The North Carolina Tar Heels are a trendy choice to win their first Coastal division title this season thanks to a talented group of skill position players, a pair of quarterbacks capable of running Coach Larry Fedora’s fast paced offense and a defense looking to improve on a solid finish to last season. The Heel’s offense could be one of the best in the ACC and the nation, however, they will not meet their title expectations unless they find answers along their offensive line.
The offensive line unit loss its two most experienced players from last season, starting center Russell Bodine and All-ACC left tackle James Hurst, from a unit that struggled most of last season. Coach Fedora has made it clear this offseason for the offense to be as explosive as it is capable of, the offensive line must play well up front.
When the Tar Heels open their season against Liberty on August 30th, their offensive line will be one of youngest units in all of college football as they opened preseason camp with zero seniors on their depth chart and four sophomores in the starting lineup. The most talented sophomore in the group might be right tackle Jon Heck, who has earned the praise of Coach Fedora this offseason with his work in the weight room. In an interview with SI’s Andy Staples this past Wednesday Coach Fedora said “It’s amazing to see the transformation in Jon…It’s amazing how he’s transformed his body, his attitude, his work ethic, his grit – everything about him. I’m excited about seeing where he is this year”.
His fellow linemen have followed his lead in the offseason as the projected starters along the line are reportedly on average nine pounds lighter than they were at the start of last season. Along with Holt, the only returning starter to start all 13 games last season was right guard junior Landon Turner, who according to offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic is the only player who has secured his spot in the lineup for the season opener. The other starters along the line are expected to be left guard Caleb Peterson, who started 12 games last season and was named 2nd team freshman All-American by Athlon Sports, as well as center Lucas Crowley, who will replace Bodine.
The biggest question for the Heels is at left tackle where the Heels must replace 4-year starter and 3-time All-ACC performer James Hurst. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens after breaking his leg in his final game as a Tar Heel. Sophomore John Ferranto open preseason practice listed as the starter but that could change before the opener against Liberty as Ferranto as been pushed in practice by redshirt freshman R.J. Prince. The wildcard at the position is freshman Bentley Spain, a 4-star U.S Army All-American from Charlotte. The freshman was expected to be a candidate to replace Hurst after enrolling early in January but was hampered by knee and chest injuries and may keep him from being able to contribute to the team early in the season. Another freshman to watch for this season could be Caleb Samuel a 6-5, 260 pounder from Macon, GA.
Despite the youth and lack of quality depth on the line, Coach Kapilovic has liked what he has seen so far in preseason camp calling this group of linemen possible the hardest working group he’s ever had in his 12 years as an offensive line coach. Hopefully the line is able to transfer all that hard work into success on the field.