CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates, who has been sidelined for six weeks because of a fractured ankle, said today he is hoping to return to contact practice as early as this afternoon. But even when he is ready to play in games again, he said he is prepared for the fact that he may return in a backup role behind junior Cameron Sexton, who is 4-1 as a starter.
“It’s an aspect of coming back from injury – you don’t know if you’re going to be 100 percent or not, and he’s been playing very well, so yeah, I’ve been mentally prepared for that,’’ the sophomore said.
Coach Butch Davis said last week that barring an unforeseen injury, Sexton would remain the starter for the time being. The Tar Heels play Georgia Tech on Saturday Yates’ reaction: “He deserves it. He’s been playing amazing. He’s been playing the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here. He’s been playing good, he hasn’t been turning the ball over, he’s been winning games, so I understand that [decision] completely.”
Yates, who had started 15 straight games until he was injured against Virginia Tech on Sept. 20, started participating in non-contact 7-on-7 drills last week. He answered questions from several reporters about his status Tuesday afternoon, roughly three hours before practice. A sampling:
Q: Has the doctor said your ankle it totally healed?
A: When we took the CT scan at three weeks, they said it was progressing like they wanted it to, it was healing like they wanted it to. I don’t think we’re going to take another one unless we feel the need to.
Q: What happens today?
A: Today at practice, [I will] go through drills like we did last week, and we’ll see from there during practice whether I can go full-go today. It will be a decision made at practice.
Q: So do you know specifically what kind of drills you’ll be doing today?
A: I’m just going through the same individual type of drills – footwork and drop backs and everything like that. We’re going to see, when the team period comes around, how it feels and see if I want to go.
Q: Are you ready to have defensive tackle Marvin Austin come full-force at you?
A: Yeah, I miss it. It’s something I’ve been missing. I’ve just got to try to get out there and get used to it again.
Q: Once you are able to take hits, have they given you a timeline of when you’ll be back in game condition?
A: No, not right now. Now, we’re just taking it day-by-day and see how I feel. And at the end of the week, we’ll determine on my progress this week and see how that goes.
Q: Have you done any preparation to be able to play against Georgia Tech if the situation arises?
A: Absolutely. Every single one of these weeks that I’ve been out, I’ve been preparing just like I would be if I was playing in the game. Just try to keep the mental aspect going. Because if you just take a month and a half off of football and not study it, it’s hard just to step back into it. So I’ve definitely been preparing every week like I’m going to go into that gameplan.
Q: When you are fully cleared, what do you look most forward to doing?
A: Just getting back out on that field. Winning is amazing watching the game, but I want to win the game playing the game and being out there and contributing. It gets tough over there on that sideline. Even though we’re winning games, I’d love to be out there with my teammates.
Q: What’s been your most satisfying moment on the sidelines?
A: Just helping out Cam, helping out Coach [John] Shoop during the game with little things I might see that they may not. Because Cam’s on the field and Coach Shoop is in the box, I might see something different being on the sideline – see a coverage, or they way they’re playing defense. I’m just contributing any way possible to help us win games.