CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Early in the second quarter against Georgia, North Carolina called a power run right for T.J. Logan on 2nd-and-10. It had the makings for a busted play from the start, as Bulldogs defensive lineman Trenton Thompson beat right tackle Jon Heck inside and pushed Logan back and towards the sideline.
UNC’s power run features the backside guard pulling to serve as a lead blocker, and on this particular play, left guard Caleb Peterson was running parallel to the line of the scrimmage when Thompson sliced through, allowing the Tar Heel senior to block the penetrating lineman and free up Logan to turn up field. At that point, Peterson returned to his standard duties and blocked two more Georgia defenders to set up a 35-yard scamper down into the red zone.
It was the highlight in a game of standout plays by UNC’s four-year starter on the left side.
“He did a tremendous job in the run game,” offensive coordinator/OL coach Chris Kapilovic said this week.“On the one long run by T.J. Logan, he picked up Jon Heck’s guy and his guy. That was a great effort by him.”
Peterson brushed aside the praise, taking the familiar offensive lineman route of deflecting attention and settling for the greater team good.
“I didn’t do anything beyond what my responsibility as a teammate was,” Peterson said. “If I messed up, I would hope the guys next to me would correct me and make me right. So I just helped out a teammate and tried to do my job.”
Saturday’s performance marked the beginning of the end for Peterson, an Auburn, Ala. native who committed to Kapilovic and Larry Fedora at Southern Miss before following them to Chapel Hill. He’s started 38 career games, one behind Heck for the team lead, and the realization that his college eligibility runs out in a few short months prompted a sense of urgency this offseason.
“My entire life the only thing I’ve wanted to do is play professional football,” Peterson said. “I knew that if I wanted that dream to come true, I had to fix the things that I was bad at because I was not good enough last year. I’m still not good enough and I have to keep attacking those deficiencies every single day.”
Run blocking has also come easy for the 6-foot-5, 300-pound guard.
“I’ve always been more of a bruiser,” Peterson said. “I use my strength. I love run blocking. That’s my favorite thing. Run blocking has always come more natural to me than pass blocking. That’s something I’ve had to work on in the past.”
His struggles in pass protection stem from being a traditionally high pass pro setter, which leaves a lineman susceptible to speedy defensive linemen. His offseason emphasis was to read motions better and beat defenders with his initial set; in other words, by getting in the right body position so he’s not tasked with recovering. Once he’s in the proper set, Peterson’s run blocking skills come into play as he aims to initiate contact by fighting with his hands.
“Going into the season, if you would have asked Caleb Peterson’s weakness, at times he’s struggled in pass pro, and he’s really improved there,” Kapilovic said. “He was just really solid [against Georgia]. He was physical. He was putting people on the ground on a regular basis, which you like to see.”
That’s not to say that his run blocking has taken a backseat, as evidenced by his work on UNC’s longest run of the night.
“When I was watching that play, I said, ‘Dang, he knocked three people down? That’s kind of crazy,’” Logan said. “Hats off to him. He’s a great player.”