UNC’s Surratt on move to defense: ‘You gotta play angry at linebacker’
For North Carolina’s Chazz Surratt, moving from quarterback to linebacker has allowed him to make some new friends.
Namely, the other defensive guys.
“I do actually hang out with a different crowd for the most part,” Surratt said in a media interview Sunday, smiling.
In his first three years at UNC, he was in offensive meeting rooms. He was buddies with the other quarterbacks, the running backs and wideouts while making sure to say the right things about and to his offensive linemen.
That changed this past spring. The return of Mack Brown as UNC’s head coach soon resulted in Surratt, who missed nearly all of last season with a wrist injury, being shifted to linebacker.
It wasn’t as if introductions needed to be made but Surratt said, “Definitely, some guys have been here for a year or two that I really didn’t speak to that much, being on the opposite side of the ball. But now I’m with them every day. Now we’re always talking.”
And, for Surratt, always learning.
Surratt likes to say a linebacker is “like the quarterback of the defense” with so many responsibilities. It takes discipline. It takes good technique. It involves a lot of video and mental preparation.
Think Luke Kuechly. The Carolina Panthers’ All-Pro linebacker is a thinking-man’s defensive player, always studying opponents.
“We’ve got a lot of different defenses, different fronts,” Surratt said after Sunday’s practice. “It’s knowing what gaps to fill in each defense, knowing your pass coverage and drops, all that. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
There’s also a different mindset, for practices and games.
“You come out here to hit people every day,” Surratt said. “That’s the biggest change for me personally.”
Surratt: ‘You’ve got to play angry’
An old coaching adage is that playing good defense is about getting to the ball as quick as you can and being in a real bad mood when you get there. Surratt, a redshirt junior, is good with that.
“You’ve got play angry,” he said. “You’ve got to play with an edge.”
Mainly, Surratt just wants to get back on the field and play. Last season ended abruptly. There was an interception against Miami, his third in the Sept. 27 game, and Surratt scrambling after throwing the pick, trying to make a tackle and injuring a ligament in his right wrist.
There was season-ending surgery, a huge disappointment. The injury came in the first game after he returned from a four-game suspension for selling team-issued Nike shoes, an NCAA violation and an embarrassment for Larry Fedora’s program that involved 13 players.
“It was frustrating, but being away from the team you really find out how much you love football,” Surratt said. “I was anxious to get back.”
The firing of Fedora and Brown’s arrival led to a complete re-evaluation of the program. Surratt said he was the one who broached the idea of moving to linebacker -- a former North Carolina high school offensive player of the year at East Lincoln High asking to try another position.
After playing at 210 pounds at quarterback, Surratt said he was at 230 in the spring, taking some of his “old” friends on offense by surprise.
“I remember we were doing a team drill and he was at linebacker and I was like who is that?” running back Michael Carter said. “I was like, ‘Bruh is huge. He’s huge!’ Yeah, he looked the part.”
Surratt, who flipped his number from No. 12 to No. 21, said he began preseason camp at 227 pounds, saying he felt stronger and faster after his summer workouts.
“And getting healthy with my wrist,” he said. “I had a glove on all spring. Being able to use two hands and move guys around has been a good help.”
Surratt vs. Surratt
There’s also the matter of being comfortable at the position. In the spring, it was all so different, even if as a former quarterback he was able to spot offensive tendencies and react. There’s now a rising comfort level although a lot more work needs to be done before the season opener Aug. 31 against South Carolina in Charlotte.
“He’s plenty physical, he can tackle, he’s (got) 4.5 (speed), he’s 230 pounds,” Brown said. “All he’s got to do is read the play and be growing with his instincts. He’s got to have every possible mental rep he can have.”
Brown said the “defense really whipped the offense” in a Saturday scrimmage. That included an inexperienced group of linebackers.
“They flew around, they chased the ball,” Brown said. “The defense is stepping up and pressing the offense.”
Surratt has a younger brother, Sage, who is a wide receiver at Wake Forest and one of the Demon Deacons’ best. The thought was once that Chazz would be throwing passes at UNC while Sage was catching passes at Wake.
And now? The Tar Heels and Deacons play Sept. 13 -- Friday the 13th -- in Winston-Salem. If it’s Surratt vs. Surratt, who wins?
“I’d like to say me, being the big brother,” Chazz said with a grin. “I just told him to keep his head on a swivel and just go out of bounds.”