The North Carolina football team has a lot of questions heading into the 2017 season. The annual spring game served as an audition for open spots in the fall
The Tar Heels completed their spring game with the white team defeating the blue team 80-70 at Fetzer Field on Saturday afternoon. The venue was changed from Kenan Stadium, which was getting work done on the field.
Head coach Larry Fedora was pleased with a lot of the things he saw during the game.
“We got some good things accomplished out there today,” Fedora said. “The one defense looked really good out there when we had them against the one offense, and the two offense looked good against the two defense.”
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One of the biggest questions going into the game was who will replace Tar Heels signal-caller Mitch Trubisky, who left for the NFL after a successful junior campaign.
Despite already having four quarterbacks on the roster, there is a notion that incoming transfer Brandon Harris, from LSU, will be the likely favorite to get the starting job in the 2017 season. Harris was unavailable for the spring game, however, giving the quarterbacks already on the roster an opportunity to show the coaching staff their potential.
The Tar Heels have four quarterbacks on the roster: redshirt freshmen Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd, junior Manny Miles and sophomore Nathan Elliott, who served as Trubisky’s backup for the 2016 season. Byrd and Miles are both regarded as pro-style quarterbacks while Surratt and Elliot are considered dual-threat field generals.
While all the quarterbacks played in the game, linebacker Andre Smith already has his preference of who he wants to start for the Heels.
“I know that Elliott has been here for a while, and he deserves a shot, but Chazz, he brings a different perspective to the game,” Smith said. “Not only can he throw, but he is very fast. He brings that Lamar Jackson quality with the zone-read ability and provides a different dynamic.”
Even though none of the quarterbacks threw an interception on the day, the two standouts for the Tar Heels were Elliot and Surratt. Surratt got the start for the Heels with Elliot taking his first snaps on the third drive of the game. Surratt getting the start was more of a “rotation” setup as opposed to an indication as a favorite as the starter.
Elliot finished the game with 213 yards and three touchdowns on 8-of-12 passing, while Surratt had 90 yards on 5-of-14 passing.
On his final two drives of the first half, Elliott had a 30-yard touchdown pass to Roscoe Johnson and followed that up with a 65-yard touchdown to Austin Proehl to end the half.
Miles had a solid game too for the Heels, as he threw for a touchdown on his last drive, which he went 3-for-3 for 34 yards.
Byrd, on the other hand, struggled at times during his drives with the blue team. Byrd was seen on a number of occasions staring down his wide receivers and was put in situations to get sacked. Byrd did finish with a touchdown on the final drive of the game. Byrd overcame his early struggles to finish with a solid 120 yards on 12 completions.
Despite the solid performance from all four quarterbacks, Fedora was not nearly ready to name a starter going into the fall, let alone summer.
“I’d say they made a lot of progress, but I wouldn’t say anyone separated themselves.” Fedora said. “We’ll get into the summer and fall camp, and if someone separates at that time, then we’ll make a decision. I’m not anywhere close to making a decision.”
While Byrd struggled to throw the ball from the pocket, he showed decent amount of mobility out of the pocket and even had a 20-yard run for a first down. Byrd also had a touchdown on the final play of the game.
Other holes that need filling for the Tar Heels, who lost Elijah Hood, T.J. Logan and Ryan Switzer, are running back and wide receiver.
At wide receiver, both Proehl and Johnson made big plays, showing some evidence they could be depended on to be explosive playmakers for the Tar Heels. Juval Mollette, a 6-4 sophomore wideout, had three touchdowns, showing potential of being a threat for the Heels. Fedora attributed his success as being healthy for a full spring.
“This was the first offseason that (Juval) was able to go through with us,” Fedora said. “He’s really getting to that point, strength-wise, where he can do something. We are just now getting back to where he’s feeling comfortable with the offense.”
The running backs had a much more difficult time. Most of the carries resulted in runs for less than 5 yards. Unfortunately junior Jacob Schmidt had to be helped off the field in the waning moments of the game following an 8-yard run.
Senior offensive lineman Bentley Spain was not concerned with the production and was pleased that the team had a plethora of talented players at running back.
“We’ve had couple guys get reps at running back, and every single one has made some runs,” Spain said. “It’s hard to put some of today’s struggles on them, we as an offensive line have to do our job so that they can do theirs and be explosive for us.”
As for Schmidt’s injury, Smith was concerned but recognized that the team needs to play and practice like it’s an actual game.
“I feel bad for my man Schmidt,” Smith said. “I don’t know what happened. It sucks to see our teammates hurt, but at the end of the day, you have to practice at the end of the day.”
Another big absence for the Heels was Michael Carter, an early enrollee for the team, who was dealing with ankle issues. Smith mentioned Carter’s quickness as a reason why the team is so excited about his talent.
“He’s very quick,” Smith said. “In practice, there was a really small hole, and he was able to get through the hole and make a big run, I still don’t know how he did it.”
The lone touchdown for the Tar Heels at the running back position came from Darius Graves, who scored on an 11-yard run. Graves finished the game with 65 yards on 21 carries
Antonio James also had some solid runs at the end of the game, including a run for over 10 yards on one of the Tar Heels’ last drives.
While the team did show flashes in a lot of areas, Fedora stressed individual effort as a major focal point going forward with the team into the 2017 season.
“Making sure they have a base when we go into the summer, because summer is going to be a grind,” Fedora said. “They gotta put the time in on their own, and it’s gonna take some extra effort on a lot of them because they don’t have a lot of experience yet.”