UNC head coach Larry Fedora has repeatedly cited his offensive line as the position group that he is least comfortable with, and that was before injuries to junior right guard Landon Turner, the line’s veteran anchor, and sophomore right tackle Jon Heck, who went down with a right leg injury against East Carolina and never returned.
Turner and Heck account for 35 of the offensive line’s 59 career starts. Holts worked with the first team during practice on Tuesday.
Coming out of high school, Holts was one of the most highly touted offensive linemen to ever sign with North Carolina. Scout.com ranked the five-star Indianapolis native as the third-best tackle prospect in the 2011 class.
Despite that potential, injuries have drastically hampered Holts’s ability to contribute. He was immediately redshirted due to major wrist surgery in 2011 and has dealt with a variety of injuries – including one to his knee - ever since. As a result, he has just one career start on his resume.
“The one thing for him, he’s had so many injuries and problems,” UNC offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic said on Tuesday. “You can still see he doesn’t bend and move as he did a while back, but he’s battling through it. I think he’s gotten tougher.”
The junior also reflected on the difficulties of missing significant time due to injury.
“I felt like I should have been starting last year, but obviously I got hurt,” Holts said. “I’ve competed every day and gotten healthy over all of training camp. I’ve got my knee stronger and I feel pretty good.”
According to Kapilovic, Holts “stood up” when he was thrown into the fire against East Carolina. Fedora told reporters on Monday that Holts did a "nice job" and only had one missed major assignment.
The fact that Holts spent the majority of training camp working next to true freshman guard Jared Cohen – who is now starting in Turner’s place - probably averted a total disaster, but there is still plenty of concern about this inexperienced line heading into Saturday’s primetime contest with All-America defensive end Vic Beasley and his teammates along the Tigers’ defensive front.
Regardless of the level of difficulty on the horizon, both player and coach see this weekend as an opportunity to make a statement.
“Everyone says we’re too young, not big enough, and we really take that to heart every time we’re out here,” Holts said.
UNC’s mantra is “next man up,” regardless of whether or not that next man is a true freshman or a veteran that’s been hampered by injuries.
“It’s about opportunities, so every guy in that room, you don’t know when it’s going to be your time,” Kapilovic told reporters. “I’m hoping [Holts] gets this opportunity and responds, and that’s what you for hope for.”
If Heck is unable to play on Saturday, four of UNC’s five starting offensive linemen will have fewer than five career starts and only nine total.
Opportunity Awaits for Holts
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