North Carolina Tar Heels: It’s On Trubisky’s Shoulders

Sep 17, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) looks to pass in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 17, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) looks to pass in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The North Carolina Tar Heels have never had an elite quarterback prospect before. Mitch Trubisky is in uncharted territory there.

Draft Day. For the North Carolina Tar Heels, this will be the oddest draft day of them all. They will witness a quarterback get selected in the first five or so picks of the NFL Draft. For the first time in memory, a Tar Heel will have the pressure of leading one of the NFL’s franchises from day 1 of their career. That is the strange fate of Mitch Trubisky.

It isn’t that the Tar Heels have not produced highly coveted players before. This is the school that produced Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor, after all. Ten years ago, the Tar Heels ranked in the top ten in terms of success that their draft entrants had. Just yesterday, the Tar Heels were ranked the number one school for producing defensive linemen in the draft by ESPN.

It really goes to the lack of quarterback prospects that have come out of Chapel Hill. The school was running back U there for awhile, replacing 1,000 yard back with 1,000 yard back and those players were the engines of the offense. From Don McCauley to Amos Lawrence to Kelvin Bryant to Natrone Means to Johnson & Johnson, they were the guys. The quarterback was secondary, or even a running back in temporary fashion.

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There was a quarterbacking surge of sorts in the 2000s. It corresponded with a decline in the Tar Heel defensive mentality and the rebuilding of the offensive line. Darian Durant played during this time and proceeded to break all the quarterback records available over his four years. It wasn’t by design. If John Bunting had his way, the Heels would have run the ball as in days of old. It simply wasn’t possible.

Durant went undrafted before competing with Derek Anderson for the practice squad quarterback role with the Baltimore Ravens. He lost out, went to Canada, and won a Grey Cup as a starter. He will start for the Montreal Alouettes this season. The guy who wrote the record book didn’t really get a sniff at the NFL. That is because that record book was not too hard to write.

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  • To prove the point was T.J. Yates. Yates broke many of Durant’s records (not the rushing related ones) because he too played four years. Again, the offense was supposed to be a run first system. Butch Davis never played the running back he needed (Gio Bernard only saw action after the scandal fallout), settling ultimately for converted safety Shaun Draughn. Draughn is in the NFL right now, but those teams depended on Yates more than they should have. Equipped with two future pro receivers, Yates did a lot of good work.

    When it came to draft day, Yates had at least one supporter – Trent Dilfer. He went in the fifth round, and found himself the starter by virtue of injuries to the Texans quarterbacks in front of him. He owns the crowning achievement of any Carolina quarterback to date, a playoff victory over the Bengals. Then Yates could not beat the eventual champion Ravens in the next game. The Texans never viewed him as the successor to Matt Schaub and he has bounced around the league making a comfortable living as a second or third string quarterback.

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    As meaningless as it sounds, he is the resume for Tar Heels quarterbacks in the pros. None have done more than Yates up to now. Yates’ successor at Chapel Hill, Bryn Renner, was set to break all of Yates’ records. He did break some of them as the offense shifted to a more quarterback oriented one under Larry Fedora. Renner was prevented by injury from making his final mark on the record book since he was the first guy who got to run the quick tempo spread. Renner still makes training camp rosters at this point.

    Marquise Williams got more time in the system than Renner did and he broke the remaining Durant records and some of the remaining Yates records. Yet, Williams was overlooked by the pros too.

    This brings us to Trubisky. He owns very few of the passing records in his one year as a starter. He did not play for three or four years as each of his significant predecessors did to earn all those marks. Yet he will be the new standard for the program. Each move, each start, and each play will be a verdict of the Larry Fedora system and whether it can produce pro quarterbacks. It may also be a perceived issue of whether the school itself can do it.

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    Probably Trubisky will take that all in stride, leaving us to fret and stress about whether he’s about to blow it or not. Tar Heel fans have had to watch Cutcliffe proteges and the State trio of Rivers, Glennon, and Wilson have certain levels of success. Now we have one of our own, and we don’t want to waste him.