The rosters in the NFL are mostly settled, and while cut down day wasn’t too kind to a lot of former Tar Heels (congrats, Tomon Fox!), two teams head into the 2022 NFL season with Tar Heels in the discussion for being under center when the games count.
We’ll start with the one with the better chance of starting, Mitchell Trubisky.
The former Tar Heel was drummed out of Chicago, taking the majority of the blame for not living up to his number two overall draft pick. His first season was scattershot at best, behind an ineffective quarterback and a coach in John Fox who was basically on his way out. Matt Nagy was hired, and Trubisky had to forget all he had learned and start from scratch, and then took a lot of the blame when their playoff season ended early. It just went downhill from there, and thus, he spent his last season bouncing from the bench to the field. It was only after last season’s putrid showing from the Bears that people realized that Nagy may have had something to do with that.
Trubisky spent last year in Buffalo as the backup to Josh Allen, under no illusion that he’d supplant one of the best in the NFL and instead getting something valuable: an actual NFL education. As backup to Allen and under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Trubisky found a team that matched closely with his ability, and he was able to parlay that into a chance with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the off season. When the Steelers also drafted Pitt alum Kenny Pickett in the spring, it was clear that Mitchell would have to fight for the right to start.
The competition has been tight, but in the preseason finale for the Steelers, Trubisky had an amazing game that seemed to seal his fate as the starter. Our friends at the SB Nation Steelers home Behind The Steel Curtain have the stock report on the quarterbacks, and this paragraph stands out:
Mitch Trubisky spent a good portion of his preseason action running for his life, behind the aforementioned ineffective offensive line. It did allow him to showcase his strength and mobility on multiple occasions, if we feel determined to turn a negative into a positive. Trubisky looks like a seasoned veteran in complete control of the offense, especially when he gets the bare minimum of pass protection. Although he has yet to show elite level anticipation and accuracy in his NFL career, he has solid ball security and has shown the most consistent splash play ability on the Steelers QB depth chart. Although Mike Tomlin refused to name a starting quarterback immediately after the game, which should have come as a shock to absolutely no one, odds favor Trubisky being named the starter.
Trubisky would be on a week-to-week basis as starter as Pickett would be ready to jump in should he fall, but at least for the preseason it looked like the year in Buffalo plus landing with an offensive coordinator that is suited for his skillset may finally give Mitchell a good shot to live up to the hype he had coming out of UNC. If not, we shouldn’t feel too sorry for him, but you can’t help but to wonder what would have happened if Chicago actually had their act together better when he came into the league. All you have to look at Trevor Lawrence’s first year in Jacksonville to see how a dysfunctional organization can wreck even the most sure-fire prospect.
Meanwhile in Washington, Sam Howell made the final roster for the Commanders — as if there would be any question. We talked about his debut a few weeks ago, and his preseason had been so solid that Washington coach Ron Rivera actually gave him the reins for the whole game in the preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s fair to say Howell has turned heads in DC. Want proof? Let’s just look at this snip from the SB Nation Commanders site Hogs Heaven.
Howell was an bright spot on an otherwise dull evening. The rookie played the entire game, and completed 24 of his 35 attempts for 280 yards and a touchdown. He should have went for over 310 yards and another touchdown if Dyami Brown hadn’t dropped a beautifully thrown ball at the pylon. Sam did all this while being under constant pressure all evening. He also led the team in rushing with 62 yards.
You hate to see alum Dyami Brown as a.) the reason that Howell didn’t get to 300 yards, and b.) a big reason why the Commanders didn’t win. It continued a trend for Howell that has played like someone with a chip on his shoulder you’d expect considering he inexplicably dropped to the fifth round. He led everyone in the preseason with 547 yards passing, and on Saturday reeled off some tape that had people talking about his skill:
Mini Sam Howell thread, highlighting the impressive stuff— Matt Valdovinos (@MVScouting) August 31, 2022
Dime. Tight coverage, needs to move the chains. Gets the ball in front of Dyami and completely out of reach of the defender.
Needed this Dyami all game but it was downhill from here for him. pic.twitter.com/TbcCveOur6
The whole thread is worth checking out as it is a glowing review of his ability, but two things stood out that show his future is likely bright:
A lot of young QBs take a sack here. Some might even fumble/throw a pick.— Matt Valdovinos (@MVScouting) August 31, 2022
Good job under intense pressure to get positive yards. It’s really hard to throw the ball fading off your back foot while being hit, still hit his target. pic.twitter.com/yc5S1ea3ir
Lastly. I appreciate his intent on giving his guys a chance. It doesn’t work o it all the time when he’s running with the 2’s and 3’s, but guys like Terry, Dotson, and Sims make catches like this pretty regularly. pic.twitter.com/qLHGDyrrTU— Matt Valdovinos (@MVScouting) August 31, 2022
You have to think three years of playing behind a shaky offensive line gave Howell the bravery to pull off that first clip, and the site of him giving other players a chance will play well both in the locker room and with the coaches.
Howell is not a threat to start now, as that’s going to go to Carson Wentz. There’s a real discussion at this point, though, as to whether he’s going to be the backup due to how much time he was given in the preseason. Originally the plan was to use this as a “redshirt” year for Howell as the Commanders can lose Wentz and Taylor Heinicke after this season with no penalty, but the NFC East is winnable and if Wentz misses time or is just ineffective, Howell may get his shot earlier than he thought.
It’s going to be an interesting 2022 for both of the Tar Heel alums. We’ll see whether each one is expected to be a starter by the time it’s done.