The main entertainer is usually in front receiving all the praise and publicity of a successful performance however in football the men up front take a back seat to the backs who line up five to seven yards behind the offensive line. North Carolina had an explosive offense this past fall and many will point to Gio Bernard and his ability, however next years offense may feel the loss of Jonathan Cooper along with three seniors who anchored one of the best lines in North Carolina Football history.
Prior to the start of the year questions surrounded UNC and how the offensive line would adjust to moving from the pro style offense to the spread. Jonathan Cooper would say the transition worked out well as the senior was an All American choice and this award is important moving forward with Larry Fedora. Coach Fedora will be able to put any questions to bed that NFL prototype lineman cannot do well in his offense as Cooper dominated under the guidance of his offensive line coach.
Cooper will be missed as he deserves to be however the tar Heels also lose Brennan Williams and Travis Bond both who started many games for UNC and will both get their chances in the NFL. Injuries this year to Williams allowed for some younger players to receive valuable game repetitions that will be vital for future games. Offensive line is one of the hardest positions to play and having experience back next year will ease the loss of a core of seniors that may be the best group to leave UNC since Jeff Saturdays class almost twenty years ago.
Who will step up for UNC next fall?
James Hurst has been a starter ever since he arrived in Chapel Hill and his decision to return to UNC may be the most exciting news for quarterback Bryn Renner. Hurst protects Renner’s blind side and with another year to hone his skills Hurst should be a high draft pick in 2014. He has all the tools an NFL left tackle needs and may be the best lineman ever in Chapel Hill when it is all said and done.
Russell Bodine anchors the offensive line in the middle and there was a noticeable difference anytime he left for injury. Bodine is a brawler up front and is a major reason why the spread had a little hint of toughness up the middle. Some will say the offense struggled in the red zone because it is a finesse offense, but if you look at the series where UNC’s play calling was physical inside the twenty the success was much greater than some of the series that left our heads scratching with fade routes and forgetting about the best back in the country in Gio Bernard.
The offensive line has a few young players that have a chance to be very good. Kiaro Holts was a five star offensive tackle and played well last fall. Holts was just lacking an opportunity, but has been brought along slowly allowing him to become stronger and a better student of the game. Nick Apple is another lineman who like Russell Bodine has a physical style that will help continue success of the inside running game. These are two newcomers who along with the incoming class and players who redshirted this past season will need as many reps as they can get during spring practice because replacing Cooper, Bond and Williams will be no easy feet.
The offensive line was discussed very little this past season because a great offensive line just does there job and fans spend all their time focusing on the back who just took it to the house. Very few are paying attention to that lineman who sprung them free, but if a defensive lineman makes a sack or a tackle for loss then everybody in the stadium knows his number.
Next years offensive line will try to be as invisible as this group was leading a UNC offense that put on consistent offensive displays that have not been seen before in Chapel Hill. Will the Fed Ex continue to churn as many miles as it did this year? That question will depend heavily on how the offensive line progresses next fall.