The Tar Heels offensive line was devastated by injury last season. As Jay Exum recently laid out, offensive tackle John Ferranto was lost for the year before the season even began. This injury was only exacerbated by the loss of Caleb Peterson, who went down for the season in October. Remember how poorly that went for North Carolina? It could be happening again.
Following the 2016 season, Lucas Crowley, John Heck, Peterson, and Ferranto have all graduated, leaving a mix of upper and lowerclassmen to fill the void. As Jay surmised, the offensive line will likely be comprised of Bentley Spain, Tommy Hatton, grad transfer Cam Dillard, William Sweet, and either Nick Polino or Jared Cohen. That might seem like enough on paper, but the injury bug has already hit and it’s going to leave the line hurting again.
Greg Barnes of Scout.com has reported that Spain and Hatton have already missed time in practice camp due to injuries. Larry Fedora doesn’t share injury information to the public, so we’re left wondering how serious their injuries could be and how long they will be out.
The team has remained positive about the injuries because it gives players a chance to work at other positions and improve the depth of the roster. This could ultimately prove to be a blessing in disguise, but it all comes down to how long Spain and Hatton will be out for. Like last season, prolonged injuries have a way of catching up and many of this year’s starters are new. What’s a helpful exercise in practice can quickly become a lack of depth when the season starts.
This won’t be the first time the offensive line has been hurt by injury. It has happened before and it will happen again. As O-line coach Chris Kapilovic states “If we stay healthy, we’ve got enough guys to be a good offensive line.” That’s certainly reassuring to hear, but following that up with “We’ve just got to stay healthy” doesn’t exactly fill anyone with confidence.
It’s too early to panic and there isn’t enough available information to make up your mind one way or the other. However, it’s certainly not the way anyone wanted the preseason to go. Hopefully Spain and Hatton will be back before long, and the Tar Heels don’t end up missing the recently retired Khaliel Rodgers too much.
The roster has a few weeks to get healthy before the game against Cal on September 2. If they have to play with a short offensive line, things might not go well for the new-look offense. If anyone else gets hurt, it might be devastating. Let’s hope these injuries don’t last long.