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April 18, 2013

Holts stakes claim at right tackle

Throughout the spring season, redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Kiaro Holts did quite a bit of moving around.

Part of it was necessity, given that James Hurst wasn't able to go this spring in full-contact team portions of practice and scrimmages, and early on in March the Tar Heels needed somebody that could keep the offensive line running along smoothly at that critical position.

"I got the experience at No. 1 (at left tackle), so if he (Hurst) goes down during the season we'll know what to do. It's not a shock to anybody," Hurst told Tar Heel Illustrated. "Right now I'm starting at right (tackle), but we're still competing. I hope I'm a starter."

Another reason Holts moved around was that offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic wanted to give Holts a genuine shot at competing for the vacant starting job at right tackle while also giving him some important seasoning at the left tackle post, where he backed up Holts a year ago as a redshirt freshman.

"As tackles, we've been switching. The first week we were at left, and (the last couple weeks) we we're at right. So we've been competing a lot," Holts said. "At first I was at left, and now I'm at right tackle."

Certainly it's a challenge having to be familiar with two important positions like left and right tackle, but having familiarity with both spots is huge for a guy like Holts, who is going to have every opportunity to be the starter at right tackle but may have to move over to left tackle if needed, sort of how Travis Bond moved from right guard to right tackle last year when three-year starter Brennan Williams got hurt late in the 2012 season.

"I guess just the play calls, you've just got to switch it in your head (moving around from left to right tackle). You've just got to think a little bit more on the side you're not used to."

Fortunately, Holts got a chance to see the field a season ago on gamedays, so this isn't all completely new to him.

He now finds himself in a situation where he's looking to step into the spot Williams left behind and as a sophomore, start building on his Rivals 250 potential as a high school recruit in the Tar Heel starting lineup.

The personnel challenge for Holts at the right tackle spot comes from fourth-year junior Nick Appel, a guy who has spent his UNC career backing up Williams, but now, like Holts, is looking for his chance to emerge as a key contributor.

Both players sought to push and motivate each other as they fought it out in practice.

"We're both competing for that spot right now. So whatever I do wrong, he tries to tell me and tries to coach me up, and I try to do the same for him," Holts said of Appel.

Getting some time on the field was crucial for Holts a year ago, as he's gotten some familiarity with the speed he's going to have to play at, as well as the things he's going to have to pick up in order to effectively keep defensive linemen, linebackers, and even cornerbacks off UNC quarterback Bryn Renner this fall.

"At first I was pretty nervous (playing last year), but I've just got to get the tempo of the game down. It's way faster than high school. So I just had to get that down. After that, the nerves went down and I was used to it," Holts told us.

"I guess the speed of the game (was the biggest adjustment from high school), because you can't really teach speed and aggressiveness," he added. "Picking up defenses helped me a lot, picking up the corner crash, identifying stuff, and the different types of defense."

During the offseason Holts spent a ton of time with Hurst and other teammates watching film and NFL games, which he said helped him get more familiar with what it takes to play at a higher level.

"Yeah, we met a lot (during the offseason to watch film)," he said. "Sometimes we met on the weekend. Sometimes I'd just go in there with James Hurst, just watch some NFL guys, and just try to get the technique."

Coming off a 2012 spring season in which everyone was learning the new spread offense, as well as an entirely new realm of tempo and practice pace, Holts says that the Tar Heels made significant strides this March and April.

With a fresh group of linemen eager to make their mark as replacements for stars such as Williams, Bond, and Jonathan Cooper, there was a lively tempo in workouts and the Tar Heels seemed to get a great deal accomplished on the offensive side of the ball.

"We've gotten a lot better (this spring). The intensity in practice has been going up a lot," he said. "It was more veterans on the team last year. This year there's more people competing on the offensive line right now."

"I'm excited about it. New faces. New competition. Not just the old offensive line. They were the No. 1 offensive line last year (in the ACC), so this year we're going to try to be No. 1 again."

Speaking candidly about the group, Holts said he felt the running game was farther along than the pass protection element of the offensive line heading into the summer.

"I'd say our run game is pretty good right now. Pass game, our chemistry needs to get a little bit better," he said. "The tempo (has dramatically increased). We're getting faster and faster each day. Coach (Fedora) still says we can go faster. We're going to get it done."

Holts enhanced his relationship with Coach 'Kap this spring with the daily communication and dialogue they had.

"After every play or every series, I go back and talk to him, ask him what I did wrong, what I did good, and he'll coach me up on that," Holts said of his position coach.

As he conducted workouts during the offseason and this spring, Holts had a few particular areas he was concentrating on improving.

"(I worked this offseason on) getting my hands inside, footwork, and just getting faster. Just trying to do that, and shooting my hands inside," he said. "I guess with hip flexibility and strength, bring my hands along and a lot of hips (drills)."









 

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