UNC offensive line a work in progress

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Following Wednesday’s practice, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora was pressed on his running back rotation. The Tar Heels have a wealth of talent at the position, including T.J. Logan, Romar Morris, Khris Francis and early enrollee Elijah Hood, and the question posed was whether Fedora could manage to get each of them enough carries during the season.

The UNC coach simply laughed. He knows better than to bask in any apparent riches.

“I’ve never had too many great players,” Fedora said. “I can assure you of that.”

[+] EnlargeBentley Spain
Miller Safrit/ESPNNorth Carolina early enrollee Bentley Spain could see immediate playing time on the offensive line in 2014.
If Fedora needed a reminder of how quickly talent can evaporate, he need look no further than the men opening the holes for his vast cadre of running backs. On the offensive line, North Carolina is scrambling.

The attrition began before last season even ended, when All-ACC left tackle James Hurst suffered a leg injury in the Belk Bowl, ending his Tar Heels career with three quarters left to play. Center Russell Bodine followed Hurst out the door, opting to enter the NFL draft after the bowl game. Then Caleb Peterson, who started 12 games last season, underwent shoulder surgery that will sideline him throughout the spring.

Now the Tar Heels are cobbling together an offensive line with just a handful of bodies, many of whom have virtually no gameday experience.

“It’s tough,” Fedora said. “Some tackles are playing in at the guard position and it’s making it tough. It’s not their normal position. The continuity of those five guys up front is pretty chaotic right now.”

The left tackle spot is perhaps the most glaring vacancy of the spring on offense, and while Fedora is looking at three options -- sophomore John Ferranto, redshirt freshman R.J. Prince and early enrollee Bentley Spain. They’re all rotating in at guard, too, to simply fill space.

The shuffling inherently leads to mistakes, and the youngsters are still getting used to the adversity. But more than that, the players behind them are eager to help pick up the slack.

“It takes a while for an offensive line to jell,” Logan said. “The running backs, we’re trying to take our games to the next level, and if they come out with us and compete, they’re going to get a lot better.”

In the end, Fedora said, a little adversity can go a long way toward developing players in the spring, and the hope is that the struggles during the next few weeks will result in a stronger offensive line when the season begins in September.

It’s a situation Fedora knows well. A year ago, the line was in flux, too, but Peterson and Jon Heck learned on the fly and grew stronger from the struggles. This year, Fedora hopes the same will be true of some of the newcomers -- particularly Spain, who was one of the top offensive line recruits in the country and drew raves from his coach for his offseason conditioning work.

“We want to try to create as much adversity for them as possible, and it’s not hard because we have no continuity right now,” Fedora said. “There’s frustration that sets in because they’re not having the success they want to have, and it’s a little more difficult up there. But everything that they’re doing, every rep, you hope it’s a learned experience. Sometimes you learn more through failure than you do success.”

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