Offense Day: Howell, Simmons, Tucker & Newsome
CHAPEL HILL – Tuesday was the offense’s turn to meet with the media in advance of Saturday’s Orange Bowl game between No. 13 North Carolina and No. 5 Texas A&M.
The topics mostly surrounded the three Tar Heels from the offensive side of the ball that have opted out of the game, Michael Carter, Javonte Williams and Dyami Brown, how the other Tar Heels feel about those decisions, how it affects them, and their reaction to many in the national media now giving UNC no shot at defeating the Aggies.
Below are interviews with Dazz Newsome, Jordan Tucker, Emery Simmons and Sam Howell along with some notes and pulled quotes from what they had to say:
Dazz Newsome, Senior WR
*While some of Newsome’s teammates decided to begin preparing for the NFL draft, Newsome chose to play in the Orange Bowl. He’s projected by multiple NFL mock draft sites as a mid-round selection in next spring’s draft, but that didn’t matter to the Virginia native, he wants to play.
“I'm a ballplayer, so I want to play…,” Newsome said. “If they give them (touches) all to me, I’ll take them, but it's the same thing. It’s the same game plan, we’re not changing anything. You’ve just got to make plays when the ball comes to you.”
*The Tar Heels aren’t being given much of a chance to defeat Texas A&M now that four of its best players, including linebacker Chazz Surratt, have opted out. Newsome says it just gives the Heels more of an edge.
“Most definitely,” Newsome said. “We most definitely see all the stuff people are saying that it won't be the same. We see all the comments that people are saying. It’s definitely making everybody play with a chip on their shoulder.”
*Newsome said winning the Orange Bowl is really important to him personally and to the program. But this is also his last game as a Tar Heel, so what are his thoughts about that and that it’s going to be on such a big stage?
“This is my last game,” he said. “Also, this is one of the biggest bowl games that we’ve played in like I said. I’m definitely pumped.”
Jordan Tucker, Junior OT
*Offensive linemen don’t get to see much when in the game because they’re usually engaged with a defensive player hoping to spring free a running back or give their quarterback time to make passing plays. But, over time they do get to know the personnel on the offense quite well, so what are Tucker’s thoughts about running backs Josh Henderson, British Brooks and Elijah Green, who are the only available backs going into the Orange Bowl?
“We see them every day in practice,” Tucker said. “All of them got speed, all of them got power and they've all been learning from Javonte and Mike as well. So, as an o-line and as an offense, we got as much faith in them as we did our backs before.”
*The players have regular said over the last week-plus they have no issues with teammates opting out, and not having them is no different than when good players miss games in the regular season. Gotta move forward.
“I don't really know much about like ‘a chip on the shoulder,’ but I know, like Dazz said before, all of us are football players and everyone's going to make the best decision for them,” Tucker said. “And everybody else really doesn't have a decision in what somebody else does. And we’ve just got to move forward. Next man up. And I know every single person goes out there to practice and goes out there ready to play in a game. So, if that's the chip on your shoulder, then yeah, we do have one.”
*More on the Next-man-up mentality.
“I think a lot of teams do preach this next man up mentality, but I think, here in North Carolina, we really do enforce that,” Tucker said. “And because you’re next, your next play could be your last play, you never know.
“So, we try and instill in the ones and twos and threes that y'all got to be ready to go on game day. And, if you're not, then you're going to get exposed for that. But as far as how we work in North Carolina, I know that everybody's ready to go.”
Emery Simmons, Sophomore WR
*The players continue to show support for the opted-out Heels but also deflect any notion they can’t handle things moving forward. Perhaps Simmons expressed it best.
“I feel like us as a team, I feel like we all supported our teammates with the decision they made,” Simmons said. “The goal of this game is to play and then, if you're blessed with the opportunity to go and further your career, then take it on. So, it's all love to them guys, I wish them the best.
