The North Carolina Tar Heels' offensive line, although not a case study like Wiley, has taken some baby steps of their own in recent weeks in which UNC has shocked Florida State and upset rival N.C. State.
Considered not long ago by many experts as one of the worst lines in the nation, the Tar Heels have slowly improved both their run and pass blocking, as the facts back up.
In UNC's first three games, all road losses to currently unbeaten teams, Carolina allowed four sacks per game, averaged 2.52 yards per rushing attempt and had the ball an average of three fewer minutes per game than the opposition. Take away Willie Parker's 77-yard touchdown run at Maryland and UNC averaged an atrocious 1.83 yards per carry.
However, in the victories UNC has averaged surrendering one fewer sack, has slightly increased its rushing average to 2.76 taking away the bad snap for a safety against FSU and most importantly has won the time of possession battle by an average of 6 ½ minutes per contest.
"Yeah, our line has been blocking better, which is why we had the ball longer (against N.C. State)," said All-American defensive end Julius Peppers. " It helps us because we stay fresher on the sidelines. I think the line will continue to get better and we will be a better team for it."
"Our offensive line has picked it up these last two games," said true freshman tailback Jacque Lewis. "They have been practicing hard and have been coached well by coach (Robbie) Caldwell and it's been a good part of our improvement."
Caldwell has taken on the roll - in a football perspective - as Dr. Marvin. His top priority and most important task has been to keep the line positive and believing they would improve, which in turn was the first step. From that point on, each step that the Heels take they are closer to being a quality football team, especially with that monster defense of theirs.
"Our offensive line has improved from week to week," said redshirt freshman quarterback Darian Durant, who had his best game on the ground (nine attempts for 47 yards) and in the air (10-14 for 128 yards and two touchdown passes) in the 17-9 win in Raleigh on Saturday. "That's our major emphasis going into every game, making sure that everything is held up up front. That's where everything starts."
The unit is young, with three sophomores (Greg Woofter, Jupiter Wilson and Jeb Terry) and a redshirt freshman (Willie McNeill) in the starting lineup. However, the Heels also regularly give playing time to true freshmen Jason Brown and Chase Page. In fact, on the two-deep depth chart for the interior line, only two players, starting senior center Adam Metts and junior reserve Isaac Morford, are not underclassmen. So the term baby steps isn't all that far-fetched.
"Our offensive line has worked really hard to get better and they have (gotten better)," said sophomore tailback Andre Williams, who twice was lost in a see of white jerseyed linemen plunging forward running up the gut on Saturday. "I know they can do the job, they know they can do the job and with coach Caldwell they will do the job."
Although the progress has been somewhat minimal, the line has improved and with its youth, should continue to over the next two months. However, Carolina's line still has plenty to do. They still get stuffed at the line too often and the six sacks allowed the last two games is entirely too many, especially with athletic quarterbacks like Durant and senior Ronald Curry. But if the improvement over the last two weeks, especially Saturday in Raleigh, is any indication, Dr. Caldwell has this bunch taking the necessary baby steps to football adulthood. And when they get there, the Heels will be an extremely formidable squad.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.