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April 27, 2011Former UNC quarterback T.J. Yates knows a little Tar Heel football history---at least when it comes to the North Carolina program producing quarterbacks at the next level.
While former UNC players have been outstanding pros over the decades at virtually every other position, quarterback has been a noted exception.
In the 1980s the Tar Heels had two signal-callers, Scott Stankavage and Mark Maye, that had cups of coffee with the NFL, but neither produced substantial statistics beyond a few pass attempts and completions.
In short, no former UNC quarterback has ever started an NFL game at quarterback.
No former UNC signal-caller has thrown a touchdown pass in an NFL game or thrown for more than 58 yards in a contest.
And Yates is looking to change that.
"No North Carolina quarterback has even taken a snap (as a starting quarterback) in a regular season game as a quarterback. It's been preseason," said Yates.
An afterthought for the NFL this time a year ago, Yates' resurgent senior season and the way he carries himself---along with some of his physical talents---has caught the eye of professional scouts and coaches.
While he won't hear his name taken among the top quarterbacks on Thursday night such as Auburn's Cam Newton, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, and Washington's Jake Locker, there's a very good chance that Yates will hear his name sometime over the weekend.
"I do (think Yates will get drafted)," said UNC head coach Butch Davis. "I do believe so."
Coming off his rough junior season and having to basically re-earn his starting job for his senior season, Yates went on to re-write North Carolina's record books in 2010.
Yates now holds no less than 37 UNC school records, including major marks such as career passing yards, single-season passing yards, and single-season total offense.
Nonetheless, pro scouts have had a lot of questions about Yates and whether or not he has the chops to make it at the game's highest level.
"There were a lot of questions about T.J," said Davis. "I know that (UNC offensive coordinator) John Shoop got a lot from (NFL) coordinators, and a lot of people asked myself and some other people."
Yates answered some of the questions with his outstanding 2010 season, where he picked the Tar Heels up on his shoulders and held the team through tremendous adversity as the team's most consistent offensive performer week in and week out.
You could say that Yates' senior year got him into the NFL conversation.
"T.J., he took charge (last year)," said running back Ryan Houston.
"T.J. is very smart. He knows his mechanics. He knows where everybody is going to be. He knows what the running backs and O-linemen are going to do and everything," added wide receiver Erik Highsmith.
Yates then aided his cause by performing well prior at the Texas vs. the Nation game in February.
At that event, Yates saw how North Carolina's profile has been raised with NFL franchises due to the pro-caliber talent coming out of Chapel Hill these days.
"After going to the Texas vs. the Nation Game and the (NFL) Combine, kind of just walking down the hallway and running into coaches, it's kind of a normal thing," he said.
"It's awesome. This program is definitely on its way up. I've heard a lot of scouts say that this is by far the most people they've seen throughout the entire country. It's definitely helping put us on the map."
"It's good for the program. It's good for all the guys that are here," Yates added.
Coming off his appearance at the Texas vs. the Nation Game, Yates added solid performances at the NFL Combine and then at the UNC Pro Day in late March.
Those outings led to workouts and interviews with several NFL franchises, including Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Philadelphia.
"(Yates looked) awesome (on Pro Day)," said Coach Davis.
"I thought he had an excellent day. I thought he threw the ball well. I heard somebody say he was 110 out of 112 throws, and that's a pretty good day's work. He was pretty efficient."
"(I'm) just (trying to) show the NFL scouts that I can make all the throws, be efficient, and have good footwork and good arm strength," Yates added.
It's been an interesting transition over the past few months for Yates, as he's completed his undergraduate studies at UNC and has turned his focus to his conditioning and workouts as he waits to see where he might end up.
"It's cool. It's a lot different from college. After the Combine it's kind of like a dead period. You don't really have much responsibilities," Yates said.
"You just have to wake up, work out every day and stay in shape. It's not like you're in college and you have to go to workouts every day. You can kind of do your own thing,"
"It's good for some people and some guys have got to get used to it a little bit more."
Yates is now getting a taste of how pro football players have to take the initiative themselves during the offseason, because unlike being in a college program with compulsory summer weight lifting and running sessions, guys in the NFL have to find the self motivation to work on their own.
"It's like in the NFL, because in the NFL in the offseason you're on your own so it's kind of like the first test to see if you can do it on your own," he said.
"I think all of our guys have handled it very well. All of our guys are in extremely good shape."
Coach Davis has seen the physical progression of Yates from a lanky teenager when he arrived in Chapel Hill back in the summer of 2006 into a poised, polished man.
"He's gotten bigger and stronger every single year," said Davis of Yates.
Yates obviously has no idea where he'll end up getting drafted, but more and more over the past few weeks things have gone from a 'will Yates get drafted?' possibility into a 'where will Yates get drafted?' reality.
"You never know that kind of stuff---especially with quarterbacks," Yates said.
Yates, who will be spending the Draft weekend back home in Marietta (Ga.), is trying to stay level-headed about the whole thing and not get over-anxious about it.
"You hear some scouting reports and stuff and you try not to listen to them---they're either too good or too bad---so hopefully I've showed scouts what I can do, and hopefully I'll get drafted," he said.
"Yates likely does not possess enough physical tools (arm, feet) to be considered a future starter but has a ton of experience in a pro-style offense and could find a home as a backup," says the NFL.com Draft profile of Yates, which projects him as a Day Three (Saturday) prospect.
"At times he appears to be a confident decision-maker in the pocket, capable of efficiently managing his team but he occasionally forces throws and is not comfortable dealing with pressure. Shows good accuracy and touch in the short passing game but is not as effective when asked to drive the ball downfield."
But the last sentence in the NFL.com profile perhaps sums up Yates best.
"Tough player who has dealt with adversity and become a better player."
Coach Davis, who spent approximately a decade in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns, has a good feel for the professional game and believes that Yates has what it takes to find a spot on a pro roster somewhere.
"I think on any given calendar year there's probably somewhere in the neighborhood of close to 100 to 105 quarterbacks in the National Football League between active rosters, developmental squads, injured reserve," said Davis.
"I think it's been pretty much of a common statement for many years that the NFL in some respects is a quarterback-poor league---there's not always 110 or 115 quarterbacks."
"I think that certainly will help T.J. get an opportunity to get into a camp."
And as for Yates---ever-mindful of his chance to make even more history as a former Tar Heel---he's keeping his focus on becoming that former North Carolina quarterback that finally makes good in the League.
"That's my first goal. The goals after that will be determined at that time, but my first goal is to step on that field and be the first UNC quarterback (to start and make an impact for an NFL team)," he said.