Photos by Smith Hardy
Brandon Harris and Nathan Elliott met with the Carolina football media for the first time following photo day at Kenan Stadium Monday afternoon. Harris and Elliot are two of the six quarterbacks on the Tar Heel roster, and with Mitch Trubisky now on the depth chart of the Chicago Bears, the signal-caller job is wide open, according to head coach Larry Fedora.
“Every one of them is getting the same amount of reps,” Fedora said Monday. “We’re getting two teams going at one time. We’re doing two run-throughs, we’re doing double of everything right now, and so they’re all getting an equal amount of reps.”
Harris and Elliott are the only two scholarship non-freshmen in the QB room (Elliott is a sophomore; Harris, a graduate transfer from LSU), and would appear to have a leg up on the competition. Rounding out the group are redshirt freshmen Logan Byrd and Chazz Surratt, true freshman Jack Davidson and junior walk-on Manny Miles.
Harris was the LSU starter in 2015, when he led the Tigers to a 9-3 record, including seven straight wins and a victory over Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl. After seeing action in just four games in 2016, he opted to graduate and transfer to Carolina.
Elliott, meanwhile, saw limited action a year ago as backup to Mitch Trubisky in Chapel Hill. Among the six quarterbacks in the room, he is the only one with experience in a Tar Heel uniform.
While Harris has big-game experience at LSU, Elliott has been in the Chapel Hill for more than two years –and one could do worse than learn at the feet of Trubisky and Marquise Williams. Watching the even-keeled Trubisky guide the Tar Heel offense last year has helped Elliott himself maintain his composure. “He would have a bad play and he’d come to the sideline and he’d be fine,” Elliott said of Trubisky. “He was always locked in to the game. We were never out of the fight. That’s the one thing I loved about Mitch. We’d talk about it all the time, just having composure and believing in yourself, being confident.”
But while Elliott admires his former teammate, he’s not trying to be him.
“I’m trying to focus on being the best Nathan Elliott that I can be,” he said. “I’m not really worried about what anyone else does, because I can only control what I can do.”
The same could be said for Harris, who came to Carolina without a promise of a spot atop the depth chart. While some schools courting the graduate transfer offered him the starting position, he and his father Detroit had other ideas.
“My dad and I sat down with Coach Fedora prior to me getting here,” Harris said, “and he made him promise that nothing was ever given to me.”
While Fedora appreciates the competition, he said he’d like to see a quarterback separate himself from the pack, and certainly prior to kickoff against Cal on September 2. The Tar Heels will scrimmage for the first time of the fall on Tuesday, and with that will come the first test of the quarterbacks’ leadership in the huddle. Fedora would like to see a quarterback emerge because he wants to see a leader emerge, and preferably sooner than later. “Because then that guy can zero in on leading the team,” he said. “Right now, they’re all competing, trying to earn a job, and it’s hard to really take over a team, because it’s not your team yet.”
Harris said Monday that despite the competition in the room, each quarterback is aimed at making the team better. “We’ve all got great relationships off the field and in the film room,” he said. W’e’re always helping each other, and they’ve been a big help to me, especially with those guys that have been in the system two or three years.”
Between the two, having been in the system has helped Elliott play with more abandon perhaps than Harris, who is still having to think as he learns the Tar Heel scheme. While Harris is “having to think about each thing that’s happening on the field,” according to Fedora, Elliott may be one step ahead –at least schematically– at this stage.
“One of my goals was just to really think about it from a coach’s perspective,” Elliott said. “What do we have to get right here? What do we have to get in this situation? I think that’s helped me a lot in this fall camp.”
But given his track record of excelling under pressure, Harris will have something to say, too. “When I was at LSU, we had seven or eight quarterbacks on scholarship my freshman year, and I didn’t flinch,” he said. “So obviously these guys have got a better grasp of the offense than I do, but I’m going to continue to work my tail of and let the chips fall where they may.”
It’s a new season in 2017, with many questions on offense, not the least of which is who will line up behind center for that season opener against the Bears. What’s gone is gone, and what’s done is done. “It’s a new team,” Elliott said. “We’re going to write a new story.”