The North Carolina football team kicked off spring practice Sunday, and the highly anticipated quarterback competition is just getting started.
Head coach Mack Brown revealed that he is flirting with the idea of using multiple quarterbacks, which former head coach Larry Fedora also did at times during his tenure.
After the departure of rising redshirt senior Nathan Elliott and rising redshirt junior Chazz Surratt making the switch from quarterback to linebacker, three quarterbacks are left competing for the starting job.
“We’ve got four good quarterbacks,” running back Michael Carter said. “One of them plays defense. But the three that are competing for the starting job, they’re all friends so it’s not bad blood, it's friendly competition.”
Those three quarterbacks are early enrollee Sam Howell and rising redshirt first-years Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder. Both Fortin and Ruder gained experience during last season’s injury-ridden campaign.
Typically, quarterback competitions end with one player earning the starting job to begin the year. However, Brown has not ruled out playing multiple quarterbacks yet.
“We really need two, you can’t play with one anymore,” Brown said. “We’re going to try and get at least two of them ready to play, and we would like to have all three of them ready to play.”
Using multiple quarterbacks may make UNC fans cringe because it has been unsuccessful for the team the last two years when used by Fedora. The quarterback position has been a revolving door for the Tar Heels of late and it could serve the team well to have a consistent starter.
Despite flirting with using multiple quarterbacks, Brown is looking for someone to stand out.
“Our goal would be, by fall, to obviously separate some,” Brown said. “You don’t have to do that tomorrow because we want to see all of them and see what they can do.”
Fortin has more in-game experience at the collegiate level than his two counterparts, as he appeared in four games last season and started two. He completed 32 passes for 388 yards, threw one touchdown and one interception.
Ruder appeared in just one game last season but impressed in his short outing. He completed four passes on five attempts for 80 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with an injury.
The quarterback with the most promise, however, might be Howell. The first-year, who was ranked as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback recruit in the country according to 247Sports, enrolled early to participate in spring practice.
“I'm happy for each one of them, getting to come out here and show their stuff,” Surratt said. “I think any one of them can lead the team to wins.”
No matter which quarterback earns the starting job, the blueprint for the UNC offense has become pretty clear. Brown and the coaching staff would like a quarterback that is mobile and can run the offense quickly.
“We’re moving it right now,” offensive lineman Charlie Heck said. “The tempo is flying around and we like that in an offense.”
That quick tempo is credited to offensive coordinator Phil Longo, who is known for his air-raid style offense. In that offense, the quarterback position is crucial.
“I said the other day that the thing we want in a quarterback is who leads the team the best, who gets in the end zone the most,” Brown said. “You’ve got to score points modern day to win. Which one of those guys can get the team in the end zone the most is the one that is going to play.”
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