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2013 Season Preview: Offensive Line

After finally becoming one of the Tar Heels' strongest units in 2012, Carolina will have to rebuild its offensive line for 2013.

James Hurst (#68) returns to protect Bryn Renner, but Jonathan Cooper (#64) leaves big shoes to fill.
James Hurst (#68) returns to protect Bryn Renner, but Jonathan Cooper (#64) leaves big shoes to fill.

There aren't many offensive lines in the country that blocked for a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher last season, but UNC's line opened holes for Gio Bernard and protected Bryn Renner while picking up Larry Fedora's high-octane offense. Now for the encore, Carolina has to replace three linemen who were drafted by the NFL, including the 7th overall pick in Jonathan Cooper.

Any discussion of the O-line starts with preseason All-ACC pick James Hurst holding down the left tackle position. After missing spring practice with an injury, Hurst will use the experience from his 36 career starts to protect Renner's blind side. Joining Hurst as the lone returning full-time starter is center Russell Bodine. Right guard Landon Turner moved into the starting spot late last season after Brennan Williams went down with an injury and Travis Bond moved to right tackle to replace him. These three veterans have plenty of snaps and significant leadership experience to help a talented crop of younger players step up.

Competition for the other two starting spots has been keen, according to Inside Carolina. Redshirt freshman Caleb Peterson seems to have settled in at left guard replacing Cooper, while talented sophomore Kiaro Holts and redshirt freshman John Ferranto are battling it out at right tackle. Sophomore Jarrod James will be backing up Bodine at center. [UPDATE: Since this article was written, Ferranto seems to have settled in behind Hurst at left tackle, while Jon Heck and Nick Appel are in the mix with Holts at right tackle. James appears to be battling injury and has been off the depth chart for a while now.]

The immediate concern for this unit is depth and experience, or lack thereof. The big three - Hurst, Bodine, and Turner - are battle-tested and solid. The other two positions should settle in but there is no substitute for snaps. The larger issue is the inexperience of the backups. The two-deep chart is full of freshmen and sophomores who will have to learn on the fly. Opening in Columbia against SCAR on a Thursday night is a tough enough task, much less having to play against a pretty darn good defensive lineman that you might have heard about if you've turned on any sports program over the summer.

The bottom line is the offensive line will have to grow up quick as the road doesn't get any easier after the Gamecocks. UNC's first three ACC games are against its main divisional rivals, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Miami, with the first two on the road. How quickly this group develops will be key to Carolina's success this season.