Renner has earned high praise for his strong arm, foot speed and overall athletic ability from practically everyone that has watched him practice since arriving in Chapel Hill last summer. Yates, on the other hand, has endured a pelting of criticism after completing 214-of-355 passes for 2,136 yards, 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in ’09.
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A portion of the UNC fan base is convinced that Renner should be handed the reins to the offense this fall to improve a unit that has hovered around the No. 100 mark nationally in total offense over the past three seasons. But fans don’t have access to the inner workings of a football program, and while they may be able to blast Yates for what he has done on the field, they can only live on the hype surrounding Renner’s potential.
When asked on Wednesday what he does best as a quarterback, Renner provided an insanely realistic response: “I really haven’t proven myself, so I guess I can’t really answer that.”
The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder from West Springfield, Va. admits that he’s not focused on wrestling the starting job away from Yates this spring.
“I’m really just trying to take it one day at a time,” Renner said. “I think me and T.J. have a great relationship and whoever is the starter is going to do a great job for this team to win. So I’m taking it one day at a time, one practice at a time and one rep at a time.”
But it’s becoming clear that Yates will retain his starting spot as the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against LSU slowly approaches on Sept. 4. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Georgian is consistently taking reps with the first team during practice, and when head coach Butch Davis was asked about battles for playing time last week, he highlighted five different position groups. Quarterback was not one of them.
“I’m always going to think about [the quarterback job] as mine, but I know Bryn is going to push me in every way that he can because he’s a great competitor,” Yates said. “If he was going to be here just to take second place, then he shouldn’t be here. He’s here to push me and try to get the starter’s spot.”
Davis was asked on Wednesday if Renner had closed the gap on Yates any this spring, and the fourth-year head coach indicated that his staff doesn’t look at the situation in that manner.
“The way I look at it is, ‘Could this football team win a game if you were the guy?’” Davis said at Navy Fields. “And there’s a lot more things that go into deciding whether or not anybody is the starter than just measurable athletic ability – a guy that can run 4.5 and a guy that vertical jumps 39 inches. But mentally, do you know what to do? Do you minimize mistakes? Are you effective?
“And that’s clearly some of the challenges that Bryn has right now. T.J. has this wealth of experience and a wealth of knowledge and understands this offense significantly better than Bryn. So he has to work harder on his days off. He’s got to watch more film, he’s got to study the playbook better [and] he’s got to be around John Shoop even more, picking his brain.”
That’s not to say the freshman quarterback hasn’t improved. Yates praised his arm and energy level before Wednesday’s practice, while Renner believes he has a much better understanding of his responsibilities under center.
“I think I’ve really grasped the concept of getting motions and shifts down and knowing on routes where people are going to be,” Renner said. “Last year I had a tendency to freelance – even on the scout team, I was just going out there and winging it. But I think I understand where people are going now and what blitzes are coming.”
Yates, on the other hand, has learned to deal better with the adversity that comes his way. He’s learned to not let criticism from outside the Kenan Football Center walls affect him, which is obvious in the fact that smiles have now replaced the solemn expressions that accompanied him during the ’09 campaign.
But he also knows that he has to play much better in ’10 if North Carolina is to legitimately compete for the ACC Championship. That process has already started.
“I’ve got to show my teammates and my coaches that I can make better decisions with the football and just the offense and be more efficient,” Yates said.
At the end of the day, it’s not about a freshman gunslinger and a seasoned veteran. It’s about North Carolina against 12 – or more – opponents on the 2010 schedule. As Davis was quick to point out to handful of media members in attendance, relying on just one quarterback to challenge for championships is a dangerous proposition.