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August 5, 2013
UNC offensive guard Caleb Peterson knows he has big shoes to fill.
Those shoes once belonged to current Arizona Cardinals first round selection Jonathan Cooper who helped anchor the Tar Heel offensive line the last few seasons.
Now that he's gone most people have looked, deservedly so, at left tackle James Hurst as the heir apparent king to the "hog mollies" up front.
But ask Hurst directly who has been the most impressive player this offseason in his eyes and he doesn't even hesitate.
That acknowledgment belongs to Peterson, hands down.
"For me, I'd say Caleb Peterson is big. I say that a lot but he plays right next to me so I pay a lot more attention to him than a lot of other people," said Hurst. "He's done a lot to work hard and I know he wants this more than anything so he's doing everything he can mentally and physically to get ready for that season opener."
Ask Peterson directly what kind of influence Hurst has had on him heading into his first collegiate season as a starter and he'll tell you Hurst's presence has been invaluable.
"Oh, everything. Literally, pretty much everything. Getting rest when you can. Stretching when you can. Eating the right kind of things," said Peterson. "That's just outside of football. Inside of football, every drill we do. Every rep we take. He's always watching me and being that big brother to me-being that mentor."
Jadeveon Clowney has given "Johnny Football" a run for his money for the "Most Talked about Player" award this offseason. Week One will see Hurst, Peterson and the rest of the Tar Heel O-line try to make
Clowney's opening night in 2013 a forgetful one.
Peterson touched on what his role will be in making sure all of the pressure doesn't land on No. 68's shoulders for that assignment.
"Just any time I don't have anybody on me, if James is one-on-one with him, if I get a chance to try to take a little bit of heat of James," said Peterson. "But I'm completely confident in him. James is a freak, he know what he's doing and he really takes the preparation to a whole other level."
Along with Cooper, UNC lost two other key members to their offensive line unit in Travis Bond and Brennon Williams. With five men having to work as one to make the passing and running games work-not to mention protecting star quarterback Bryn Renner's backside-cohesion is one of, if not, the most telling signal of whether that unit can be successful.
Peterson believes that cohesion isn't just built through repetitions on the practice field but in their everyday interactions with one another out in the real world.
"I think it's coming a lot, a lot farther. It just takes time. As an offensive line you've got to get to know one another," said Peterson. "You've got to spend a lot of time together and just build that chemistry. Through the spring and from the end of last fall, we've really been able to develop that chemistry."
One of the overwhelming favorite questions to ask the Tar Heels this offseason has been comparing last season-the first under Larry Fedora's fast-break no-huddle offense-to this year as it relates to keeping a fast-paced tempo during practice.
Peterson got his chance to answer the question and he echoed what many of the Tar Heel football players have said in year two of the Fedora era.
"Today was definitely a good tempo day. I feel like we were flying around. But we did a lot of good things last year and we're just trying to match that and then go farther than that and take it to a whole other level," said Peterson. "We've still got a considerable amount of work to do. We're probably still not ready to play a game but we're not even halfway through game and we're really making big strides. So I'm happy with that."
Last season UNC opened the year against Elon in a game that any non-UNC fan would have to be super hardcore to have cared about.
This season the Heels will have the attention span of every pig skinned starved American ready to kick back on the couch and celebrate the birth of a new football year.
The difference and timing, as it relates to Peterson, couldn't come at a better time in his life and career.
"Obviously as my first start, a real big game, I'm super pumped. It couldn't be any better. I'm just trying to follow the (lead) of these older guys and prep just like they do because they've been in it before. That's really what I want to do-follow in right behind them."