UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky focused on beating Marquise Williams for starting job

acarter@newsobserver.comApril 7, 2014 

— Mitch Trubisky knows what some people might think – that he’s clearly behind Marquise Williams on the quarterback depth chart at North Carolina.

Trubisky understands that perception exists. After all, Williams ended last season as the Tar Heels’ starter, and he led UNC’s turnaround after its 1-5 start.

“I’ve heard that some people think (Williams is) the favorite or that he still has the job,” Trubisky, a redshirt freshman from Ohio, said recently. “It is an open competition. He was given the job last year because I was redshirting and Bryn (Renner) went down. But as far as I’m concerned, I have just as equal a right to be a starter this year as he does.”

Whether Trubisky emerges as UNC’s starting quarterback won’t be determined until August, when preseason practice begins, if then. During the past few weeks of spring practice, though, Trubisky has attempted to put himself in a position to win the starting job.

Unseating Williams won’t be easy. He started four of UNC’s final five games last season – all of them after Renner, a senior, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury – and Williams led the Tar Heels to a 4-1 finish, including a victory against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

Williams during that stretch perhaps exceeded expectations. His scrambling ability helped UNC overcome its suspect pass protection, and he gradually earned the trust of coach Larry Fedora and former offensive coordinator Blake Anderson.

Trubisky, though, has one thing going for him: He is considered the most talented quarterback prospect that Fedora has recruited to UNC. When UNC introduced Fedora as its head coach in December 2011, he quickly signed Kanler Coker, a quarterback from Flowerly Branch, Ga.

In the Tar Heels’ next recruiting class, Fedora turned his focus to Trubisky, who was named Ohio’s “Mr. Football” during his senior year at Mentor High School. When Trubisky chose to play at UNC, many expected him to be Renner’s successor – though Williams’ performance last season quieted that speculation.

Trubisky said Fedora told him he would likely redshirt his freshman season.

“And that’s what we did,” Trubisky said. “They almost looked to pull it at the end of last season, but we ended up sticking with the redshirt and (Fedora) said the best man’s going to play (this season). So if I’m the best man, he’s going to put me in the game no matter what year I am.”

During spring practice, Williams and Trubisky have split work evenly with the first team, Fedora said. That’s likely to continue on Saturday during UNC’s annual blue-white scrimmage, which will conclude spring practice.

Fedora last week hesitated to say whether the quarterback depth chart has changed – an indication that Williams is still atop it – but he made clear that there’s an open competition for the position.

“I don’t think that we’ve had a change in the order right now,” Fedora said. “(Williams is) still getting the reps. But you know, we roll them. One guy gets reps with the ones – starts the day with the ones – and then the next day the other guy starts with the ones.”

Fedora said it would remain that way – an even rotation – “until somebody starts stepping out ahead of the other.”

A year ago, Trubisky appeared likely to succeeded Renner. Trubisky graduated from high school early and participated in spring practice last year, and Fedora at times raved about how quickly he was picking up the offense.

Williams, meanwhile, didn’t go through spring practice last year, and he wasn’t enrolled in school. He instead served a suspension related to academics. Eventually, he worked his way back and worked to rebuild his relationships with his coaches and teammates.

Fedora has said he was surprised by Williams’ successful comeback but, even so, Williams’ hold on the starting job seems tenuous. As well as Williams played at times toward the end of last season, he said last week that he expected Trubisky to provide significant competition for the starting position.

“He’s a guy that comes to compete every day,” Williams said of Trubisky. “I love competition. Competition – that’s been in my blood for I don’t know how long, but he’s a great guy and I love the way he pushes me and I push him.”

Like Trubisky, Williams arrived at UNC a heralded recruit. A former standout at Mallard Creek High in Charlotte, Williams had to wait a while for his opportunity to become a starter.

He smiled last week when told of Trubisky’s confident words.

“I love it,” Williams said. “It’s competition. Ain’t no harm. I know if I was in the same situation I’d say the same thing. He’s a great guy and he’s a competitive guy and I love it. And we’re going to be brothers regardless.”

Regardless of what has transpired in spring practice – and what will transpire on Saturday during the spring game – the quarterback competition is likely to stretch on into the preseason. Williams has been trying to hold on to his position, while Trubisky has attempted to prove the competition is as open as he believes it is.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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