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Heel Tough Blog: Is the Tar Heels QB Battle Really a Three Man Race?

Wesley Hitt- Getty Images

The Tar Heels might have a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job right now. Maybe.

Last week, we gave you the news that Jacolby Criswell was transferring back to UNC after spending this past season back home in Arkansas with the Razorbacks. At the time, it wasn’t quite known what this meant for the quarterback battle the team conducted in the spring between Conner Harrell and Jacolby Criswell, but an article written by Inside Carolina’s Jeremiah Holloway indicates this is now a three-man race for the starting job.

In a sit down with Inside Carolina, Criswell told the site when asked about his return he was just happy to be back in Chapel Hill while also offering up what the coaching staff told him. "It was more like, 'Hey, our QB room is already talented, but we feel like you can push those guys, or even do better than those guys.'"

These comments are almost a direct contraction of what we heard from head coach Mack Brown following the spring game just a couple of weeks ago. “You’ve got to have four quarterbacks,” he said when asked why they were in the market for a quarterback. “We will look for a quarterback even though we feel like these two are in a good position to move forward.” He elaborated on the fact that the quarterback they would be bringing in would have to understand where they stand in the battle. “It’s got to be the right fit. It has to be somebody who understands the first day you get here, you are not going to be in the mix as a starter.”

Now, he may have left the door open by saying the “first day”, but it still doesn’t seem like he is really open to this being a three-man race. There is the possibility that Chip Lindsey feels differently about where the race stands and said this because he wants someone to come in and push these guys, but it’s also possible that Criswell misconstrued what was said to him.

The biggest challenge that could stand in the way of Criswell being a factor in this battle is picking up Lindsey’s playbook. Criswell said in the Inside Carolina article that he does have some familiarity, but that is from his time being recruited by him out of high school. He will have time to learn some of the playbook this summer, but he is still going to have a lot to learn at the start of fall camp.

The one thing that he does have going in his favor is his rapport with the veteran skill position players. Since he left at the conclusion of the 2022 regular season, he has taken a lot of reps with these guys and it should be evident this summer when he’s working with those guys.

So what do I actually think is happening here? One of the things I’m wondering is where the staff’s confidence with Max Johnson really is despite talking highly of him in the spring. I think there is the possibility that Johnson has not picked things up as quickly as they thought he would and they want to have someone else that can push Conner Harrell. Regardless of what is actually going on, I find it hard to believe that if this is a three quarterback race, it will last longer than the first few days of fall camp. Is it possible Criswell could be one of the two guys battling for the job in the fall? Certainly. That might be asking a little too much, though, from as a summer enrollee.


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