Updated: Jan 5, 2020
As we get ready to begin fall camp, it’s time for the Heel Tough Blog’s exclusive in-depth position previews. The series will take a look at every player on the Tar Heels 2019 roster and tell you the impact we expect each to have and give you the projected depth chart position-by-position. We begin today with the position group that leads this series off each year, the quarterbacks.
For a third consecutive season, the Tar Heels will enter fall camp without a starting quarterback in place, but, for the first time in three years, it does feel like there is some confidence in the quarterbacks battling to start. Many fans are hoping that the Tar Heels can find a clear No. 1 by the start of the season, but Mack Brown and his staff have said they are not going to rush the process to find that guy.
The early favorite to win the job entering spring camp was redshirt freshman Cade Fortin. The most experienced of the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job, Fortin started two games a year ago, including his first full-game start in the final game of the season against NC State. Fortin completed 49.2% of his passes a year ago, which might be concerning on the surface, but the fact of the matter is that the rain and drops from wide receivers in the NC State game drastically affected that number. Fortin might have the lowest ceiling of the three quarterbacks in the race, but there is upside there and he has the highest floor of the group. With a strong arm that won’t limit the offense and a firm understanding of the Tar Heels new playbook, you can see why there is a chance Fortin could start in Week 1 against South Carolina.
Fellow redshirt freshman Jace Ruder is the more mobile of the three quarterbacks and showed the staff last year and this offseason that the concerns about his adjustment to a pass-heavy offense from a run-heavy high school scheme were blown out proportion. Ruder might be the most accurate of the three quarterbacks and his ability to throw on the run make him trouble behind the line of scrimmage for opposing defenses. That dual-threat ability is attractive to anyone and in his limited reps against Georgia Tech, he showed just what he can bring to the table. There is some concern as to whether those flashes are exactly what Ruder will be in the long run, but his performance in the spring game is encouraging. Everything we’re hearing about Ruder is positive, which is good, but he hasn’t been able to take control of the job to this point.
Sam Howell, the true freshman, is the third competitor in the group and the fact that no one has separated themselves yet plays into his hands. Howell has the highest ceiling of the three and most raw talent of the group. There will definitely be a learning curve as a true freshman, but Howell beat that curve as a freshman in high school, so he’s been in this position before in his career and succeeded. Howell tore up the state of North Carolina at Sun Valley High School in Indian Trail, NC, setting the record for total yards of offense and finishing second in state history in passing yards. Howell might not be as mobile as Ruder, but his 3,621 rushing yards at the high school level shows he is plenty mobile. Howell showed at last year’s Elite 11 that he has a cannon and the comparisons to Baker Mayfield are hard to ignore. There’s a lot to love about Howell’s game and the state of the job plays into his hands the longer someone fails to separate themselves and allow him to become more and more comfortable. Does he have enough to be out the experience, I’ll be it limited.
Two freshmen walk-on’s will sit behind these three quarterbacks as insurance. Donovan Brewington follows high school teammate Emery Simmons to Chapel Hill and, although he is currently listed as a quarterback, has the athletic ability to play at some of the other skill positions that team may need him to down the line. Vincent Amendola is more of a traditional pocket passer who will battle Brewington to be the worst-case scenario quarterback for the Tar Heels in 2019.
Projected Depth Chart
# 7 Sam Howell, Fr.
#10 Jace Ruder, RFr.
# 6 Cade Fortin, RFr.
#13 Vincent Amendola, Fr.
#12 Donovan Brewington, Fr.