Tommy Ashley, radio show co-host
Greg Barnes, beat writer
Mark Paschal, analyst (former Tar Heel LB)
Buck Sanders, columnist
At the ACC Kickoff North Carolina head coach Butch Davis seemed to leave the door on the starting quarterback question cracked just a bit more than he has at any previous point. Regardless of what happens in fall camp, is there any real question in your mind as to whether T.J. Yates will start against LSU?
Greg Barnes: Heading into the ACC Kickoff, there was no question in my mind that T.J. Yates was going to be the starter in Atlanta on Sept. 4. But Butch Davis wasn't in the mood to play games in Greensboro and his comments on Bryn Renner were eye-opening. I was convinced that Yates's game experience would give him the nod early in the season, but I now believe that this is a legitimate quarterback competition that may take the bulk of training camp to iron out.
Tommy Ashley: I said even after the Spring Game that I thought Yates would be the starter opening day, but I am shifting from that position lately. Like we've discussed on InsideCarolinaRadio.com , the coaching staff has a dilemma. Start Yates and if he struggles, then it's clear Renner is going to get a chance. But what if Renner comes in and flames out? I don't think you could go back to Yates at that point without having serious confidence issues with both QBs.
So start Renner and see what happens. If he struggles, you have a fifth year senior with a ton of experience to come in and take over. I know it's just a spring game and I've always been a T.J. fan because he's been pretty good with a full deck around him, but in that game, his mannerisms and reactions to bad plays looked just like they did last year when things went south. That just doesn't bode well in my opinion.
Buck Sanders: Despite Coach Davis's comments at the ACC's media days, I think you'll see fall camp start with T.J. Yates working with the "ones" and Bryn Renner working with the "twos," and except for some scrimmage situations that's the way it will stay. I just think there is no way that Renner starts against LSU.
Of course they will evaluate the "competition" closely during fall camp, but with all the other changes UNC is going through right now, I think the last thing on the staff's mind is benching a veteran quarterback with 31 starts under his belt heading into a game of this magnitude. Circumstances could change during the season and the staff could decide to make a change at quarterback, and I think Renner will get snaps along the way regardless, but I'll be stunned if Yates doesn't start against LSU.
Mark Paschal: Without a doubt in my mind, T.J. will be the starter against LSU. I can't give any real knowledge of Renner, I have never seen the kid take a snap in a college football game, and neither has anyone else. Don't give me the "Spring Game" story; that's not anywhere close to a real game.
Call me old school, but until a player performs on Saturdays, I have a hard time giving him any real praise. Yes, we can speculate on a lot of second hand information that Renner is this or that and has all the "tools" - but we have won a lot of games with T.J. Yates as our starter and I expect to see him start his first game in his redshirt senior year. That being said, Renner will get an opportunity this season, and maybe in the first game, but my guess is he will not be our starter.
Last year at this time we were talking about whether the UNC offense would emphasize a more balanced passing game, utilizing more passes to the experienced backs and tight ends. Though the injury to Zack Pianalto may have forced some modifications to that plan, in yards-per-attempt average T.J. Yates went from 8.7 in 2008 to 6.0 in 2009. How do you account for that dramatic change?
Greg Barnes: Replacing three NFL wide receivers with a couple of freshmen and a running-back-turned-wide-receiver junior will do that for you. Consider this – Ryan Houston (11) had one less catch than UNC's No. 3 wide receiver in Jhay Boyd in ‘09. Offensive coordinator John Shoop knew two springs ago that replacing Hakeem Nicks and Co. would make for a difficult transition and placed an emphasis on the short passing game, but there's no way he could have known that his offensive line would be in tatters early in the season, often forcing Yates to check down to his safety valves.
Tommy Ashley: Even with Pianalto, Yates rarely went down field. Look no further than the NC State game. Heck, even State coaches were wondering why the Heels weren't running fly patterns every other play.
The offense was conservative and that's partly Coach Davis's M.O. and partly because of the situation on the offensive line. Dumps, screens and quick hitting patterns were a must last year and without dynamic playmakers catching those balls, big plays are sparse. Toss in the wide receiver losses from ‘08 to '09, plus the number of passes thrown to the wrong color jersey and you have the recipe for the drop in the yards per attempt production.
Mark Paschal: In 2008 we had three NFL receivers. In 2009 we had zero. Also, the lack of confidence in our young receivers to stretch the field, checking down to backs and tight ends resulting in shorter gains, and a better rushing attack on 1st and 2nd down might skew that number. I am not as concerned with this statistic as I am with being able to run the football effectively and convert on 3rd downs at a high percentage.
Buck Sanders: T.J. Yates's first career pass was a 65-yard completion to Brooks Foster for a touchdown. He knows how to throw the long ball, and has always seemed to have better touch when throwing deep, or at least had the receivers that could get to those deep throws. Contrary to popular belief, offensive coordinator John Shoop loves to throw the ball vertically. Accuracy and touch on the short throw, however, has never seemed to be Yates's strong suit.
Two factors were primarily responsible for the decrease in the yards-per-attempt numbers: 1) Opposing defenses often opted to take away the deep ball. Georgia Tech, for example, sometimes gave UNC receivers a ten-yard cushion at the line of scrimmage and still played two deep safeties, 2) Problems with the offensive line prevented UNC from exploiting that defensive strategy.
The key to getting more out of the passing game in 2010 is for the offensive line to be able to take control of the ground game persuasively enough to make defenses vulnerable to play action passing.