It seems that the offensive line has been a perennial sore spot at UNC for years. If the offensive line is again a weak link in the UNC offense, it will not be because of a lack of emphasis from the coaching staff.
Coach Robbie Caldwell coached the entire offensive line last season. This season, Coach Caldwell has been assigned the offensive centers and guards, and the offensive tackles have been assigned to Ken Browning [Coach Browning also coaches the tight ends] who is widely acclaimed for his love of teaching. As a result, the offensive line is getting a double focus they have not had in the past.
The major deficiency suffered by the offensive line is not necessarily talent, but experience. "We have five freshmen, eight sophomores, two juniors, and one senior," says Coach Caldwell.
The tentative starters across the front line are: Jeb Terry (So., right tackle); Marcus Wilson (So., right guard); Adam Metts (Sr., center); Jupiter Wilson (So., right guard), and Greg Woofter (So., left tackle). That means perhaps four sophomores are slated to start for the Tar Heels.
Bunting says, ""There's no juniors or seniors except for (center Adam) Metts. And we have Isaac (Morford) who has seen some playing time. Really that's it. I think these sophomore offensive linemen, are good. One of them is going to be great if he stays injury free and that would be Jeb Terry. He is going to be very, very good. A couple of others have great potential and a couple have weight problems."
Not just with the offensive line, but elsewhere on the UNC team, dealing with overweight players has been another focus of Strength and Conditioning Coach Jeff Connors, "Those guys who have too high a percentage of body fat are being micromanaged. There is one coach assigned to each of those players. That coach has to produce results. They are running additionally to some extent. I expect to see results."
In addition to their youth, there have also been some position changes in the spring. Explains Coach Caldwell, "Issac Morford has moved to center, and I think that will be good move for him and the team. We exchanged him with Marcus Wilson, who was a center and put him at guard, where Marcus played in high school. I think he feels pretty comfortable there. We think it will be good for them as individuals and for the team."
Inexperience can be deadly from two perspectives. Young offensive linemen usually do not come equipped, mentally or physically, for the college level.
Coach Caldwell says, "Pass blocking is the hardest thing for young players, because most do not do a lot of that in high school, so they struggle with it; where to be aggressive, where not to be aggressive, is it a quick pass, is it a drop back pass? They can't think well enough with those things yet, and that is my job, I have to get that done."
Pass blocking was not the only problem area in the spring: "We have to concentrate on improving everywhere, says Coach Caldwell, " They just have to get a feel for [Tranquill's offense], what it requires, and of course that is our job, and I think they will with time."
Tailback Willie Parker says, "The coaches are really working with the offensive line. They are working on the line being more physical and aggressive, in the weight room and on the field. For us to have a good year running or passing, the offensive line has to be physical."
Andre Williams adds, "Right now, I look at the offensive linemen and I think they are doing a good job. We have great guys and a great leader in (Adam) Metts. He is a team leader. When we are down, he has something to say. He gets us up. Offensive line is a major part of the game. I think they have stepped up. I can't say anything bad about the offensive line, they work hard just like the rest of us. To me, as far as who is standing out, it is the offensive line. I love how great a job they are doing, pulling and moving hard. They are working hard and giving 110% every day."
The spring game saw an offensive line that did not appear to be overmatched. Coach Bunting said after the Blue-White game," We are still obviously concerned about the offensive line growing… [but] the offensive line I think has gotten better. We did something different today for the first time this spring; we went one's against two's. I was really happy with the way our two offensive line battled at times against our number one defense."
Coach Caldwell added, "They need time to work on it [the new offense], and the first game is going to here before you know it. Hopefully they will have a great summer, and they will be better in the fall. I am sure their heads are spinning a little bit mentally, but we have got to come together. We have a short period of time, and we have got to get it done."
If coaching emphasis can overcome youth and inexperience, then this Tar Heel offensive line has a chance to be a pleasant surprise in 2001.