Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Last fall, UNC quarterback T.J. Yates was leading the ACC and ranked 12th nationally in passing efficiency before he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left ankle against Virginia Tech and missed the next five games. He still completed 60 percent of his passes (81 of 135) for 1,168 yards, 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
His health will be key to the Tar Heels staying in contention for the Coastal Division title this fall, and right now, he's feeling great. Yates found some time to chat this morning, and it sounds like the Tar Heels are taking their summer workouts a bit more seriously this year.
Check it out:
I just wanted to check in and see how this summer is going for you, seven-on-sevens, and when you were cleared to play from your picnic incident. I'm tip-toeing around that one.
Yates: I knew that was coming. I've been throwing for a couple of months. It wasn't long before I got back. As soon as it got out of the splint I was back throwing again pretty quickly. It wasn't really affected at all. It only took about a week of rehab and I was back to normal.
It's been good. We've been going three, four days a week doing OTAs [organized team activities] and seven-on-sevens. We're trying different things, trying to get as many people out there as we can. It's kind of tough with everybody's schedules, because everybody has study halls and class. We're trying to get everybody out there at the same time, but we've done a pretty good job.
We usually go Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 5 o'clock, doing one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens, individual stuff, try to get prepared as much as we can going into training camp. We've been doing a good job with conditioning and working hard in the weight room. The conditioning, we're getting pretty serious. We're stepping it up as opposed to the last offseason, trying to make better strides and get in better condition.
Is your strength coach, is he asking more of you guys and giving you different workouts?
Yates: It's mostly the same stuff, but we're just trying to step up the conditioning. As much conditioning and as much running as we do, I'll be surprised if anybody else is in better condition than us. That's something we all understand. Every day we're out there killing ourselves, so we definitely know it's going to pay off.
Where do you think you need to make the most improvement this summer?
Yates: Personally, just getting with the receivers. We've got a lot of ground to make up. Obviously our four top receivers from last season are gone. We've definitely got to make up a lot of ground and we've got to get as much work in as possible so we don't have to take any steps back at receiver. We're going to be structured differently as an offense. Obviously we're not going to have the same big-play type guys. We've got to get the rapport down, get working with the receivers as much as possible, and we've definitely got to do a better job of getting the football to the running back and the tight end a lot more in passing game as well.
Last year, I think 75 percent of the balls went to the wide receivers, which is not a bad thing when you've got those guys, but we're definitely going to have to distribute it to all the guys on the field a lot more this year.
When you say it's going to be structured differently does that mean you'll be hesitant to throw it deep because you don't have a lot of big-play guys anymore?
Yates: Not at all like that. I'm talking a slant route to Hakeem [Nicks] and he'd take it 75 yards. We might not have as much yards after catch, the stuff that Hakeem gave us, so more about completion, getting open better ...
Yates: Yeah, exactly, playing smart football, getting better at situation football, knowing where we are on the field. We're doing a lot of red zone work. We need to get better in the red zone and score more touchdowns. We're actually doing that today in our OTAs. Me and Deunta [Williams] head up the offense and the defense when we go out there and we scheduled today to be an all red zone day. We make our offensive and defensive scripts before we go out there and try to get different aspects of the game because you don't usually work too many red zone situations in the offseason.
How much better do you guys think you actually get during this time when the coaches aren't allowed to be with you?
Yates: I think we get a lot better. It's the players taking ownership of the team. More and more you'll see some of the coaches are gone on vacation and we have to get the janitor to open their offices so we can go in there and watch film because there's construction going on right now. Last season that wasn't happening. Everyone is more eager to watch film. Everyone is doing more and more. It used to be the summer was kind of a relaxed time, kind of take it off, relax, but it's kind of the opposite now. The offseason is when you've got to work the hardest.
Why do you think that is? What's the difference?
Yates: Guys are just understanding what's important. They see that hard work pays off and the more you do the more you're going to get back from it. One thing we talk about is time. It's one thing everybody has the same of, time. We try to realize what the other teams are doing right now. What's Virginia Tech and Miami and Florida State doing during their offseason? Are they working harder than us? We just don't want to have anybody work harder than us because we're trying to get to that national level.
What do you do with the receivers specifically in terms of getting that intangible connection?
Yates: It starts in the film room, getting on the same page. The first thing, everyone has to know what to do out there -- where you're supposed to be, how many yards the routes are supposed to be. That's first and foremost; get the basics down. Some routes have to do with number of steps instead of yards. Dwight Jones is going to run a farther out route than Todd Harrelson because Dwight's a lot taller and has a longer stride. Knowing different receivers tendencies, and getting to know what kind of routes they're good at ... implement what they can do better in the offense.
When we do seven-on-sevens, we throw routes to warm up a bit and do some catching drills, one-on-ones with the DBs. It's gotten a lot better because new freshmen just got in and they're eager to learn, and the older guys are teaching them up. With that, teaching guys, it's a good way to learn as well. Other guys are getting practice teaching everybody.