North Carolina's offensive line last year was one of the best not only in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but also in the nation. With three seniors that are now NFL bound (Jonathan Cooper, Travis Bond, and Brennan Williams), the Tar Heels didn't have to worry about holes sprouting open for Giovani Bernard and the other UNC backs.
Now, new leaders will have to step up for the Tar Heels with Cooper, Bond, and Williams all departed.
This spring that responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of James Hurst and Russell Bodine, both starters from last year who have locked up their positions for the coming season.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora is not a man who is prone to give a whole lot away, but he revealed after Friday evening's scrimmage that Bodine was the one guy who had virtually assured himself a starting job for the upcoming season at the center position, though guys like Landon Turner and Hurst are seemingly secure in first-team jobs as well.
"We've got a long way to go still. I would say Bodine has his position locked down right now, and he feels pretty confident about that. And probably Landon at the right guard. And that's about all I know right now. So we've still got a long way to go in that area," Fedora said.
Hurst has been limited throughout the spring as he overcomes a shoulder injury, so day in and day out in spring practices this March and April it's been Bodine that has truly served as Carolina's offensive line anchor, both in terms of production and in terms of leadership.
"Russell is the intensity guy up front. Big intensity guy up front. He's leading the way. We only go as fast as he goes. He does a great job every game, and he's going to have a big year this year," said senior quarterback Bryn Renner of Bodine.
Friday night Tar Heel Illustrated caught up with the 6-4, 305 pound junior to see how he's transformed into his new role on the team and how Carolina's second scrimmage went Friday evening in Kenan Stadium.
"As an offense, we came out and we got after the defense last scrimmage, so they had a little more intensity coming out here today; had something to prove," Bodine replied.
"We didn't do a great job running the offense the way we need to. We had a bunch of procedure penalties and stuff like that, that really killed some drives. We can't do that regardless of who we are playing."
"Props to them, they stepped up and played a little better and we can't kill ourselves," Bodine added.
The UNC center was right in that the defense certainly came out with a chip on their shoulder, as they didn't want a repeat of the last scrimmage in Charlotte, where the offense had quite a few big plays.
The offensive line was able to rotate Friday night with quite a few different quarterbacks and running backs leading the offense.
And while the offense didn't play quite as well as they did in Charlotte, Bodine again performed admirably in the middle of the UNC offensive line.
With more younger guys on the offensive side of the ball and being the center, Bodine has had to take on more responsibilities.
Already responsible for making the line calls up front at the line of scrimmage, Bodine has also taken an active role in helping work with some of his less-experienced teammates.
"As a center, it is my job to get everyone on the same page for pretty much every play, identifying fronts and schemes and all that stuff," said Bodine.
"So it's something you have to do a little extra to communicate with some of the younger guys and it's something I have to work for and it's something we have to work for as a unit."
"We have to operate as one unit and get things done."
"I think Bodine is doing a great job of leading that (offensive line) group and helping set the tempo," added UNC offensive coordinator Blake Anderson.
"It definitely hurts not having Hurst out there, when you've got some senior leadership that you don't have. But the reps those young guys are getting, even if they're in a backup role come the fall. It's still a work in progress, but there is improvement on a daily basis, which is really all you can ask at this point."
When asked about what he concentrated on over the offseason, Bodine said that leadership was what he really had to step into and focus on coming into the new year.
"I really tried to work on my leadership a lot. It's something that necessarily last year that I have to be a vocal with three seniors that all played," said Bodine.
"It wasn't that I didn't have to be a leader, as a center has to be in charge, but to lose those three guys (Cooper, Bond, and Williams) definitely puts me in a position where I have to step up as a leader in the room, not just on the field."
Bodine and Hurst, UNC's two returning starters, will have to come up big in an offense that will look to continue growing from last year and to continue their development in understanding the Fedora offense.
Landon Turner has been a huge help so far this spring, as well as left guard Caleb Peterson, who are both fighting for starting jobs right now.
"I think Caleb Peterson is really stepping up. He's a big-time player. Landon Turner got a lot of reps last year. He's coming in and doing a great job. We've got a left tackle and a right tackle who are brand new, and they did a great job (in the scrimmage)," said Renner.
Bodine commented earlier in the week about Turner and how he has helped him out.
"He's definitely a veteran," Bodine said of the third-year sophomore right guard.
"It's good to have him over there. I don't really have to worry about so much making calls to that (the right) side. I can let him make those calls and let me worry about the other side, where we have the younger guys. It's definitely a help."
Bodine is very optimistic about the offense and the team as a whole, but knows that the job isn't done.
It's only the start of the year, but the Tar Heels have been growing already on both sides of the ball, which is something that Fedora is looking for every day.
"The whole offense is making good progress. Where we were the first day of spring ball to where we are now is not even comparable. We have a long way to go but we are working hard to get there and we just need to keep on pushing," Bodine replied.
Leaders such as Bodine will come in handy throughout the upcoming year for the Tar Heels, and as training camp marches closer with each passing day, Bodine's role as team leader and offensive stalwart will likely be looked upon more and more by his coaches and teammates.