Tuesday, August 25, 2009
UNC's O-line trying to lay low, prove themselves quietly
By Heather Dinich
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Offensive linemen just can't win.
If they're good and doing their jobs well, you don't hear much about them. Instead, you hear about the talented athletes they're blocking for. If they're struggling, though, they're tagged as the root of the problem, just like Clemson's offensive line was a year ago.
After a turbulent offseason that included a few departures and injuries, North Carolina's front five are working hard to make it through this fall rather unnoticed.
"That's the motivation to be good," junior offensive guard Alan Pelc said. "There's not a lot of talk about the offensive line, but that's what we got into. We came into it knowing that, and to us it's a good thing if our name's not mentioned."
So far, UNC's O-line has been the topic of discussion for all the wrong reasons. Earlier this month, offensive tackle Carl Gaskins tore his ACL, which ended his season. Aaron Stahl decided to graduate and leave the program, foregoing a final year of eligibility. And reserve Kevin Bryant, who was charged with misdemeanor assault of a female this summer, decided not to return to the program for his sophomore season. All that while the Heels were trying to replace two starters to graduation.
"We're going to be fine," center Lowell Dyer said. "I think what a lot of people are concerned about is that there's not necessarily a lot of experience, as far as game time, but the talent is there, the technique, the knowledge. We've got people coming along. I don't think it's what everybody is making it out to be. It's certainly not something I'm losing sleep over."
The Heels have seven older players they can depend upon, and three true freshmen on scholarship who help make up the two-deep rotation. Pelc, Dyer and Kyle Jolly are the veterans of the group. Junior Mike Ingersoll, who has played at guard, center and tackle, can obviously help anywhere, but his playing time has been limited. One of the younger players worth keeping an eye on will be Jonathan Cooper, a redshirt freshman who offensive line coach Sam Pittman said is "a very fine player." Junior Greg Elleby is a reserve at left guard and left tackle, and Cam Holland is his entering his third season as a center. (He can also bench a team-best 500 pounds.)
So it's not as if there's not skill on the roster, it's just that a lack of experience leaves room for doubt -- especially when you're looking from the outside in.
"They're the cards that are dealt to us right now," Pittman said. "We're going to go out and do the very best we can. … We have seven guys that have won ball games, and so we just have to bring the young guys along. You're concerned about the injuries, but other than that, we're a pretty good offensive line out there."
All they have to do now is prove it.