PINEHURST -- As a member of North Carolina’s off-injured offensive line two years ago, Jonathan Cooper always wanted to believe things would get better up front, “but I don’t know if we ever thought we would be projected as well as we are now.”
Indeed, the Tar Heels – who have steadily improved after struggling to both open running holes, and protect the quarterback early in 2009 because of youth and injuries -- begin practice on August 5 boasting a front line that is now one of its biggest strengths.
“This offensive line can be the best one Carolina has had in years,’’ UNC defensive lineman Tydreke Powell predicted Sunday at the ACC Kickoff.
The difference is experience. Cooper, a junior guard, headlines a position group that returns two other starters (center Cam Holland and tackle James Hurst), plus guard Travis Bond, who started four games last season. Combined, foursome has started 58 career games – leading to both continuity and confidence.
“Part of it is being healthy, and part of it is knowing our assignments,’’ Cooper said. “I think there were times [in the past] when we were just happy to get into our guys [assignments] some of the time, but now we’re going for perfection, because we know we have the athletes and the guys to do it.”
Boasting a veteran line will be key to an offense that replaces four-year quarterback T.J. Yates (more than 40 school records) with sophomore Bryn Renner (two career passes), and that also lost its three top rushers from last season.
“We have size, speed and strength,’’ Cooper said, “…and I think we can set the tone.”
David Scott has been with the Observer for 28 years and has written about ACC, SEC and other college sports in the Charlotte region. He covers Wake Forest, South Carolina and college soccer for the Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer.
J.P. Giglio covers the ACC for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1997, and the Observer.
Andrew Carter covers the North Carolina Tar Heels for the Observer and News & Observer.
Laura Keeley covers the Duke Blue Devils for the Observer and News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter.
Chip Alexander covers the Carolina Hurricanes and college football for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1979, and the Observer.
Luke DeCock has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist for the Observer and News & Observer in August 2008.