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Turner's Take: Game Week Begins

Turner's Take: Game Week Begins

By Turner Walston

The first Carolina football game week press conference of the year took place Friday at Kenan Football Center. Typically, these press conferences are held on the Monday before a Saturday game, but with the Tar Heels helping kick off the 2013 college football season with a visit to South Carolina on Thursday, the event was moved to Friday.

Upon their arrival, media members are handed a packet of game notes. Inevitably, the most popular page in the packet features the pregame depth chart. Who won the position battles heading into the season opener? While that question won’t truly be answered until the Tar Heels take the field on Thursday, it’s entertaining to take a look.

Of the 28 positions listed on the depth chart (11 on offense and defense, six on special teams), there are nine ‘OR’s. That is, a starter or backup has not yet been determined.

Right tackle is one of those positions. The depth chart lists three players, redshirt freshman Jon Heck, sophomore Kiaro Holts and junior Nick Appel. The position battle there has been an interesting one to monitor throughout training camp, but Larry Fedora said Friday that offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic had made a decision. “Jon Heck is going to start the game, and we’ll take it from there. Anytime you have youth you put them in as many situations as you can in practice so it’s game like and then you hope that carries over into the game, so we’ll see but Jon’s kind of distanced himself in the last few days and I think Kap’s ready to make the call there.”

The 6’6, 300-pound Heck redshirted a season ago and is the son of Andy Heck, offensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. “He’s gotten a lot of starter reps over the last couple of days,” left tackle James Hurst said of Heck. “He’s got incredibly long arms, obviously his dad’s an NFL o-line coach so he’s got the pedigree, but on the flip side, he doesn’t have any game experience so that’s going to be tough but mentally I think he’ll be able to handle it just fine. You get those first couple of plays under your belt and it’s like nothing, you’re just playing football.”

The ‘mike’ (middle) linebacker position doesn’t have an ‘OR’ next to it, but Fedora said sophomore Jeff Schoettmer would likely start over redshirt freshman Nathan Staub, who was listed atop the depth chart. Further down, Jack Tabb (an ‘OR’ with Eric Ebron at tight end) is third.

Sophomore Kendrick Singleton is listed atop the depth chart at one of the three wide receiver spots. Singleton played special teams and did not have a catch in 2012, but both Fedora and quarterback Bryn Renner said he is the leader in the wide receivers room. “He’s a hard working guy and the only guy on that football team that started on all four special teams,” Fedora said of Singleton. “(He gives) tremendous effort all the time. He’s what you look for in a player. He’s dependable in everything that we do, whether you ask him to block, or whether you’re asking him to run a route at a certain depth or whether you’re asking him to make a play, whatever it is, you know you can count on him. Dependability is the most important ability these guys have.”

Last year, Singleton was often mentioned as sort of a behind-the-scenes impact player (he had 12 special teams tackles) who gave maximum effort every time he lined up. It appears in 2013 he’ll have the opportunity to make a difference from scrimmage as well. “(He’s a) very physical receiver,” Renner said. “He can get off the line, he can block, he really can do it all. He has the speed, he has great hands and I think he’s just eager to make plays in games.”

Eight redshirt freshmen dot the depth chart, including Heck, Caleb Peterson (starting at left guard), Staub, Junior Gnonkonde (backing up Kareem Martin at defensive end, and Joe Jackson (third at weakside linebacker). Fedora said the staff understood a year ago that the team would be young in 2013, so they made an effort to give those redshirting players as much attention as possible, With no bowl practice period, giving those players practice experience was of paramount importance. “The plan was to put those guys in situations throughout the season last year, two days a week, where they got a lot of reps and the coaches were focused on them at that time during the season,” he said. The plan appears to have paid off.

“The redshirt year was definitely helpful for a lot of guys,” Martin said. “I think they’re really excited, because there’s a lot of potential for them to be able to play this year. I think hopefully they’ll grasp that opportunity and just make the most of it. We have a lot of redshirts in the linebacking corps, guys like (Dan) Mastromatteo and Nathan Staub. Those guys have had a great camp and hopefully they’ll be able to translate onto the field Thursday.”

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