The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 7th

Tar Heels in the Pros: Trubisky locked in QB battle, Howell impresses early

UNC junior running back Javonte Williams (25) leaps over a Miami defender during a game in Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. UNC beat Miami 62-26. Photo courtesy of Jeff Camarati via UNC Athletic Communications.
Buy Photos UNC junior running back Javonte Williams (25) leaps over a Miami defender during a game in Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. UNC beat Miami 62-26. Photo courtesy of Jeff Camarati via UNC Athletic Communications.

Approaching the midway point of the NFL preseason, former Tar Heels have entered new roles across the league. 

Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Howell are trying to stand out in unsettled quarterback situations, Javonte Williams looks primed to become a star and Robert Quinn is coming off a career year. 

Here's an update on four Tar Heels in the NFL weeks away from the start of the season. 

Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers

After spending last season as a backup to Josh Allen in Buffalo, Trubisky is primed to step into a bigger role in the new campaign. The former No. 2 pick is locked in a battle for the starting spot in Pittsburgh with 2022 first-rounder Kenny Pickett, but Trubisky started the Steelers' preseason opener. 

The 28-year-old threw for 63 yards and a touchdown in his Steelers debut, but Pickett put together a game-winning drive to secure a narrow Pittsburgh victory. Entering his sixth season and joining his third team, this campaign could be Trubisky’s last chance to prove he can be a consistent starter at the NFL level.  

Javonte Williams, running back, Denver Broncos 

After spending his rookie season splitting carries for the Denver Broncos, Williams appears to be in line for a sophomore jump. 

Despite sharing time with former Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon in 2021, Williams finished the campaign with 903 yards out of the backfield, 316 through the air and seven total touchdowns. With the addition of former Super-Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson, the Broncos have the potential to be one of the league's top offenses, and Williams’ receiving abilities could be a vital part of the team's production. 

If he can win the majority of the reps in Denver, the former 1,000-yard rusher at UNC could be one of the NFL’s top running backs in 2022. 

Robert Quinn, EDGE, Chicago Bears

In 2021, Quinn quietly put together one of the most dominant defensive performances in the NFL. In his 11th season, the former Tar Heel finished with the second-most sacks in the league with 18.5 and was top-10 in the tackles-for-loss category. Quinn has only surpassed last year's sack total once in his career back in 2013.  

After playing for four teams in four seasons from 2017-2020, Quinn has found a home in the Windy City, and will look to be a leader of the defense under first-year head coach Matt Eberflus.

Coming off his third Pro Bowl appearance, Quinn has continued to be one of the league’s top pass rushers. He should continue to be a bright spot for the rebuilding Bears in 2022. 

Sam Howell, quarterback, Washington Commanders

After a stellar career with the Tar Heels, Howell isn’t in contention to earn the week one job in Washington. But the Commanders’ quarterback job has rarely stayed settled for long over the past 20 years, and with current starter Carson Wentz on his third team in as many years, there could be room for Howell to grow into playing time at some point in his Washington tenure. 

In the Commanders’ opening preseason game, the fifth-round pick threw for 145 yards and rushed for two touchdowns against his hometown Carolina Panthers. He also put together an array of impressive highlights and nearly completed a fourth quarter comeback after entering the game in a deep hole. 

Though he will have to also fight for playing time with quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who has started games in each of the last two seasons, Howell seems to be in position to make Washington's opening roster in 2022.  

@zachycrain

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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