As UNC opened up its 2017 training camp Wednesday morning, all outside eyes were focused on the competition brewing at the most important position in team sports.
Mitch Trubisky is not walking out onto the field at Kenan Stadium this year, and everyone knows it.
Head coach Larry Fedora must instead try and replace the No. 2 overall pick of this past spring’s NFL Draft with one of four quarterbacks each fighting to stake their claim over the Tar Heel offense.
Graduate transfer Brandon Harris–who played three seasons at LSU before coming to Chapel Hill over the summer–is the favorite to win the job thanks to his high-level starting experience.
Trubisky’s backup last season, sophomore Nathan Elliott, figures to be Harris’s top competition–despite having thrown just six passes in his college career.
Then there’s redshirt freshmen Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd, who each came to campus with high expectations and enter this season looking to carve out their spots in the pecking order.
Fedora won’t rule any of the four quarterbacks out at this point, and suggested he will rotate each of them through different groups during camp before making a decision.
“If they don’t separate themselves, it’ll go until five minutes before the [first] game,” the coach told reporters. “If somebody separates themselves, it’ll be at that point. So, we just need somebody to go ahead and separate themselves–and show that they want to lead this team, and that the offense is better when they’re on the field.”
The quarterbacks are all rooming together at the team hotel throughout training camp, building a bond off the field. On the field, however, the competition is only just beginning.
Senior wide receiver Austin Proehl–who is expected to be the Tar Heels’ top option in the passing game this season–has liked what he’s seen from the group so far.
“They’re together 24/7, and they get along really well,” Proehl said. “Then every time they step on the field, it’s competition. And we know that. Everybody’s competing.
“They understand that,” he continued. “We understand that. That’s what we all came here to do.”
Trubisky’s decision to forego his senior year was a smart one–in that it allowed him to take advantage of his first-round draft stock–but it left the Tar Heels a year behind schedule with their plans.
Fedora entered last season likely assuming he would have Trubisky for two years instead of just one. Had he stayed, the young quarterbacks would have had an extra year to develop–while Harris likely would have never transferred to UNC for his final college season.
The Tar Heels are where they are, though, and this is the reality.
Eight starters must be replaced on offense, and there are still four guys working to separate themselves at the most important of those positions.
This season could show the true mark of whether Fedora’s up-tempo offense makes the quarterback or if it might be the other way around.
On day one of training camp, however, Proehl didn’t waste words when asked about the players who are no longer on campus and how they’ll be replaced.
“Everybody talks about all the guys that are leaving,” he said. “Well we’ve got a bunch of guys here that can play. And I’m excited about our group.”
Photo via Avery Trendel