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Jay Bateman, UNC defense not thinking about secondary injuries; talks challenge of defending Hendon Hooker, Hokies

Bateman says the Tar Heels don't have time to worry about who's out

North Carolina defensive coordinator Jay Bateman met with the media on Monday morning to discuss the first half of the season, what the Tar Heels worked on during the open week and previewed Virginia Tech.

Highlights from the conversation:

On finding out about Trey Morrison’s injury

So Dre (Bly) tells me in the headset, Trey’s out. So it’s like OK, you know, whatever. Then we found out it was a little bit more serious than I thought. It doesn’t matter. No one cares. The next guy has got to go and play. It’s one of those deals where we’ve got depth there, and we’ve been preparing those guys there, and the next guy has got to go play. We’re lucky that we’ve got some guys like Greg Ross who has played a lot, who can step in and do a good job.

On the focus for the open week

There were some schematic things, I think people were giving us the last couple of weeks that we weren’t handling well. So that was part of that. I think always in the bye week you want to spend time on the fundamentals of getting off blocks and tackling. So we spent a little more time on that. And I think Coach Brown did a great job like you would expect of giving us time to work on that but not beat them up either. So we didn’t do a lot of full pad tackling on the ground, crazy stuff. You know, it was more, let’s focus on this for five minutes, and we can get it on film and teach off it. So I think those are the two main things.

And with some of the injuries in the secondary, we’ve had to kind of -- some guys have had to cross train a little bit, that weren’t having to do that. And I think getting some guys some reps at some other spots has been good for us.

With the young guys, what can you do to schematically put less pressure on young corners?

Any time you put stress on one part of your defense, it affects the rest. So you have to decide if we’re going to protect this corner or this corner, then how does it affect the rest of the defense. So we had the ability to do that. We did that all the time. Whether we felt like we had a matchup problem or not, that’s what you do as a defensive coordinator. Pass the stress around.

But we’re not going into this game like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy is playing.’ We’re going to be fine.

On how Virginia Tech's offense has changed since going to Hendon Hooker at QB

You know obviously, they’re running it a little bit more. They ran the other kid a lot too, but I think he’s a little bit better runner. I think he’s done a great job. He hasn’t turned the ball over. The ball has been in his hands a lot with all the Jet Sweep stuff they do. The quarterback runs off of it. And then I think against Miami he did a great job. I think against Rhode Island, he probably didn’t have to do this as much of, you know, getting them out of jail. You know it’s 2nd-and-10 they drop back, you’ve got them covered, and he scrambles for 14 yards and he killed Miami scrambling.

So I think that’s a big emphasis for us, is rush lanes, contain, maybe not trying to make a great pass rush move to beat a guy because it is going to open up a huge lane inside of you. Some of those things have been part of our thoughts. I think he’s taking care of the ball really well. He’s an athletic kid, I remember in high school he was obviously a really talented kid. And I think he’s what they want. They want a quarterback who can run it and be a factor in the run game. And he’s certainly doing a great job with that.

On whether Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford are as talented as he thought they'd be

It’s hard. Aaron didn’t play at all a year ago, really. So I had to base it all off of what people told me. And watching him in the spring a little bit. I would say he’s probably exceeded my expectations. I think he’s playing at a really high level.

You Jason, watching film last year, I could tell he was really talented. Didn’t play at all in the spring. So it was pretty quick to figure out in summer camp how talented he is. Those two are really good players that play hard. They are good veteran leaders for us. And I think when those two have been healthy and played, we’ve been pretty good. So they’re obviously pretty important to our success.

On Aaron Crawford's strengths

He’s 320 pounds. He takes up a lot of space. I just think in the most simplistic way of saying it is, two guys have to block him, a lot. That means there’s somebody else not getting blocked. So if you consistently get that at nose guard, the rest of your defense works a lot better.

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In the off week, do you get to watch college games as a fan, or take things from it?

I mostly watch them as a fan, but if I see something I like, I go pull it up and watch it.

Did anything stand out?

Some of the LSU stuff. I watched LSU play. I thought that was a pretty crazy game. Some of the things they were doing I went and looked at yesterday. That’s about it.

Do you get disgusted when you watch Louisville-Wake Forest?

Yeah, I like Penn State-Iowa, just me personally, that’s a little closer to what I think of. But I didn’t watch the Wake Forest game. I was watching LSU.

On Myles Dorn stepping up

You know Myles is a pretty consistent kid. Before Clemson I told him, listen, you’re going to have to manage this now. And we were doing some stuff we hadn’t done in a while schematically. And I think he did a really good job doing that and playing both spots. He’s a very positive kid. I think that helps some of our younger DB’s who haven’t played as much. He helps us create an atmosphere of ‘hey look let’s go attack. Let’s go and play.’ And then he’s elite smart. I can have a conversation with him, about ‘hey look. We’re in this and this happens, you’ve got to get us out. And that’s been good.’

And I think Wolf is similar to that. And once we get Wolf back, we’ll be able to do a little more. But Dorn is doing a great job.

On Don Chapman or DJ Ford stepping into the second safety spot

Both. You know, DJ played a lot of safety in the spring, played a lot in the summer. And then we kind of had him focus on the nickel. And it becomes a deal where the nickel is a very complicated deal. You’re doing a lot. So I felt like after week 2, I needed to focus him on just being nickel. So when we had some injuries at safety, we put him in, I think against App, we put him in, you could tell he was a little bit unsure at times. So we kind of managed him through the last two games, and now with the bye week, I feel much better. He was one of the kids I was referring to. Like, hey dude, you’ve got to be able to do both now. And so I feel way better about him going back to safety and playing. So I think those three will handle those two spots for the foreseeable future. Whoever practices better.

How have young guys responded to being forced to play

I think we’re pretty fortunate because I think our DB’s are pretty confident kids. Maybe more confident than they should be, because with youth comes ignorance some times. I think that part’s been great. But if you asked Dre and me at some point during the preseason camp, we would have said, I think this guy is playing a little better, I think this guy is playing a little better. So it’s a pretty competitive room. There’s a bunch of kids in it I think could play. So now they’re getting opportunities. Don Chapman goes in against Georgia Tech in the eighth play of his college career and picks the ball off. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but Don Chapman played well enough for us to win and we did. I think we got some guys in that same boat. They’re going to go in there and make plays when it’s their chance. It’s more just the getting them up to speed knowledge-wise with some of the things we’re doing. I think it’s a little bit easier too in a gameplan week. In preseason camp you give them the whole menu. And then all of sudden during the game plan week, it’s just the daily specials.

They don’t have to know everything. They’ve need to know the gameplan. And then you’ve got to rely on guys like Myles Dorn and Jeremiah Gemmel that if you do have to go off the menu a little bit — if you have to go back and get a special from Week 2, right now you’ve got those guys to help them out there on the field to get them the right call, but I’m pretty confident in those guys.

Is there a difference in how they approach practice after getting on the field?

I think probably. I think most of them, it’s kind of been like, 'OK he’s hurt, so now you’re getting more reps.' And then I think at that point they start to realize, OK I could go in the game. So we’ve been pretty fortunate that we’ve been able to kind of manage a game and then the next week get them ready, like we did with Cam. So I think for sure, as you get closer to that, to really play, the preparation becomes a little more important. I think our kids have prepared well all season.