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North Carolina coach Mack Brown, when he was still coaching at Texas, finished spring football practices in 2006 with a battle for starting quarterback between Jevan Snead and Colt McCoy that leaned toward Snead.
“When we got back a couple of the guys older guys came in said, ‘Coach, we know who your quarterback is, it’s 100 percent,’” Brown said. “I said, ‘Who’s that?’ They said Colt McCoy and then he ended up being one of the best ones to ever play so summers important for young quarterbacks.”
Brown retold that story to reporters on a video conference Tuesday in relation to his current battle to see who will be the top backup between Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye to quarterback Sam Howell. There’s no frontrunner and the backup won’t be named until fall camp in August. But that doesn’t mean the competition is taking an offseason.
Brown and the coaching staff concede their powers to the players for the summer. If the Tar Heels want to meet the lofty expectations for next season, it’s up to them now to continue to improve. That really applies to all of the depth chart where questions remain on who will be in the rotation.
“All summer the young guys will be competing in 7-on-7 (drills) and player-led practices and we can’t be out there to watch them,” Brown said. “But Sam will tell us who’s doing well and the players will come to you and tell you. You don’t have to ask them.”
Brown spoke and took questions for nearly an hour covering a range of topics including how he’ll deal with the transfer portal, his frustrations with lingering questions the NCAA has been slow to provide answers, and how he chooses the Air Jordans he wears to practice.
But it all started with the quarterbacks. Brown has been open that he expects next season to be Howell’s last in Chapel Hill. And he doesn’t want to wait a year before he prepares the Heels’ next starting quarterback.
“The thing that we did going in the spring with Sam and the other two quarterbacks two years ago, was let them learn what to do in the spring and compete in the fall,” Brown said. “And that’s where we are with the backup quarterback position.”
Brown said Criswell “got much better” in the spring and Maye’s ability to run was a bit of a surprise, “he’s more athletic than I thought he was as a 6(-foot-)5 quarterback.”
Brown said it was also important to keep developing redshirt freshman quarterback Jefferson Boaz too, because an injury or transfer could leave them thin at the position.
Transfer portal has changed everything
Carolina hasn’t been hurt by the transfer portal and, so far, doesn’t appear to be losing any other players. But the NCAA will allow players to enter the portal until July 1. Linebacker Khadry Jackson and defensive back Welton Spottsville announced they were leaving within the past week. Receiver Ray Rose entered the portal in late March. Defensive back Patrice Rene transferred to Rutgers after the season.
Brown said Jackson and Spottsville would have been key backups and “superstars on special teams” had they stayed this season.
“That’s what you lose with the transfer portal with people not being patient wanting to stay, so it is what it is,” Brown said. “I’m happy for them that that they’re gonna have a chance, I think they’ll both be starters wherever they go because they’re good players. But I’ve told the guys, you’ve done everything right here, so let’s don’t leave mad.”
Brown said the staff would make calls for any players wanting to leave to help them find another school. His ask is that they don’t get blindsided by someone leaving. He said he believed some schools have begun tampering with players on other rosters, although he did not say it has happened to UNC.
And while he doesn’t anticipate more roster change before the fall, he hasn’t closed the door on it either.
“It changes a little bit when they go home after finals and they sit down with their parents,” Brown said. “Sometimes the young man might want to stay and the parents want him to leave because they want him to get more playing time. So I just think we’re all at a point right now where you’re a phone call away from another one leaving.”