OL: Forming A Bond

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- As North Carolina's third offensive line coach in as many seasons, Sam Pittman admits he and the staff have had to spend valuable practice minutes deprogramming players, and thus, installing the new offense is taking a little longer than expected. Yet, after nine spring practices, Pittman is genuinely impressed with the level of potential he has to work with.

IC's Spring Analysis
  • QB: New Beginnings
  • LB: Looking For Leaders
  • The feelings between player and coach are being reciprocated.

    "Coach Pittman is not just like a boss that's coming down on you all the time, you want to do well for him," senior center Scott Lenahan said. "He's not like a dictator, he gives you positive reinforcement."

    Pittman has formed a bond with the players built on trust and respect. He believes if the willingness to work is there, he can mold this unit into a smash-mouth group designed to establish dominance via the run first and then open up the passing attack.

    "Right now we're trying to do the things our team does best, and we're trying to build our system around what we can perform well," Pittman said. "Basically the first nine practices have been about finding out what that is.

    "We're trying to find out five or six run (schemes) that we can run well and three or four protections where we can protect well, and then we'll open up from there."

    Youth is evolving into experience at most positions, and noticeably, the gap between the ones and twos has decreased considerably.

    "We all know there are no spots (determined) right now," says sophomore tackle Andre' Barbour, who has added 50 pounds to his 6-6 frame since he first arrived on campus. "We're just competing as a team. We're trying to bond together. Tomorrow is first, then camp, and then the first game."

    Pittman and the staff have had to exercise patience as they first get to know their personnel, and then try to determine their strengths and weaknesses both individually and collectively.

    "We have our beliefs that obviously if we can't do something well, we're not going to do it," he said. "We know all our kids, but there is still tape on the front of their helmets, so it's really a learning process, and they're doing the same thing with us."

    Hoping to improve on a season in which they averaged almost 60 fewer yards per game rushing than their opponents, the Tar Heels again seek to return to the Tailback U. status that once struck fear into the league with a 1000-yard rusher almost annually.

    Pittman appears to be the right man for the job, coming to Carolina after four seasons at Northern Illinois. In 2006, the Huskies' offensive line paved the way for the nation's leading rusher, Garrett Wolfe, to run for more than 1,900 yards.

    "We want to establish dominance with the run, then hit them from all sides with the pass," Barbour said. "We've got some really good receivers and some really good running backs coming up."

    The run schemes being employed have been extremely gratifying for Lenahan, who says he prefers Butch Davis' efficient practice routine as opposed to what he called a ‘9 to 5' approach under the previous regime.

    "Coach Pittman believes in pulling linemen, and I like that," Lenahan said. "It's awesome to pull out and just knock the snot out of a little guy. Nothing feels better than going out and just cleaning someone's clock. That's an offensive lineman's dream like running backs dream of getting touchdowns, when you pull out and make a knockdown block."

    Pittman is careful to recognize that the way things have been taught in the past with regards to the Carolina offensive line have not necessarily been wrong. It's just that everybody administers ideas differently.

    "There's a lot of ways to run the inside zone and there's a lot of ways to run the stretch. We have our beliefs, so yes, it's different than what it was in the past," Pittman said. "There are times kids are going to revert back to how they did things, and I'm not saying that wasn't right; it's just not how we want things. And there are still a lot of things that are similar.

    So what excites Pittman about the group he has to work with this year?

    "The first thing is their willingness to compete and learn," he said. "The other thing is we're very athletic. We can run. We're struggling right now at times, we're not doing a great job of picking up all the blitzes and different things of that nature right now. But athletically, we can do it. We haven't had to cut out one thing because we thought athletically they couldn't do it.

    "The other thing is who we practice against, because our D-Line is outstanding. We're very fortunate to have a group like them to go out and practice against every day."

    The important thing is, albeit slowly but surely, Pittman is getting his points across to his players in a manner conducive to their learning.

    "Coach Pittman is somebody you can trust and he's somebody you have respect for," Barbour said. "You don't mind listening to him and taking that teaching."

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