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With little doubt, right tackle is one of the single-biggest question marks on the entire North Carolina offense heading into the upcoming season. And with less than two weeks before the Tar Heels take the field in Columbia for the season opener against South Carolina, the Tar Heels are still looking for someone to emerge.
Losing multi-year starter Brennan Williams with no clear heir apparent behind him has created a situation this summer where the Tar Heels are juggling between three and four people (Kiaro Holts, John Ferranto, Jon Heck, Nick Appel) at the position, depending on the practice.
"We have Heck, Ferranto, and Holts all working there. They're all getting reps there, and we're waiting for somebody to say, 'It's Mine,' said UNC head coach Larry Fedora this week. "I don't think anybody has solidified that spot yet. I wouldn't say so. I would think (Coach) Kap would say the same thing."
"Right tackle is a real big question mark right now, trying to find somebody who can play that spot with some consistency. We're looking for consistency. We just can't get consistency right now," said UNC offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic.
Either way you slice it, the Tar Heels are going to have a largely inexperienced player at the position, as Heck and Ferranto are both redshirt freshmen with no game action under their respective belts, and Holts is a third-year sophomore who saw some playing time last season but hasn't been counted on yet in a starting role.
"You've almost got to find consistency in a kid's play to get the chemistry. The problem is, you get a guy who's good on four out of five snaps, but that one snap he gets you killed, and that's scary," said Coach Kap. "I need somebody that they know their assignments, but physically, can they hold their own on a consistent basis? And then the chemistry will come."
"As far as what Coach Kap always tells us, it's open for someone to take. So everyone is getting plenty of opportunities. We're just going to have to see who makes the most of the opportunities," added Ferranto.
The job appeared to be Holts' to lose heading into this past spring, but he didn't definitively win the job.
And with Holts having problems staying 100 percent healthy this spring, it's created opportunities for both Heck and Ferranto to get first-team reps in practice.
"I was hoping by the end of the spring we'd know (who the starter would be at right tackle), but nobody really declared themselves (as the top guy). We've got Ferranto, Heck, and Holts. Holts is in and out (of the lineup). Ferranto has kind of just stayed the same as he did in the spring, and Heck really started raising up, so Heck has been the guy lately," said Kapilovic.
"Camp's been up and down. I've had some bad days and some decent days. I wish I was more consistent with it, but I feel being part of the offensive line, we've really come together as camp has come to an end right now," added Ferranto.
Ferranto credits last year's outgoing offensive linemen, including Williams, Jonathan Cooper, and Travis Bond, for providing them a valuable example in terms of approaching the game and preparing for a season in training camp.
"Everybody is working real hard at it, so whoever it's going to be (that wins the right tackle job), it'll be someone who's ready," Ferranto said. "What the veterans did last year is they really set a foundation for us to follow this year. Guys are stepping up left and right. We don't really think of ourselves as a young team, but a team that's ready."
"You've got seven freshmen out here, redshirt and true, and you're asking guys to play when they're not necessarily ready," added Coach Kap.
While Appel, a fourth-year junior, has been mostly working on the left side this summer, there's certainly a chance he could wind up playing right tackle as well depending on what happens, and he's gotten some reps in practice over there recently.
"Right now anything's a possibility. I've got to find a way as fast as possible who we can hang out hat on," said Coach Kap.
One of the more impressive storylines so far in training camp has been the rapid development of Heck, who seemed to struggle mightily throughout his first spring in Chapel Hill earlier this year and was seen getting yelled at multiple times by Kapilovic in spring practices.
Coach Kap admitted to us that he wasn't so sure Heck was going to be in the mix this summer, but his improved technique and work ethic has placed him firmly in the rotation.
"Heck, going in I kind of felt he was going to be the odd man out, but he really rose above too," Kapilovic said.
Saturday's scrimmage could very well be the thing that helps Fedora and Kapilovic decide who the starter will be at the right tackle post, or if they'll head into the season as a rotation.
Certainly it's an unsettling though for Tar Heel fans heading into the season opener playing such a good defensive line as South Carolina's with uncertainty at the all-important right tackle position.
And while James Hurst brings excellent experience and solidity to the left side of the UNC offensive line, there seems to be little doubt that the Gamecocks, and particularly Jadeveon Clowney, will attempt to infiltrate and disrupt North Carolina's right side of the offensive line as much as possible on game night.
Coach Fedora readily admits it's a concern for him, but it's only one of many concerns a head coach has to have at this point in the year, with training camp about to break and the Tar Heels getting ever-so-close to game week preparations.
The second-year UNC skipper has full confidence that someone will be ready to go against the Gamecocks between Holts, Heck, and Ferranto, even if he can't yet reveal who specifically will be taking the field with the starters in Columbia.
"You want that (my worries about right tackle) on a 1 to 10 concern or a 1 to 100 concern?" Fedora joked. "I'm concerned, yeah. Definitely concerned. But there's a lot of things I'm concerned about. We'll have five guys that will be ready to roll out there on the 29th."