The junior guard, whose 19 career starts are the most along UNC’s offensive line, was cleared on Sunday after initially being told his injury would sideline him for 4-6 weeks.
While Turner has not been told that he will start against the Hokies, he worked with the ones during practice.
Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic didn’t hesitate to label Turner as UNC’s “best offensive lineman.”
“It’s huge,” Kapilovic said of his veteran’s return. “It starts with leadership and confidence. You can just see the guys around him are more confident to have him back. You saw him today in practice rallying around. It’s big; it’s big for the whole offense.”
Turner suffered a minor MCL sprain in the season opener against Liberty when quarterback Marquise Williams fell into his left leg. In what the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder described as an “eerily similar situation” against San Diego State, Williams was once again knocked in Turner’s left leg, which was in a locked position.
Despite being sidelined for the past two games – both UNC losses – Turner has been active on the sidelines, encouraging teammates and serving as a player-coach of sorts.
“It was an opportunity to study the game from a different lens and I think I grew from it for sure,” Turner said.
Turner said he wasn’t surprised to be cleared so far ahead of schedule.
“I planned on being back for ECU, for example,” Turner said. “That may seem unrealistic, but that was my mindset throughout the whole recovery process. I’ve recovered really fast and everything that could go right has gone right for me and I’m very thankful for that.”
His recovery progressed so quickly, in fact, that UNC’s athletic trainer told Kapilovic following last Thursday’s practice that Turner looked good enough to take his pads to Clemson, go through pregame warmups and then see where things stood.
After discussions at the team hotel on Friday night, however, that plan was scrapped.
“As much as I wanted him, I didn’t think that was going to be the best for him or us in the long run,” Kapilovic said. “I didn’t want him going in there with the first test being live and then all of a sudden having a setback and he’s out two or three more weeks.”
True freshman Jared Cohen has started in Turner's spot the previous two games.
Kapilovic said Turner passed his first test against live action in Tuesday’s practice. If the knee holds up through the week, UNC’s offensive line will see a significant boost in leadership, experience and depth.
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