Turner's Take: Turner's Turn
It's no secret that Larry Fedora expects his offense to push the tempo even faster in year two. The Tar Heels averaged 75 offensive snaps per game in 2012, and with a year under their belts want to boost that number this season. But the nature of football is that no roster is the same from one year to the next, and with Jonathan Cooper, Brennan Williams and Travis Bond now in NFL camps, Carolina will need some less-experienced players to fill some pretty big shoes.
The good news? Carolina returns players at arguably the two most important positions up front: center Russell Bodine, an All-ACC candidate in 2013, and left tackle James Hurst, a first-team All-ACC player a year ago. If you have to rebuild up front, those are two good building blocks with which to begin.
Behind Hurst and Bodine, sophomore Landon Turner finds himself as the next-most experienced Tar Heel up front. When Williams underwent shoulder surgery late in the 2012 season, Bond shifted out to right tackle. Turner, then a redshirt freshman, stepped in at right guard. He started the final four games of the season. "That experience last year was really important for me," Turner says. "I was able to get true full-speed reps under my belt, and I got to carry that experience in the spring and kind of build on that knowledge, so I'm feeling really confident about the offense this fall."
Between the two veterans and two new full-time starters at left guard and right tackle, Turner is something of a 'bridge' player. "We're counting on him like a seasoned veteran," Hurst says of Turner. "He knows that, and it's a lot of pressure for him, but he's looking forward to it."
The 2013 Tar Heel offensive line consists of players recruited by two different staffs to play in two very different offensive styles. Turner, recruited by the previous staff, redshirted in 2011 and returned from the Independence Bowl weighing well over 350 pounds. "I was athletic, but I wasn't in shape," he says. He got a shock to the system upon his return from Shreveport. Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson instituted a spread, no-huddle offense that would require superior conditioning. No huddle means just that, with the line expected to get set on the ball as soon as it's set for play. For Turner, that meant reshaping his body. "These past two years have been nuts. I'm sitting in the 320 range right now, and I'm moving a lot faster, my body feels better and I feel like more of an athlete. You have to, because we're playing at such a mach speed, you've got to keep up."
Even more than physical conditioning, Turner would be required to be ready mentally. While the skill players look to the sidelines for the play call, the offensive line is making pre-snap reads before getting the call audibly from the quarterback. "There's little stuff," he says. "Even our splits in between me and Russell. If we've got a three-technique (a defensive lineman setting up outside of the guard), I'll widen out just a little. We have that ingrained, and we can react to that, and then once we get the play, we'll know what's happening and we can adjust on the fly."
Hours of preparation on the practice field and in the playbook helped prepare Turner for Saturdays. "That makes a huge difference," he says of his confidence. "It'll keep you from that one hesitant step, and every half-second is crucial on the field."
Perhaps nowhere on the field is chemistry more important than on the offensive line. The ability to trust teammates, to sense their presence and react to not only what they're doing, but what they're about to do, is paramount. That chemistry is built on the practice field, in the meeting room, and by just hanging out. Turner said the closeness of the offensive line is part of what attracted him to Carolina in the first place, and he takes pride in continuing that tradition. He, Hurst and Russell recognize that it's up to them to carry the torch.
"Each year, it's just a completely different team," he says. "We were close with Coop, Brennan and Travis. Those guys aren't going to be here, and it really didn't hit us until this summer. The beautiful thing about it is in that same summer, we got a lot of the new guys coming in. Now, we're going out to dinner together, and we have a lot of pride in our chemistry as a group. We all have a great time together, so it's a different team, but in the end, we'll mesh just the same."
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