, it elongates your delivery. He's really slow with his release sometimes and sometimes when he panics he throws balls over the middle and over strides – that's when they sail on you. I've seen it this year. It almost looks worse this year than I've seen in past years. Part of that may have to do with being uncomfortable and jumping a little bit, just losing his fundamentals. Again, it's not a tough change, it's something he can work on. Having a week off and not having to have your mind consumed by all the game plans right away, it's something he can get back in spend some time after practice to pull your feet back under you. Obviously, he's not going to change overnight to avoid over striding but it's something you can do during a bye week – to get your footwork back to where it is in the offseason.

BUCK – Matt, I'm going to follow up with one more question to you. I've often heard it said about athletes at every level, regardless of the sport, that when they're under stress, when they're under pressure, even though they may have worked to improve their mechanics in one area or another, it's very easy to revert to type when the pressure is on. When there is a lot of pressure on you, it's very easy to fall back into bad habits. Do you think that's true?

MATT – Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, in any sport, at any position in football, when the pressure is on and you have a lot of other things on your mind, it's easy to revert to those bad habits. I don't know, I haven't been around Bryn to know what he's done in the offseason, so I don't know if there was an effort to do anything about his footwork. As far as I know, it kind of looks like last year's, even from the first game. So, I don't know if that has been a focus of his. Maybe it's just how he's comfortable with throwing and no one's really ever told him that you've got to pull that stride in and make it a little shorter. I'm not sure, to answer your question, you're absolutely right, sometimes pressure does things to people, makes them revert to bad habits.

BUCK – Quincy, a couple of guys I want to ask you about on the defensive side of the ball are Norkeithus Otis and Darius Lipford. I think they've added something to the defense this year, some athleticism, maybe even some better football instincts, over what North Carolina had last year. Talk about those two guys for a second.

QUINCY – You've mentioned two guys that have really come in and added a new element to our defense. Lipford was out there flying around the ball and so was Otis. That's what you want to see from young players. These guys had offers to other schools across the ACC and across the country. You're seeing their athletic ability shine for our defensive ball club. I think, when you have players like that, to make plays – like Lipford was out there, guys were creating turnovers – that leads to other guys on the team stepping up their game. There's eleven guys that are on the ball club, when you have one making plays, it's contagious. It's like, 'okay, Lipford made a play, Otis made a play, so it's my turn to make a play.' What I like to see about all these guys is that they are adding a new element; they have the athletic ability; but, you're also seeing them bring that confidence back, that swag back. It's good to see that. What I also see moving forward is that these guys need to keep building on these turnovers, keep building on their athleticism and keep flying around the ball because when you fly around the ball, good things happen.

BUCK – Mark, one of the questions I wanted to ask you is about is the absence from this year's defense of Sylvester Williams. This North Carolina team, right now, doesn't has a player of Williams's caliber in the middle of the line. From a middle linebacker's perspective, how much difference does that make to a defense, to have that guy in the middle that can help keep you clean to makes plays as a middle linebacker?

MARK – I was blessed to play my last two years with some very talented players. When you've got the horses up front, it gives the linebackers a lot of opportunities to make plays, keeps you clean, allows you to read and see holes like a tailback would.

I think what this football team is missing on the defensive side of the ball is, I think it's not just one or two guys, I think we're missing depth here. We are missing a guy like Sylvester Williams -- a guy that can play 50 or 60 snaps on defense and be not just an effective guy where he can get into a gap and hold his own, but a guy that can get up field and make plays in the running game as well. Just flashing back to last year watching Sylvester Williams play against Virginia Tech, he was outstanding in that game. He made plays in the back field and really dominated that game by himself. The one thing linebackers need is a sense of 'I don't have a tackle, I don't have a guard, I don't have a center on my lap at the snap of the ball.'

When we talk about defensive linemen getting skinny is when they turn their shoulders parallel. That makes a defensive lineman really skinny; that makes the linebacker's job really, really difficult. As the year progresses, I think we're going to see guys are going to be able to step in because we've got lots of bodies, we've just got to get some more experience and everybody understands exactly what it takes to be a successful team defense. I'm excited to see how we hold up against Georgia Tech. I think missing a guy like Sylvester Williams is definitely an issue right now for the Heels.

BUCK – Brian, this question is about the running game. How did you think the offensive line did in terms of the running game on Saturday against Middle Tennessee State and how do you see that going forward? How did you think the offensive line did and how did you think the running backs did?

BRIAN – Not good enough, Buck; it's just not good enough. It's a concern and it should be a concern. Obviously we have three new bodies in there that are new to the line. I think we did a good job against South Carolina in pass protection and run game. But, against Middle Tennessee State it wasn't good enough, the running game. It's something, I think ... the bye week is very helpful for these sort of things. Coach Kap will get with the offensive line; he'll work with them; he'll look at the tape; he'll work on fundamentals. It's a great opportunity that we can open up the ACC slate down in Atlanta. Georgia Tech hasn't been primarily known for recruiting top defensive talent. So, as an offensive lineman, that gets you excited to know that you're not going into a Miami-type environment, or a Clemson, or a Florida State, where they have top-notch defensive athletes. Again, I think Coach Kap is really going to work with these guys, really going to solidify them and get another week under their belt of working together. The offensive line is all about cohesion and how you work well with the other person, especially the left tackle and left guard, even with the tight end. Again, it's good this bye week is coming at this time – still early in the season and especially before Georgia Tech, when those guys will be able to work together and have another week under their belt. I think you go down to Atlanta and put a strong performance on and really get after Georgia Tech up front.

Featured Lettermen

  • Matt Baker quarterbacked the Tar Heels in 2005, while amassing the 9th-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.

  • Quincy Monk recorded 247 tackles at linebacker during his Tar Heel career from 1998-2001. He was drafted into the NFL and spent three seasons in the professional ranks.

  • 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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