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July 29, 2014

UNC preseason practice preview: Offensive line

The Tar Heels' offensive line must replace two starters, and the left tackle position is a significant question entering preseason practice.

North Carolina starts football practice on Friday. Between now and then, I'm providing some thoughts on where the Tar Heels stand at every position entering preseason practice.

We'll start with the ...

OFFENSIVE LINE

Who's gone: C Russell Bodine (38 games, 27 starts); G David Collins; LT James Hurst (school record 49 starts).

Who's back: C Lucas Crowley; G Will Dancy; T John Ferranto; T Jon Heck; G Brad Henson; T Kiaro Holts; G Caleb Peterson; T R.J. Prince; C Arien Smith; G Landon Turner

Newcomers: G Jared Cohen; T Caleb Samuel; T Bentley Spain

By class: Four juniors, four sophomores, five freshmen

Average recruiting rank (Rivals.com): 3.15 stars

Depth chart entering practice:

Left tackle

Ferranto (6-5, 290, Soph.)

Prince (6-6, 315, Fr.^) OR

Spain (6-6, 300, Fr.*) OR

Left guard

Peterson (6-5, 295, Soph.) OR

Dancy (6-4, 305, Jr.)

Center

Crowley (6-3, 290, Soph.)

Smith (6-1, 270, Jr.)

Right guard

Turner (6-4, 315, Jr.)

Henson (6-5, 295, Fr.^)

Right tackle

Heck (6-6, 300, Soph.)

Holts (6-4, 305, Jr.)

* – indicates player is a freshman who enrolled early and went through spring practice

^ – indicates player has redshirted

What to like: The Tar Heels lost just two regular linemen from last season, so there's a lot coming back. UNC is young up front – not a senior to be found on the depth chart – so you have to figure this will be a group that improves over time, and one that has a high ceiling. Turner could be one of the best guards in the ACC, and Spain, who enrolled early, was among the most heralded prospects in the country.

What to question: Though UNC lost two starting linemen, they happened to be the team's best linemen a season ago. Figuring out who replaces Hurst at left tackle will be the prominent storyline throughout the preseason. Crowley, who played in six games last season, has a firm grasp at center, where he replaces Bodine. But there are also concerns about how all these young guys come together to form a cohesive unit. Pass protection was an issue last season and needs to get better.

Preseason storylines: It starts with the competition at left tackle. Spain is the most talented player there but he wasn't healthy in the spring. If he is healthy, and performs as expected in the preseason, the starting job could be his to lose. Right tackle was a constant issue last season and Holts, once a highly-rated recruit, still has time to realize his potential. UNC should be strong in the middle of the line.

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