CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The impact of the departure of so many veterans from the North Carolina offense has been a frequent topic of discussion for the 2017 Tar Heel football team.
While the loss of their skills, knowledge, and experience will challenge head coach Larry Fedora, offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic, and the offense, there is another aspect the offense will have to face - the loss of their leadership.
“So far in the offseason, we’ve really not had ‘that guy’ step up into a leadership role,” Kapilovic said. “Last year Caleb Peterson assumed that role. He had not been a leader before, he was a quiet guy, not a vocal leader, and was important to us in that role last season.”
How important? The team votes for its captains, and wide receiver Mack Hollins and offensive guard Caleb Peterson were selected by the offense prior to the start of the 2016 season. Kapilovic notes that losing both offensive team captains to injury was hard, and brought it up while discussing a late-season drop in offensive production.
“On November 5th, we play Georgia Tech, and everything is clicking on offense. Then we play Duke, go down and score easily early, then for whatever reason the offense struggles,” Kapilovic said. “That loss, and the loss to NC State, when we struggled on offense again, are burning, stinging losses; we’ve watched and re-watched those games a hundred times, trying to figure out what happened.”
Kapilovic doesn’t blame those losses on the absence of Hollins and Peterson, only that not having those leaders on the field to steady the ship, get back on track, may have made a difference. Instead he says their best explanation is that offensive players began to “get out of their lanes,” trying to do more than their assignments required on certain plays.
Which brought him back to 2017 and the need for leadership.
“(Left tackle) Bentley Spain is trying to be that guy, and I believe he can be,” Kapilovic said. “Since he’s been here, he’s just gone about his business, done his job, been a steady guy, a lot like Peterson before last season. Now he’s stepping up, growing into that role. I think he can be that guy.”
Kapilovic is also optimistic about discovering new leaders on offense, because the departed players were good role models for current players to emulate.
“That’s huge,” Kapilovic said. “How those players understood the importance of leadership, and having the younger guys see how they handled it, is something that will help them become leaders themselves.”
While the skills and stats lost through attrition command the most attention in discussions for the potential of the next season for any college football team, replacing those players as leaders is something that a coaching staff watches closely - North Carolina is no exception, particularly for the 2017 season.