"With having two extremely good recruiting classes back-to-back and throwing a lot of those freshmen out on the field, I feel like we'll have more experience, we'll be more battle-tested and we'll have more football savvy. More experience, more competition and developing more confidence throughout this winter and spring has really helped us get to where we want to be as we approach this unbelievable season coming up. We'll have great challenges and great opportunities throughout. I think it's probably one of the best home schedules we've ever had here at Carolina. We want to win at home, starting with William & Mary.
"In large part, I think the pieces to this enormous puzzle are now in place. Once again, we've worked very, very hard as a staff, players and support staff. We've lost very, very few players to an academic problem or a behavioral problem, so we're heading in the right direction. I'm really fired up about what I've seen this spring and looking forward to this summer.
"I know that you all know just how important it is for me and this great university to put a football team out there that we're all proud of. I'll tell you this -- I'm extremely proud of the efforts that have been made, extremely excited about the opportunities that we have and I'm looking forward to this season."
Question: Can you talk about the two new defensive staff members? I keep hearing that they've simplified things a bit. Can you discuss the changes that have been made?
John Bunting: "Marvin Sanders at Nebraska last year, his defense led the country in interceptions and pass defense efficiency. He has brought in a tremendous amount of detail and productivity to our secondary. I've seen us get our hands on more balls this spring than I have in the previous three springs combined. Of course, we're faster out there than we've ever been. As a matter of fact I believe this group of players is the best combination of talent and leadership and character since I've been here. We had a couple of tremendous defensive linemen [Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims] my first year, but the sum of all these parts is a really great combination of talent and leadership and character. We are faster now in the secondary, and Marvin did a tremendous job of switching some guys around, putting Tommy Richardson at linebacker. John Gutekunst had a lot of say in that also . I think these two coaches have worked extremely well together.
Q: Have you set specific goals for your defense?
JB: "A lot of people have goal boards, and we've had them. I talked to John Gutekunst about that, and to be quite frank he's not interested in a goal board at all. His goal is to win, which is good. We need to do a better job of stopping the run, and I think we'll do that because we've got a defense that's stronger and faster. We've got two defensive tackles in Puff Thomas, who came in at 346 pounds last year and is down to 299, and Jonas Seawright, who played some for us at 350 pounds, is down to 313 pounds. The effort that these players are making to get better conditioned and be more football savvy is going to help us be better. Those two guys, along with Chase Page, are probably the three most important guys in stopping the run.
"Now for a perimeter run or pass, that's the [responsibility of] defensive ends and corners and outside backers. Khalif Mitchell has added an awful lot to our defensive with the way he can run and the strength he brings to the field. Alden Blizzard is going to be a redshirt sophomore. Tommie Davis will be a second-year starter, so we have more experience on the perimeter. Those things can help us be better on pass defense and can help us rush the pass better. Kyndraus Guy, who didn't play last year, we're excited about what he can do to help us.
"It starts with [stopping] the run, goes to the perimeter play, run and pass, and then sacks and pass defense. I think those coaches and those players have really responded and really work well together."
Q: Kyndraus Guy, Mike Mason and Terry Hunter are three guys who were limited or didn't practice in the spring. Can you update their status?
JB: "Mike broke his jaw halfway through [spring practice] and he's back full-speed, ready to go. Kyndraus Guy participated in a limited way because of the shoulder surgery, and he's ready to go. Terry is still in a situation where we're working with him on a daily basis to get him ready to play. I can't tell you one way or the other about Terry.
Q: "What did you tell Sanders and Gutekunst that you were looking for when you interviewed them last winter for assistant coaching vacancies?
JB: "Good question. Number one, I wanted guys who can build great relationships with players. At the end of last season, obviously there was a lot of gloom and doom and confidence was shaky. I wanted two guys who are positive and upbeat with either a lot of experience, as in Gutekunst's case, or a tremendous amount of knowledge and enthusiasm for the game, as is Marvin's case, and to get our players to understand that. I wanted player relations, confidence-building and good teaching of the fundamentals. We really needed to get some confidence back, and I think for the most part it's there. We've got to go out in a game now and truly develop it to the highest level."
Q: What do you see in the running game that fans can look for this season?
JB: "Well, for the first time in this program we've got two fifth-year senior starters on the line in Willie McNeill and Skip Seagraves. And Jason Brown is a three-year starter at center. I think our offensive line is where it starts. Probably the most competition [for playing time] of any position on our football team is at the offensive line, in terms of the backups and the guys who will compete at the guard position. You may see three or four guys in a game at guard. Moving Madison Hedgecock back to fullback or H-Back gives us tremendous flexibility in terms of doing things in a one-back attack or a two-back attack. And we have Rikki Cook behind him. We have depth that we didn't have last year, and that should really help our running game. Last year we led the ACC in yards per rush, now we just need to rush it more. The biggest thing on offense is going to be turnovers. We need to improve our turnover margin - we've been last [in the ACC] all three years, I believe. We need to make better decisions and hold onto the ball and have our defense get a few. Usually a better turnover margin can take care of a lot of problems.
Q: Can you tell us about Gerald Sensabaugh -- what kind of player he is and what kind of impact he might make this season?
JB: "Gerald's an experienced guy, being a three-year starter over at East Tennessee State. He's a player that was recruited by Division I teams and probably would've played Division I except that it didn't quite work out for him academically at first. He's a very bright young man, one of those guys that truly loves to study the game, asks a lot of good questions. He has leadership skills. Players have already looked to him because of the way he handles himself behavior-wise on the field. He plays with a lot of confidence. He's got great size and speed for a safety He's a terrific athlete, like a 40-inch vertical [leap] guy."
Q: Discuss the home schedule this year -- it's certainly very challenging.
JB: "I asked the players the other day, 'Can you think of a better place to play Miami, Virginia Tech, NC State and Georgia Tech?' I can't think of a better place than right here [in Kenan Stadium]. I think it represents both a challenge and a great opportunity for us to do something special. Those are obviously great programs. This has been a great program, and I think we're very, very close to getting us back where we want. The opportunity is there."
Q: As competitive as you were as a player in college and in the NFL and as a coach, how difficult was last season for you?
JB: "I don't hide from anything at all and never will. I will never be ashamed of my effort. I'm only here to say this -- I don't think about last year. Last year was tough. I think about now, the present, and I think that's been helpful throughout my career. I didn't always play for Super Bowl teams. I played for seven years of losing teams in Philadelphia [with the Eagles]. I don't feel pressure, I look forward to opportunities. I don't feel pressure ... I think we have an opportunity this year to be much improved. Competition, experience, depth, better players -- those things add up.
Q: What does Darian Durant need to do to step his game up and be recognized nationally?
JB: "What Darian and all of us need to do is have more success in order for him and us to get that kind of attention. He is a winner. If you ask any coach that plays against us, they are extremely concerned about what he might do that day. He's a terrific athlete. He has the ability to be a terrific decision-maker and throw balls on time. He's a magician with the ball sometimes, but what I like most about Darian Durant is his competitiveness and the way he wants to win. He's gotten better each and every year. That's why I think he can be the best quarterback in this conference and one of the very best in the country. We have to be successful, it's not just him. He has to have a run game. He and the rest of the offense can't turn the ball over. The defense has to make some plays, and the kicking game has to continue to be one of the best in the conference."