Shoop quickly summarized the pressure points for the 2011 offense: quarterback, running back, and tight end. All totaled, there are seven seniors departed from those three position groups -- Zack Pianalto, Ryan Taylor, and Ed Barham are gone from the tight end group, Anthony Elzy, Shaun Draughn, and Johnny White shouldered the load at the running back position, and UNC will be without record-setting quarterback T.J. Yates.
Yates, when healthy enough, has started every game for North Carolina since his freshman year. There has been little question in the last four years, at least from the coaches' perspective, who was the right guy to lead the offense
Given the importance of the quarterback position in today's game, the search for Yates' replacement should be the one that keeps Shoop up at night. Asked point blank about his comfort level at the quarterback position, Shoop didn't flinch.
"I've got a feeling that we'll get them ready to go," he said. "These guys will be confident and it won't be false confidence. These guys will be confident because they'll be drilled fundamentally. They'll know the game plan. And, they'll know that they have some weapons around them that if they just take advantage of those guys and distribute the ball, we'll be in business."
For spring ball there will be four players on the UNC depth chart at quarterback. Last year's back-up at quarterback was Bryn Renner, and Shoop says that Renner was Yates' fiercest competitor during the senior's tenure at UNC.
"As the backup last year, Bryn got an awful lot of practice reps, nearly 50 percent of the practice reps for the whole season," Shoop said. "So, he's gotten an awful lot of work, has a really strong arm, and is a very accurate passer. He's just got to do it with some live bullets and I've got no reason to think he won't. Ultra competitive, high energy guy, and it's authentic."
Renner carries the practice field reputation for being something of a gambler; a guy whose confidence in his arm tempts him to throw the ball into some very small windows.
"You can't play the position without confidence and there are some things you are going to learn the hard way," Shoop said. "What we're going to try to do is make sure he learns those lessons on the practice field and not on the game field.
"I want him to go out there with that confidence, because you've got to throw the ball into tight windows if you're going to play in this league, ‘cause there aren't any real big windows. But you've got to balance that – he clearly understands his number one job is to quarterback for this team and take care of the football. And, that's crystal clear to all of our quarterbacks. So, it's a balancing act and he's learning it."
One would expect that with Renner's sterling high school reputation and the unusually high number of practice reps he received last year during practice that he'd be the overwhelming favorite to win the job early this spring. Maybe, maybe not. At least according to Shoop, there's real competition there.
"One of the things we had last year, that we had never had before since I've been here, was competition at every spot," Shoop said. "We hadn't had that our first three years. Last year we had competition at every position. And, if you're the right kind of guy, competition will bring out the best in you.
"We've got a bunch of quarterbacks right now that work their tails off, that have seen how it's done, and that have a good demeanor and a responsible demeanor and understand what it means to be the quarterback at a big time program."
Does that mean that there's going to be some dual system of quarterbacks, splitting of reps, or some other type of rotating quarterbacks? That's not Shoop's style.
"I love them all dearly and I'm rooting for them all," Shoop said. "But, they know we're going to play with one quarterback. And, they are all competing to make each other better – it's a great bunch of guys."
(Check back tomorrow for Part II ...)