In the battle for the North Carolina Tar Heels starting quarterback job, Marquise Williams knows he's clearly been pegged as the mobile alternative to Mitch Trubisky's pocket-passing expertise. But if that notion worried Williams, a meeting with Peyton Manning at last week's Manning Passing Academy alleviated any concerns.
Manning pulled Williams aside following the camp and raved about his ability to read coverages and hit receivers downfield, telling the UNC QB that he was "a heck of a thrower" and suggesting his footwork and arm strength were both strong.
"When a Hall of Famer tells me that," Williams said, "you tune everything else out."
The criticism Williams is trying to ignore isn't without some merit. He completed just 58 percent of his throws last year -- good for ninth in the ACC. Against Power Five conference teams, that number dropped to just 55.6 percent -- third-worst among ACC quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts. Only once in those games did Williams complete better than 60 percent of his throws -- his first start of the season against Virginia Tech.
Still, he helped North Carolina to a 6-1 finish to the season and entered the offseason as the heavy favorite to lead the Tar Heels' offense again in 2014. He worked with quarterback coach George Whitfield during his spring break to iron out his mechanics. As fall camp nears, however, Williams is far from a lock to win the job.
Coach Larry Fedora said he's still not ready to name a starter, but he said Williams continues to have an advantage as a result of his game day experience. Of course, there's a good chance Trubisky could get a taste of action early on, too, even if Williams remains atop the depth chart.
"I believe both kids can win, so it's a viable option [to use both]," Fedora said. "We'll have to wait and see. I've done it a lot of different ways, and I'll do whatever it takes to win football games."
Some other North Carolina notes from ACC kickoff:
Fedora said punt returner Ryan Switzer is lobbying for work on kick returns, too -- a plan the coach is strongly considering.
The biggest hurdle for UNC this year is on the offensive line, Fedora said. Only four of the 20 offensive linemen currently listed on UNC's roster are juniors, and none are seniors.
Fedora said spring pectoral and knee injuries for freshman tackle Bentley Spain made it impossible to get a feel for whether he's ready to play, but he said Spain remains "in the mix" for the left tackle job. Right now though, Fedora said John Ferranto is atop the depth chart but added "it's still wide open."
Asked for the team's leader on defense, Fedora named Nortkeithus Otis before the question could be finished. The coach raved about Otis' presence in the locker room and potential on the field this season.
When it comes to tempo, Fedora said going fast is no problem. Slowing it down is tougher. "When we ask our guys to go to a huddle, it's embarrassing. I'm embarrassed what it looks like," Fedora said.
Lots of praise for freshman tailback Elijah Hood. Williams raved about Hood's 605-pound squat last week, and Fedora said Hood is "like a bull in a China closet. He's 220 pounds, has great speed, and he likes to run into things."