Spring Practice: The QB

Spring Practice report from Miller Safrit: The Quarterback position.

Coming off of an exciting 8-5 2001 season filled with defensive highlights, it is the offense's turn to steal the spotlight.  Returning 8 starters from last year's team that averaged 27 points and 366 yards per game, the Tar Heels plan on increasing that production through a more cohesive and wide-open offense.


However, North Carolina lost both quarterbacks, Ronald Curry to graduation and Darian Durant to a transfer, and all quarterbacks on the roster are largely inexperienced – with a combined one snap between the five of them at the collegiate level.


Currently sitting at the number one spot on the depth chart is Junior C.J. Stephens.  A transfer from Gainesville, Florida by way of the University of Florida and the tutelage of current Redskins coach Steve Spurrier. 


Stephens is a very polished passer with an excellent arm.  As a testimony of his ability, Stephens was a terror against the ACC's best passing defense in practice last year, and has not missed a beat going into this year.  In his very first practice as the number one quarterback, Stephens launched two bombs for touchdowns on his first two throws in 11-on-11 drills.


Not only does Stephens have the ability to get the ball to where on the correct target, but he also has the awareness to check down through his receivers and deliver the ball to a tight end or a fullback – a new feature in the North Carolina offense.  An excellent physical specimen, Stephens has a gun for an arm – easily the strongest quarterback on the team.  His deep balls have little need for an arch on them. 


The only true question on Stephens is his ability to perform in game situations, which will be addressed on April 13 in front of thousands of fans.


His backup is a player formed from much the same mold.  Red shirt-freshman Matt Baker spent quite some time in the weight room since he arrived on campus last fall, and it is showing on the field.  Baker has a much better build this spring both upper-body and lower-body.  He is an excellent talent, though his ability is still raw at the moment. 


Currently the questions on Baker stand as first and foremost, his footwork (he has some trouble getting the correct depth on certain play-action) and refining of his accuracy.  The talent is there, as evidenced by one specific throw to Bobby Blizzard perfectly beyond the reaches of a sprawling Malcolm Stewart.


Third on the depth chart is the most athletic quarterback on the team, Terrance Highsmith.  Highsmith is also a good talent, with the ability to get the ball where it needs to be, though his arm strength is not as that of either Baker or Stephens.  His agility, however, is his strongest suit.  As a potential punt returner behind Sam Aiken and Jawarski Pollock, Highsmith makes excellent cuts with the ball in his hand.


Two walk-ons also received plenty of practice time with the first and second teams.  Landon Mariani is a savvy senior quarterback who does a good job of finding the open receiver.  Jared Hall also played quite a bit in practice, and has the third strongest arm on the team.  He has an excellent release, and could move up in the ranks to possibly the third-team.


Inside Carolina Top Stories