Jolly Blocking the Blind Side

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – With T.J. Yates' surgically-repaired shoulder being a focal point of North Carolina's preseason festivities, anxious eyes will be fixated on the man called upon to protect the starting quarterback's blind side this fall – red-shirt junior left tackle Kyle Jolly.

But the Powhatan, Va. product insists that there is no increased pressure on his job for the 2008 season.

"No, I feel the same, because I know he's going to do his job and I plan on doing my job – we're ready to go," Jolly said.

It also helps that Jolly has 12 games of starting experience on his resume at the left tackle position, as the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder posted a 78 percent grade with 31 knock-downs in his first significant action at the Division I level last fall.

"Last year was just a new experience – I didn't know what to expect," Jolly said. "So I was just going in wide open, but now, I know what to expect in the games and how to properly prepare myself. I feel like I've matured a great deal because I'm not as nervous going into a game situation."

It helps having the same position coach for two years in a row – something that did not occur in Jolly's first three seasons at UNC. Hal Hunter departed for the NFL following the 2005 season and Mark Weber exited with the John Bunting regime after the 2006 season. Now that Sam Pittman is in his second year as the Tar Heels' offensive line coach, the entire unit is comfortably on the same page.

"It's tremendous because we get to use the same technique and we're not always having to change it," Jolly said. "The biggest thing for the offensive line is having the consistency, because we have to work as a group and you can't do that if don't have the same coach from year to year."

That consistency seems to be paying off, as Butch Davis praised the offensive line during his post-practice press conference earlier this week. Jolly agreed with his head coach's comments on Thursday afternoon.

"The O-line is making calls and we're hitting at the right angles with the right technique," Jolly said. "The spring helped us out with depth, because the younger guys got work, so we've got a good solid first and second string."

But while the spring was beneficial for the offensive line as a whole, Jolly was forced to watch from the sidelines as he recovered from a surgery that repaired a stress fracture in his left foot. Jolly indicated that the training staff realized the fracture existed following the Virginia Tech contest last September, but decided to let the left tackle play with it for the rest of the season.

And that strategy seemed to pay off in the early months of the offseason, as the training staff believed the stress fracture had healed. But it reared its head once again, this time only days before the start of spring practice. A decision was made to go ahead with surgery so that the fracture would not become an on-going issue.

"I hated not practicing," said Jolly, who indicated that his foot is back to 100 percent after being fully cleared in May. "I just wanted to be out there playing with my boys. After missing the spring, I don't want to miss anymore."

And the Virginian has full intentions of topping last season's 78 percent grade out this fall.

"You always want to improve," Jolly said. "Right now, I'm striving for a whole lot higher percentage. I know I can do a lot better because there were a lot of plays that I look at now while watching film and say, ‘How did I miss that? How did I miss this?' The year of experience has helped me out with that."

During a 2007 preseason interview with Inside Carolina – before Jolly had started his first game at left tackle – the lineman suggested that UNC defensive ends Hilee Taylor and Darius Powell were "probably the fastest guys that [he was] going to go up against all year."

Twelve games later, Jolly holds firm in his previous comments.

"They were two of the fastest ones that I went up against," Jolly said, laughing. "[South Florida's George] Selvie was pretty fast, as well. Those three are probably the fastest that I've gone up against, along with Willie Young from N.C. State.

"But Darius is still out there kicking, and I know we brought in some young guys that have got speed, so that's helped me out in practice. And now, I'm going against Darrius Massenburg, so I'm getting the opposite end of the spectrum – I'm getting the big 300-pounders, too."

But North Carolina's offensive line boasts three fourth-year and two fifth-year players in its current first-string lineup, and Jolly is certain that last season's experiences have prepared them for any surprises that may emerge this fall.

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