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UNC Football: Switching Gears

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North Carolina v Boston College Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

This is old news, I know, but Chazz Surratt is a pretty good ballplayer. The senior linebacker led the team in tackles against Boston College this past Saturday, notching eight solo tackles, one of which was a sack that forced the Eagles to punt on their first possession of the game. A steady presence in the center of the Tar Heel defense, number 21 can typically be found somewhere near the ball, making opposing offenses miserable.

Generally, if a player who came to campus as a quarterback were ever to lead the team in tackles, he (as well as the defense) would be having a very, very bad day. This is not the case for Surratt, who seems to be right at home on the other side of the ball. Maybe it’s the years he spent in offensive huddles, and the insight that he has to the machinations of an offense as a result. Maybe all his experience progressing through reads from the pocket has given him a preternatural ability to read a play as it unfolds, and sniff out where the ball is going. Maybe he’s just an absolute baller, and I think maybe that’s the most likely of all.

It’s not uncommon for wide receivers or running backs to be converted to defensive backs. This is a gross simplification, of course, but the requisite skill sets seem similar: fast, intimate knowledge of route trees, good hands... That makes sense. To go from quarterback, perhaps the most complex position on the field, to middle linebacker is a massive switch. I was a middle linebacker in high school (not a very good one, granted, but I was one); I could never have switched to quarterback. Even at the lower end of North Carolina’s 4A high school level, it wasn’t ever even a flicker of a thought. It’s too foreign, it’s too complex—and that’s even before you get to the physical tools that the position demands. To have the necessary mental and physical traits to play both positions? Why, it’s almost unimaginable.

Chazz Surratt has played linebacker for going on two years at the college level. His first year at the position, he was named to the All-ACC team. This year, he’s being talked about in mock drafts. There are things that can be taught; this is not really one of those things. I wonder if there’s ever been a linebacker drafted to the NFL with more than 1,300 yards passing in their college career. Somehow, I doubt it.

The Virginia Tech offense, after rushing for over 300 yards in last week’s victory over the team from Durham, will be looking to repeat their performance when they visit Kenan Stadium on Saturday. Surratt and the rest of the Tar Heel defense face a formidable foe in the 19th-ranked Hokies.

Somehow, though, I think the former quarterback is up to the challenge.