CHAPEL HILL — CHAPEL HILL -- Spring football practice opened Wednesday for North Carolina, and for the first time in five seasons, the Tar Heels will have a new quarterback.
Coach Butch Davis hasn't designated a starter, but redshirt sophomore Bryn Renner is expected to be the front-runner after taking more than half the snaps with the first team in practice last season. Former starter T.J. Yates graduates this spring.
Before practice Wednesday, Davis said there will be "some very good competition" at the position," mentioning Renner, A.J. Blue, freshman signee Marquise Williams and Braden Hanson.
"So that will be a lot of fun watching those four guys grow and develop as quarterbacks," Davis said.
Even so, Renner figures to benefit from his work last season.
"It did two things," Davis said. "It gave Bryn the confidence that we trusted him. He got a chance to work with everybody. It also helped T.J. Right now, we want these four guys to go out and learn as much as they can. They're going to make some mistakes, and we understand that. They've got to push the envelope. They've got to find out how they can play and compete."
Davis was asked if Renner had stepped into the leadership role.
"It'll be interesting because when you're not the starter at any position sometimes there's a little hesitancy, a feeling like I don't want to overstep my boundary," David said. "But you can see things that Bryn has done in the offseason."
Davis noted that Renner has organized get-togethers on the weekends and after class.
Junior receiver Jheranie Boyd mentioned those kinds of interactions, along with watching film, as the things that build the important relationships between the quarterbacks and receivers.
Junior receiver Erik Highsmith said spring practices, which last 15 days, are very important.
"We're just trying to develop chemistry and timing, just getting [the quarterbacks] to trust us," Highsmith said. "We've been with them two years, it's just they're in a bigger role now so we'll be on the field more, more reps. Really just trying to get timing and trust down."
Renner, while acknowledging that he is trying to take more of a leadership role, said he's not approaching these spring practices any differently than when he was a long shot to win the starting role.
"I think I'm taking the same approach as I always do," Renner said. "Last year, I took the same approach. I was just coming in here to compete. Every practice I take that approach, like it's a game, and I'm ready to play."
In last year's spring game, Renner completed 15 of 21 passes for 184, a touchdown and two interceptions, prompting calls for him to earn the starting role last year over Yates. Asked about the starting role for this season, he tiptoed.
"I know every day that we have three other quarterbacks in there that are ready to compete with me so you have got to be on the top of your game every time, and Coach Shoop is not going to let me rest, even if I am the starter or whoever the starter is," he said.
Meanwhile, UNC announced Wednesday that it has released defensive lineman Delvon Simmons of McKeesport, Pa., from his football national letter-of-intent. Simmon had signed with the Tar Heels on Feb. 2.
"We ... allowed him to pursue other options," Davis said.
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