"It definitely wasn't comfortable for me," he said. "I started realizing these guys are gone, who's here now. It's kind of scary at first, but at the same time, you've got to do it. If I want to have a good year, then that's something I need to do and that's in my control. So I need to step up to the plate and do that."
Tim Hurst, James' father and a former offensive lineman at Alabama, said his son is ready to handle the additional responsibility. He pointed to his son's work ethic, which picked up as a high school sophomore to make him one of the nation's top prep linemen.
"The thing about James is he doesn't ever seem to get a big head about it," Tim Hurst said. "He's always been real level-headed and he's always been more concerned about the other guy than himself most of the time. I think he'll handle it all very well, very well."
The Aug. 29 opener at South Carolina will offer an immediate challenge. Hurst will likely find himself charged with blocking Associated Press first-team All-American Jadeveon Clowney.
Hurst said he's hearing plenty of questions about going against Clowney, who had 13 sacks last year and is regarded as a potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. He said it's "a big opportunity" and knows it could impact his draft chances.
Still, if Hurst has his way, no one will pay attention to his work during the season. Fans will be too busy watching Renner throw the ball downfield or Bernard's backfield replacement find open running lanes for big gains in a high-scoring offense.
"It's so cool to see it all click at the exact same time — five guys have great blocks and then have the running back just hit it," Hurst said. "Everyone sees him running for 70 yards. I watch the film and I see five linemen in a span of 3 yards having perfect blocks. It's awesome to me."