CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On the first day of North Carolina’s training camp, offensive guard Landon Turner stressed the importance of an even-keeled approach up front, a consistent effort to prevent the peaks and valleys that plagued the unit in 2014.
A week into camp, there is still plenty of work to be done in that respect, according to the fifth-year senior.
“I think we could be even better as a group, myself included,” Turner said. “It’s very challenging mentally and emotionally to come out here every day knowing what you need to do and just be pumped about it and positive about it. But I’ve definitely seen the effort. We’re almost there.”
The Tar Heels return all five starters along the offensive line as well as the most career starts up front in the ACC (106). A position group that allowed 28 sacks and struggled in the run game (3.97 yards per carry; 9th ACC) last season no longer has inexperience and youth at its disposal to deflect criticism.
Such levels of experience, however, do not guarantee improvement, according to offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic.
“It means that I should understand what I’m doing and you get used to working with each other, he said. “But if they don’t put the work in and the time in and if I don’t push them as a coach, then they won’t get better. So there is no automatic.”
Kapilovic has seen some good moments from his position group thus far in training camp, but acknowledged the consistency aspect has been a “constant battle.”
“We have to be better,” Kapilovic said. “We understand that for this team to be great, we’ve got to be good up front and it’s got to be consistent. You look at last year and there were some games that we were really good and there were some games we weren’t. The consistency is really the key this year.”
Leadership in the face of adversity plays a role in managing emotions and powering through. When the offensive line encountered a tough stretch in spring ball, Kapilovic did not see what he had hoped to with regard to players stepping up and settling the group.
There have been positive developments in that regard during the first week of training camp, although Kapilovic said that it remains a focal point.
Injuries and attrition serve as different types of adversity to a position group built upon chemistry and trust. UNC announced that backup sophomore guard Jared Cohen was not on the initial 105-man training camp roster due to personal reasons last week. His return is uncertain.
“There is no timeframe right now,” Kapilovic said. “We’ve got to prepare now like he’s not here and go from there.”
Kapilovic entered the offseason expecting to have a solid three-man rotation with Turner, Cohen and left guard Caleb Peterson. Cohen’s absence, along with an undisclosed injury to backup guard Will Dancy, has forced sophomore Brad Henson into a prominent role on the two-deep.
"We hate to lose somebody like Jared,” Peterson said. “We just hate losing a teammate, but when you have a bunch of games in there that are working hard and busting their tail, it’s almost like we don’t miss a beat.”
Kapilovic had intended to use Henson as a swing interior lineman to play both guard and center. An undisclosed injury to backup guard Will Dancy could keep him sidelined for an extended period of time, according to a team source.
The need at guard has forced true freshman Tommy Hatton into the backup center position. Backup right tackle John Ferranto took reps at right guard on Monday.
“It makes you change things a lot and now guys have to get ready in a hurry,” Kapilovic said.
Hatton worked with the ones during practice on Monday after starting center Lucas Crowley suffered a knee injury in Sunday’s scrimmage, according to the team source.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora praised starting sophomore left tackle Bentley Spain and Hatton for their recent play on Monday.
“What you wanted to know is, because he’s a little undersized, can he physically match up?” Kapilovic said of Hatton. “And he has. He’s one of those kids that has got an intensity about him and a fight about him. He wants to please and he wants to be great, and you can see that showing through.”
Establishing consistency when everyone’s healthy and available is quite different than maintaining that status quo when adversity hits as it has recently done to the interior line.
“I don’t think we’re ready to play right now, today,” Turner said, “but through camp, if we keep going on the trend of being consistent and being positive and bringing as much as we can to the table day-in and day-out, it will all fall into place.”
OL Striving for Consistency
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