Position-by-position -- The Quarterbacks

Inside Carolina completes its position-by-position analysis with this look at the critical position of quarterback. Is Curry headed for a grand finale? What about the reserves? Let's take a look.

Quarterbacks

North Carolina will have five quarterbacks on scholarship when freshman Matt Baker reports to practice. That is a far cry from what the Tar Heels went through last year when they entered spring practice with a converted safety, Antwon Black, as their number one quarterback. What is the pecking order among the quarterbacks?

No one doubts that Ronald Curry will be the starter at quarterback for the Tar Heels. He is coming off a record-setting year for a UNC quarterback in total offense. Curry passed for 2325 yards, and rushed for another 354 yards.

After five games last year, Curry was number eleven in the nation in passing efficiency. He then hurt his knee, spraining it in game six. At that point, he was 9-5 in touchdown-to-interception ratio. The rest of the season he only threw two touchdown passes while tossing seven more interceptions. His rushing totals also went down after the injury. If he can stay healthy, not only can he be one of the league's top signal-callers -- he can lead the Tar Heels to a lot of victories.

Curry did not play in the spring game, though he did participate to a limited extent in spring practice. Coach Bunting said of Curry's spring, "I think Ronald served himself well by getting out there and doing what he did. Does he have it all down? No -- far from it. But he would have been a lot farther behind if we hadn't done what we did."

How well did Curry progress under a new offensive scheme brought in by offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill? Bunting says, "The last couple of days he was out there, he struggled a little bit. Initially I thought he was doing quite well. It is just obvious he still has some rust he has to get off, basketball season has worn him done some, so he just needs to freshen up some and get ready to go."

What does Curry need to do to prepare himself for the season? According to Coach Bunting, "He has really got to get committed here in the summer, get with Coach Tranquill, get back on our weight program, get in the right frame of mind, and really concentrate on football. It is a key, and he can really help us because he has a great arm, he has got a good mind, and he is obviously a great athlete."

Curry may have done just that. Word has it that he has been committed to football this summer, working on his own time in passing drills with the offense. He reportedly has had a good off-season in strength and conditioning as well.

Coach Bunting says, "I think Ronald, with a terrific summer here and getting involved with his teammates more than he has in the past, and getting involved throwing the ball with his teammates in an informal situation, will only get better."

A trio of less experienced quarterbacks, junior Luke Huard, and two red-shirt freshmen, Aaron Leak and Darian Durant, got a lot of snaps in the spring. All had a good Blue-White game.

Darian Durant had a good passing day (8-14, 57%, 135 yards, 1 TD), and added 32 yards rushing on three carries. Aaron Leak completed 4-8 passes for 83 yards, which included a 41-yard touchdown strike to Kory Bailey. Luke Huard was the most accurate passer, connecting on nine of 12 pass attempts for 103 yards, and also had a touchdown pass, a 31-yard completion to Bosley Allen.

Did the Blue-White performance by the quarterbacks surprise Coach Bunting? Yes – pleasantly -- in fact.

"I was really pleased with the way our quarterbacks played today. There have been days when I would have thrown all of them off the field. And there have been days when I have been saying our back up quarterback is up in Birmingham, Michigan playing lacrosse right now (a reference to incoming true freshman quarterback Matt Baker)."

Were Bunting's comments were intended to motivate the reserves? Hard to say, but Bunting seems to have no trouble when it comes to saying what he thinks. Coach Bunting did seem impressed with the performance of the reserve quarterbacks in the spring game, saying, "They showed up today.... under a little bit of pressure out there in a game-type situation."

Bunting gave specifics about the things he liked from the reserve quarterbacks, "Durant battled, Leak threw some deep balls…. We got a good look at those guys. I think it helped them a great deal." He also noted their progress, "In the first scrimmage, I think they all put the ball on the ground about ten times, [today] I don't think they even put the ball on the ground once."

Running back Willie Parker had this to say about the reserve quarterbacks, "The quarterbacks are catching on…The terminology is a lot different – there are a lot more words to learn, a lot more things called in the huddle…you have to know what everybody is doing in this offense."

Did the spring game settle any questions about who the number two quarterback will be next season? Not according to Bunting who said, "As of today, the three of them [Huard, Leak, Durant] will battle it out along with the rookie.' [true freshman Matt Baker]."

The Tar Heels got some good news when Chris Stephens, 6-2, 215-pound quarterback who played the last two years at the University of Florida, announced he is transferring to Carolina. Stevens will have to sit out this season because of NCAA rules regarding transfers, but will be expected to compete for the starter's job in 2002.

Says Coach Bunting, "Chris will have an opportunity to learn our offensive system during the upcoming season, then compete for playing time in 2002."

For next year, the Tar Heels will concentrate on keeping Ronald Curry protected and healthy, a sore spot with Coach Bunting.

In an interview with Tarheelblue.com, Coach Bunting said," The first question I asked anyone who was interviewed about being an offensive coordinator here at Carolina was, `How are you going to protect the quarterback?' I want the quarterback to be protected. I want him to be taught how to get rid of the ball no matter how many they are bringing."

A big year from Ronald Curry will have a tremendous impact on the 2001 Tar Heels. The Tar Heels could surprise a lot of teams that will be favored to win.

This is Curry's last chance to silence his critics, who expected more from him when he came to UNC as the number one rated high school football player.

If he stays healthy, the odds of a great year -- and a successful season for the Tar Heels, increase dramatically.


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