“But I feel like with our team, we still got guys that can fulfill those rolls and make the big plays. That's why we're recruited. That's why the coaches come out and get it. So I feel like, even now with them opting out, I still feel like we’ve still got a good chance to come out there and prove that we're a top contender.”
*With Dyami Brown now gone, how does it change Simmons’ role and possibly his mindset going into such a big game?
“My mindset still hasn't changed,” he replied. “It's still been with me throughout the season of just next man up. It's been that way from the beginning of the season. You’ve still got to take that even though Dyami’s not here. You still have to prepare like you're in that starting role, or you're going to get the ball, because you never know.
“So with that, with him being gone, it's just making more room for guys just to come up and make plays and it's gonna be all over the place now. So, it's more so other guys like our running backs, Josh Henderson, British Brooks and a little bit more of our receivers just coming in and making big plays to help out this offense and keep the offense at where it’s been.”
*Simmons has been one of the starters since Beau Corrales was lost for the season. He has 15 receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown. His longest reception went for 51 yards. How has his game evolved since being a regular getting plenty of reps per game?
“Just more confidence I would say,” he replied. “Over these last couple of games with me starting, I just felt like I built more confidence. But I feel like that confidence has been there all along, it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to go out there and show it.
“And so, I felt like with that happening, it was just more so next man up mentality and just go out there and playing the game you love. Just going out there and having fun doing it. And it just worked out.”
Sam Howell, Sophomore QB
*Howell said no matter who the Tar Heels have available for the Orange Bowl, the team’s mission doesn’t change. It’s the same it has been each week since the opener versus Syracuse.
“Honestly, it hasn't been much of a distraction,” Howell said. “We kind of just move on. It is what it is. Those guys made a decision that they thought was best for them and we all respect their decision. But, at the end of the day, we’ve got a job to do.
“We have a football game on Saturday, and we’ve got to go win the football game. So, we can't worry about any of that, we’ve just got to move forward. So, that's really the message I try to relay to these guys. There's a lot of guys that need to step up and make some plays this weekend for us to have a chance to win.”
*Staying on the Orange Bowl, Howell has reverence for the game and what it means, but the laser focus from the regular season is clearly still with him, and as he says, his teammates, too.
“The Orange Bowl definitely means a lot to me,” he said. “It's a game I grew up watching, it's a game I always wanted to play in down there in Miami. And obviously, it being a New Year’s Six bowl, we know how prestigious the game is. We're not just happy to be going down there, we want to win the football game.
“So, that's the mentality of our team. With the opt outs, I understand all the decisions that those guys made, but for us here, for the guys that are playing, we want to go down there and win. That's our mentality.”
*In a non-COVID year, the Tar Heels would be in Miami at this time getting ready for the game and having all media-related activities in South Florida. But that stuff is being done from Chapel Hill and on zoom, and the Tar Heels aren’t heading to Miami until Thursday.
No bowl week activities, which is a bummer to Howell and his teammates. But his constant message always comes back to the same thing.
“I'll be honest with you, I hate it,” he said. “I love bowl week. I loved our time last year in DC for the Military Bowl. That was one of the funnest weeks I've had in my entire life, just being there with the team. So, I’m definitely a little bit disappointed that we don't get to be down there for a week and spend time with my guys.
“But, it is what it is. Our main mentality is to go win the game. So, that’s what we're gonna try to do.”
*Khafre Brown, Emery Simmons, and Antoine Green are going to have a greater role in this game than they have, so what are Howell’s thoughts about the trio as they prepare for the biggest game any of them have ever played?
“I expect a lot of big things out of them,” Howell said. “Those guys are gonna have to come up with some big plays for us to have a chance to win the football game. Dyami’s due for a couple deep ball catches a game, at least one touchdown a game, so they’re definitely gonna have to make some plays for us to have a chance to win.
“And they've had a really good couple weeks of practice. They're all three really good receivers. All three of them are definitely talented enough to be starters here. So, they're talented enough, they put the work in. I'm excited for those guys to get out there.”
*Jacob Turner contributed to this report.