By Turner Walston
It’s the elephant in the room, the number one question on the lips of reporters, fans, students, and probably even Tar Heel football players themselves: Who’s going to start at quarterback when Carolina opens the season against Liberty?
The weekly game notes offered no clues: on the depth chart, #12 junior Marquise Williams has an ‘OR’ next to his name, with #10 redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky directly underneath. Williams OR Trubisky. One OR the other.
If Larry Fedora knows who’s going to jog out and take the first offensive snap of the 2014 season, he’s not telling. Fedora may have made a decision, but he’s not telling you, or me, the fans, opposing teams or the media, especially. It’s the ace in his back pocket: Fedora has to start one on Saturday, but not before. So for the next few days, he can toy with those who want to know.
The fact is Larry Fedora is not all that terribly concerned about the quarterback position, at least not to the degree that he is about some other positions on the depth chart. The Tar Heel head coach knows he has two talented options there. If he starts Trubisky, he’s got a proven winner with a bowl championship under his belt on the bench in Williams. If he starts Williams, he’s got Ohio’s Mr. Football and a Parade All-America right there in Trubisky. Both have taken first and second-team reps in training camp, and both are prepared to play. “We’ve been very meticulous in how we’ve repped them in practice and made sure that they’ve both got reps in every group, and we’ll continue to do that,” Fedora said Monday. Even after an announcement (private or public), the staff will prep the quarterbacks as if both will play.
That strategy helped last season when quarterback Bryn Renner was unable to go at Virginia Tech, and Williams was able to get valuable experience on the road in Blacksburg. When Renner was injured for the season at NC State, the Tar Heels then had in Williams a quarterback that wasn’t brand new to ACC football. With Williams directing the attack, Carolina finished 5-1 in their final six games.
And even before Renner’s injury, Williams had seen action as a change-of-pace quarterback who could hurt defenses with a designed run or a pass. “Marquise had reps, and I think that helped us in the first game that he played, and then along down the stretch,” Fedora said. “You like your number two to have a little bit of meaningful experience going in to a season.”
By all appearances, it’s actually a friendly competition between Williams and Trubisky. Each wants to start, but they know that their attitudes, positive or negative, will be infectious.
So, they’re encouraging each other, high-fiving and taking charge of the energy at practice. “Our relationship is unbelievable. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, y’all are competing, so you aren’t friends.’ We text every day. We go to Defy Gravity. We jump on trampolines,” Williams said. “What happens next, happens next. Regardless, we’re going to both win football games for the University of North Carolina, and we’re going to take this team to something nice and special.”
Certainly both Williams and Trubisky feel the competitive fire (else they wouldn’t be college football players), but both recognize each other’s talent and ability. “You’ve got to stick together. You’ve got to become a brotherhood for our team to be good and we’ve realized that,” Trubisky said. “We’re just out here pushing each other, and whoever’s the quarterback, we’v got to accept our role and move forward.”
It’s not out of the question that the two could play complementary roles, with both seeing the field as game conditions dictate, not unlike Renner and Williams a year ago. It’s very likely that we’ll see both Williams and Trubisky run the offense to some degree this weekend against Liberty, and any final decision on a depth chart (or a rotation) won’t be determined until later in the season.
Regardless, the coaches and the players involved know that the quarterback who gives the team the best chance to win is going to be on the field. But even without a decision to this point, with Saturday’s game approaching, it’s nice to know that Fedora is confident in his quarterbacks - plural. “I’ve said from all the way back in the spring that I believe we’ve got two guys that we can with it and it’s really not a position that I’m deeply concerned about, actually,” he said. “If we can get to a point –and we will get to a point where we have that type of competition at every position on this football team. When we do, then we’re going to be a really good football team. We’re going to reach the goals that we all have.”