It’s been awhile since North Carolina has faced real questions about its future at the quarterback position.
Dating back to the Butch Davis era, when T.J. Yates started under center, highly-touted passer Bryn Renner became the heir apparent when he signed with the Tar Heels as part of the program’s 2009 recruiting class. Renner started for three years, but when a shoulder injury cut short his senior season in 2013, Marquise Williams performed well enough to hold onto the starting job through the end of the year and into the next autumn.
Sure, UNC’s coaching staff rotated Williams and Mitch Trubisky early in 2014, but anyone paying attention knew Williams was the better option. It was also clear that the coaches were so eager to get Trubisky on the field that, even though he was taking a back seat to Williams at the time, he was a lock for No. 1 spot in 2016.
Behind Trubisky? Former consensus four-star recruit Caleb Henderson reserved that spot … or so it seemed.
Following Henderson’s poor showing in UNC’s spring game and Larry Fedora’s comments at ACC Media Days that the backup job was wide open, the situation became murky. More questions were raised when Henderson left the program last week and eventually picked Maryland as his transfer destination.
For now, redshirt freshman Nathan Elliott will step up as the next man in line, but will he ultimately be the player who succeeds Trubisky (now a junior)?
Elliott arrived in Chapel Hill as part of UNC’s 2015 signing class. He capped a decorated prep career at Celina High School in Texas by throwing for 2,624 yards and 44 touchdowns (with 10 interceptions) as a senior.
Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora praised Elliott this summer for how quickly he was able to pick up the offense. However, the 6-1, 195-pound signal-caller could face serious competition by the time the starting job opens up again.
UNC welcomed a pair of heavily-recruited freshman quarterbacks this year, Logan Byrd and Chazz Surratt. Both are likely to redshirt this season, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be deprived of chances to move up the depth chart.
At 6-3 and 230 pounds, Byrd possesses ideal size for the position. Not only did he thrive as a high school passer (3,902 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior), but he also showed off his mobility (930 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground). He already has a semester under his belt after enrolling early and going through spring practices.
Surratt (6-3, 205) shined in the high school ranks as well. His senior season earned him Parade National Player of the Year honors. He passed for 3,536 yards and 51 touchdowns (with 10 interceptions) and ran for 1,345 yards and 15 more scores.
While Elliott holds the edge in experience, Byrd and Surratt have more physical tools. That could mean a three-man race is on the horizon once Trubisky’s college career ends.
For the first time in nearly a decade, no one on UNC’s roster can be identified as the clear-cut “quarterback of the future.” That should create plenty of competition among the reserves as they spend the next two years battling for the first snap of the 2018 season.