While Caleb Peterson has all but locked down the left guard position along North Carolina's offensive line, the right tackle spot remains available for anyone willing to step up and claim the job.
UNC returned two veterans in left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine, while right guard Landon Turner started the final four games of 2012. Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic hoped to have a defined starting five by the end of spring ball, but there remains uncertainty at right tackle through 16 practices of training camp.
"We feel very solid about Hurst, very solid about Bodine and Landon Turner," offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said earlier this week. "And we feel really comfortable with how Peterson has progressed. Really the stickler has been, with injuries and just day-to-day, who's going to be that right tackle? Who's that guy going to be? And it's been somebody different every day."
The message has been the same regardless of which offensive coach you ask.
"Right tackle is the real big question mark right now," Kapilovic said following Wednesday's practice. "We're trying to find somebody that can play that spot with some consistency."
Head coach Larry Fedora was even more blunt in his comments, saying, "We're waiting for somebody to say, ‘It's mine.'"
The three players involved are red-shirt sophomore Kiaro Holts and red-shirt freshmen Jon Heck and John Ferranto. Holts, a former five-star recruit, was penciled into the job during the offseason but has been "dinged up" during camp.
Kapilovic thought Heck might be the odd man out entering training camp, but Jacksonville, Fla. product has elevated his play during the first two weeks of practice. Anderson praised Heck's performance in Saturday's scrimmage, which likely explains his position with the first unit during team drills on Wednesday morning.
"Holts is in and out, Ferranto has just stayed the same as he did in the spring and Heck really started raising up, so Heck's been the guy lately," Kapilovic said. "If we can keep from getting banged up, then hopefully he'll continue to grow there."
Part of the problem is that Kapilovic is having to rely on first- or second-year players to fill roles before they would typically be called on. Despite their youth, there's a sense of urgency involved – UNC's season opener is in 15 days – to push the players forward in their development.
Chemistry is an often-discussed aspect of offensive line play, but according to Kapilovic, that can only happen once the right tackle position is ironed out.
"You almost have to find consistency in his play first to get the chemistry," Kapilovic said. "Because the problem is, you get a guy and four out of five snaps he's good, but that one snap he's going to get you killed. That's scary. They know their assignments. It's just, physically, can they hold their own on a consistent basis?
"And then the chemistry will come."
That's not to say that there's a sense of panic emitting from the offensive line meeting room at Kenan Football Center. Kapilovic acknowledged that he's seen flashes of potential with all three players.
"It's not all bad," he said. "It's not doomsday, but you would just like to see one guy rise above."
Elsewhere on the offensive line, Turner has displayed his versatility by taking quality snaps at center. If for some reason Bodine is lost to injury for a significant period of time this season, Turner will slide over and fill his role. Backup guards Will Dancy and David Collins would then be available to move into Turner's vacant spot.
Kapilovic also provided some insight into which underclassmen have made progress thus far.
"I feel like Caleb Peterson and Landon Turner have really had a good camp," Kapilovic said. "And Lucas Crowley, the new freshman center, really has done a nice job. If he can keep coming along, I think he can be a quality backup. He's going to be a dang good player for us. And Jarrod James was having a good camp and now he's out for a little bit."
Injuries up front have lead to a "musical chairs" effect, according to Kapilovic, but he expects everybody to be ready to go "in a few weeks."