Photos by Smith Hardy
As we mentioned yesterday, there are three names listed under quarterback on this week's Carolina football depth chart ahead of Saturday's season opener with Cal: Brandon Harris OR Chazz Surratt OR Nathan Elliott. And at Monday's press conference, Larry Fedora stressed that the position battle continued to be wide open. When asked to compare the 2017 training camp with that of three years ago –when Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky vied for the starting spot– he said, "That year was probably just two guys that really had a legitimate shot, and I think that we have an opportunity to have more guys than just two this year. "
And yes, if publicly Fedora is saying that this is a three-man race, it's likely very close. But behind closed doors, indications are that it's down to Harris, the graduate transfer from LSU and Surratt, the redshirt freshman. At Saturday's mock game, Surratt and Harris split the first-team reps nearly evenly, according to a source, with Surratt looking more game-ready. That would put Nathan Elliott third.
Fedora said Monday that Surratt had made tremendous strides from a year ago, and a lot of his development took place over the summer. "I think that he's gotten quite a bit better than he was last year, and I think that's just a full year into it and understanding the expectations of how we practice and what the focus level has to be each day to be an elite quarterback," the head coach said. "And sitting behind Trubisky for a year and watching him and watching how he approached each and every day and what he did, was really good for [Chazz]."
And Harris continues to find a comfort level in the Carolina offense after joining the program this summer. "I think he's improved quite a bit in the few weeks that he's been here, just as far as the communication, understanding the offense and what we expect," Fedora said, "So yeah, I'm comfortable with where it is right now."
On Monday, The News & Observer's Andrew Carter asked an interesting question: if Fedora had been able to foresee Surratt's development to this point, would he have pursued a graduate transfer who could come in and start at quarterback? "I would have done it exactly like we did it," Fedora said. "I wouldn't change that, again, because Brandon brings something that none of the other guys have, his game experience, and so we really need somebody in that room with some game experience."
Although Fedora said he would love to have been able to name a starter weeks ago, it's looking like we could see more than one quarterback take snaps in Saturday's opener. And if he names a starter privately, the backup is going to be ready to step in at a moment's notice. Even though the Williams/Trubisky rotation did not have much success for either individual in 2014, the reps that Trubisky was able to take helped his development and readiness, setting up for a record-breaking 2016. "I think that was one of the things that Mitch in his early development did a really good job of, is when a helmet came off and he went out there, he made a play," Fedora said. "And so that showed me that he was prepared, because that's the only way that you're going to really find out. It's not what you say in the classroom. It's not what you say in the meeting room, it's what you do when you get out there."
Those comments may further indicate that the Tar Heel coaching staff would like to get a look at more than one guy when an opponent stands across the line of scrimmage on Saturday. Because if the race is really as close as Fedora says it is, there are at least two –and maybe three– quarterbacks capable of directing the Tar Heel attack.