One of the biggest priorities in Chapel Hill this spring is to find new starters on the offensive line and begin to develop some much-needed chemistry that will allow the Tar Heels to continue to rack up points and yards in a hurry.
A few weeks in, the new-look line is starting to take shape. Landon Turner has been practicing with the first team at right guard, Nick Appel has been lining up as the first-team right tackle and redshirt freshman Caleb Peterson has been with the first team at the position that is most in the spotlight this spring -- left guard, replacing All-American Jonathan Cooper.
The good news is that four of the five players getting first-team reps have game experience. Center Russell Bodine and left tackle James Hurst return; Turner started the last four games at guard; and Appel has played as a guard and tackle.
Now for the bad news: Peterson is the only one who has never taken a snap in a game as he replaces a player projected to go in the top 15 in the upcoming NFL draft. Oh, and North Carolina opens the 2013 season against South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney.
Needless to say, the more experienced players have taken Peterson under their wing to get him up to speed as quickly as possible.
"The responsibility is on the older guys in the room to pick up the younger guys and educate them on what’s expected and what they need to do," Turner said in a recent phone interview. "Caleb hasn’t played, but I think he’s doing well. He’s learning a lot and he’s got all of us to back him up."
As for having to replace Cooper, Turner said, "You can’t replace Coop. He’s a first-round draft pick. I love him to death. He’s one of the best offensive linemen I’ve ever seen. You can’t just replace somebody like that. Caleb is young, but he’s good. I’ve got confidence in him to step up and play well."
Turner at least got some starting experience last year at guard, when starter Travis Bond moved over to tackle following Brennan Williams' season-ending injury. That experience has allowed his confidence to grow as he now gets an opportunity to become a full-time starter.
"It’s been instrumental to my confidence," Turner said. "It was really great to get that experience and playing with such great guys that are going to be in the league next year. When Brennan Williams went down, they needed someone to step up and I was able to work in to get experience and it was just a dream come true."