The fifth-year senior quarterback, hailing from West Springfield, Va., already took a pickaxe to that history in 2012, his first season in Larry Fedora’s up-tempo spread offense.
Renner set the single-season record for total offense in 12 games (3,394 yards) and established new school records for passing yards over two games (708) and four games (1,328). He also topped his single-season touchdown pass total from 2011 (26) by throwing 28, including a record-tying five touchdowns in a game – twice.
A repeat performance this fall would vault Renner past T.J. Yates and Darian Durant in various passing records where he currently ranks third in school history - career yards (6,141), career touchdowns (54), career completions (516) and career attempts (774).
If you listen to Fedora, however, his quarterback’s rookie campaign in this new UNC offense was only a glimpse of the potential the 2013 season holds.
“He can really can take this offense where it’s never been before,” Fedora told reporters at last week’s 2013 ACC Kickoff.
That’s lofty praise from a head coach not known to dispense unwarranted accolades on his players, although there’s been a steady stream of praise for Renner this offseason, culminating with his efforts at the Manning Passing Academy in July. The high school camp also serves as a pro day of sorts for college quarterbacks.
Renner’s performance prompted NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock to suggest the 6-foot-3, 225-pound quarterback “probably was the most polished of all the quarterbacks” he watched.
Bill Renner, Bryn’s father and a respected prep coach, told InsideCarolina.com on Wednesday that his son’s performance at the Manning camp was a result of his offseason work to fine tune his mechanics. Following the 2012 season, the younger Renner watched a film cutup of every throw he made during the season, took notes and sat down with Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to discuss what needed to be corrected.
“One of his best attributes is that he’s willing to put the work in during the offseason to fix himself mechanically or mentally or wherever they see that he needs to get better,” Bill Renner said.
Despite Renner’s strong numbers in 2012 – 276-of-422 passing for a 65.4 completion percentage, 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions – Anderson had expressed concern six months earlier, midway through spring ball in 2012, about his quarterback’s ability to pick up the new offense. Those struggles continued into the season, but as UNC reached the middle of October, the offense finally clicked.
“Last year I was playing by the seat of my pants probably the first six games and really struggled,” Renner said recently. “I settled down the last six games and really started understanding the little nuances that I didn’t realize in the first six games.”
Fedora points to his quarterback’s final five games as evidence for his potential this season, and for good reason – Renner completed 68.7 percent of his passes (130-of-189) for 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Fedora also took the blame for Renner’s early struggles, saying that he and Anderson gave their quarterback too much to process.
“When you went back and looked we were doing the same thing that we were doing with Austin Davis, who was a four-year starter for us at Southern Miss,” Fedora said. “It wasn’t fair to Bryn. When we cut it back midway through the season you saw what Bryn did.”
Bill Renner, who has taken over four high schools in his coaching career, believes his son just experienced a necessary learning curve that comes from switching from a pro-style offense to a spread look. According to his father, Renner’s mind was locked into the vernacular of former UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop’s offense, while some of those same terms could mean something entirely different in Fedora’s offense.
“There’s really a retraining of the brain in terms of the vocabulary and in terms of scheme design that just occurs with every quarterback when you change systems,” Bill Renner said.
Quarterbacks have to be able to overlay their plays on top of the actual defense as soon as they step to the line of scrimmage. The elder Renner used the analogy of EA’s NCAA Football video game in pressing the RT button to see the routes your skill position players are running.
In a new offense, according to Bill Renner, that overlay effect requires a heavy repetition of snaps to build the projection database.
His son explained the adjustment in more simpler terms.
“This time last year I was answering questions and didn’t even know what I was talking about,” Renner said. “This year I’m going into training camp kind of knowing what [Fedora] expects and knowing what he wants out of the quarterback position.”
In addition to learning the playbook, Renner focused on his footwork and decision making during the offseason. The former is generic to all quarterbacks, according to his father, due to having to play in performance mode during the season. Whether mechanics are perfect or not in live-game situations, a quarterback still has to make the play, which leads to a gradual erosion of technique principles. Footwork is a byproduct of game situations, therefore most, if not all, quarterbacks need to recalibrate those fundamentals during the offseason.
In terms of decision making, Fedora indicated that Renner improved as the 2012 season went along.
“Early on he threw some balls that he didn’t need to throw,” the second-year UNC head coach said. “Part of game management for a quarterback is understanding those situations. ‘Hey, it’s 3rd-and-14, you’re trying to force that ball in there and you throw a pick and you really don’t need to.’ It’s okay, in that situation on 3rd-and-14; the chances are less than 25 percent that you’re going to pick it up.”
Now that Renner has shown an ability to blend good throws with solid decisions, his can focus his attention on managing the offense, according to Fedora. That entails making sure his teammates are working in lockstep with him.
“Last year I was [focused] on myself just learning the plays,” Renner said. “But I think this year I’ve gained enough knowledge of the offense to where I can help others. At the quarterback position, that’s the biggest thing. You want to bring guys along with you and be the leader that knows where all 22 are on the field.”
Renner has the physical tools and talent, as well as the work ethic, to thrive in college and potentially even at the next level. Leadership, however, is a required trait that is difficult to master and tougher to employ.
“Mentally, as young men age, they tend to have experiences that mature them and I don’t think Bryn has been any different,” Bill Renner said. “The things that the program has been through, I think, has helped mature him and grow as a young man. But I think the biggest area that he’s improved in, and I’ve been proud that he’s learned, is leadership.”
From an outside perspective, it would seem lunacy had taken hold to suggest a fifth-year quarterback that currently owns the highest career pass efficiency rating in ACC history (154.59) has substantial room for growth. The evidence suggests otherwise, however, making Fedora’s claim about Renner elevating his offense a legitimate reality.