Spring Practice: OL looks 'A-OK'

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's offensive line has been getting the job done up front this spring, leading a charge of optimism once known perennially at Tailback U.

In scrimmage action Wednesday at Kenan Stadium, it was clear that the Tar Heels' running game has stepped it up a notch – both with Ronnie McGill carrying tacklers for big gains and Chad Scott using his speed to break off impressive runs as well.

"I am definitely expecting a 1,000-yard back this year – either from Ronnie McGill or Chad Scott," said senior all-conference candidate center Jason Brown. "I really think that McGill has the best chance to pull it out, because he has the double-threat – the speed and the brute strength. He's not afraid to run it straight down the throat of our defense."

Carolina returns five veterans with extensive starting experience, including Brown, Willie McNeill, Skip Seagraves, Kyle Ralph and Brian Chacos. Chacos has missed all of spring practice following knee surgery, but UNC coach John Bunting said his rehab is right on schedule.

In the meantime, redshirt freshman Charlston Gray is practicing with the first team at guard.

"He kept up with us, he was in all of the meetings and he traveled," offensive line coach Hal Hunter said of Gray. "He knows what we're doing. He's athletic, he's tough and he comes from a good football program in Texas, and he may be a guy who ends up winning that position."

However, Gray limped off the field early with a minor injury.

"He is very talented and that goes a long way," Brown said of Gray. "What we're trying to do right now with Coach Hunter is harness that talent and teach him the technical aspects of the game. He's a fast learner and we're expecting to see some great things out of him."

Gray's injury opened the door for more playing time for center-guard Scott Lenahan, who has impressed coaches ever since he arrived on campus last season.

"Scott Lenahan has been playing both guard and center; he stepped in today and did a great job," Hunter said. "We played so many guys last year and that provides depth for this year."

Junior guards Steven Bell and Arthur Smith are also competing for significant playing time this fall.

"All those guys are all fighting for those inside two guard positions," said Hunter. "Kyle Ralph probably has the inside track just because he's been playing for the last two years and had a good solid spring."

Ralph laid a tremendous hit today to spring Scott after he was trapped and then got free for an impromptu end-around that wound up in the endzone.

"I really, truly believe that we should have one of the better offensive lines in the ACC this year," Bunting said. "I love the kids we're breaking in as freshmen. I don't know if they're going to play at all or a little – that remains to be seen, but I think we'll have some depth on this offensive line."

"We're definitely going to see a huge improvement, and we all have huge expectations," added Brown. "We know we're going to take it to the next level this year coming up."

For Hunter, who begins his third season at UNC, things have gotten much easier now that coaching transition seems to be a thing of the past.

"They know what I expect," Hunter said. "They know the system and they know the communication. They know what I expect from them as far as effort and discipline. I don't have to waste any time trying to change their culture of coaching to do what I want to do. That first year, you're trying to feel each other out and learn how to get them to do what you want them to do. Now, having a group for two years, it's just go to work every day."

Bunting is equally impressed.

"Hal has done the perfect job," he said.

The Tar Heels hold their annual Spring Game Saturday at 1 p.m. in Kenan Stadium.

More notes from Wednesday's scrimmage:

  • In a little over an hour of practice, UNC topped its interception total from last season. Senior Lionell Green picked off two passes, one of which would have gone to the house. And, sophomore cornerback Kareen Taylor snagged a deflected pass at the goal line with one hand, causing Bunting to sprint over and shout, "Great job 27!"
  • Backup quarterback Matt Baker threw two touchdown passes – threading the needle to TE Justin Phillips on a nifty rollout, and then over the middle to fullback Madison Hedgecock in a goal line situation.
  • Hedgecock proved why fullback is his natural position, catching and running. On one touchdown run, he first fought off Fred Sparkman and then carried Tommy Richardson into the end zone.
  • Adarius Bowman was effective catching the ball all afternoon, and Jesse Holley went up high between two defenders to haul down a pass in the back corner of the end zone.
  • Fullback Rikki Cook had an impressive touchdown run in the goal line set.
  • Defensive tackle Chase Page went over the top to stone McGill on the goal line in one sequence.
  • Safety Gerald Sensabaugh made several big stops, including a big one on a 3rd-and-1.

  • Inside Carolina Top Stories