OL Brimming With Possibilities

GREENSBORO, N.C. – While discussion of the wide receiver position will likely dominate North Carolina's coverage at the 2009 ACC Football Kickoff this weekend, the offensive line would appear to have just as many question marks. But the talk on Sunday suggested that the answers to those questions are already in place.

North Carolina lost three-year starters in right guard Calvin Darity and right tackle Garrett Reynolds to graduation, before learning that rising senior Aaron Stahl was forgoing his final season of eligibility. That triumvirate combined for over 90 starts as Tar Heels, and when you factor in that red-shirt sophomore guard Mike Dykes took a medical hardship in April, the depth that Butch Davis had started to build during his short tenure in Chapel Hill had taken a serious detour.

It would be one thing if the offensive line had been an abundant strength in recent years, but the Tar Heels are coming off an '08 season in which the offense ranked 92nd nationally (321.4 yards per game) and the front five allowed 2.2 sacks per game (T-79th).

But there was an aura of confidence saturating the North Carolina contingent of quarterback T.J. Yates and defensive end E.J. Wilson with regards to the '09 edition of the offensive line. Reurning are three veteran contributors in senior left tackle Kyle Jolly (26 starts), senior center Lowell Dyer (15 starts) and junior guard Alan Pelc (10 starts).

"Lowell, Kyle and Alan are the leaders of our offensive line," Yates told a horde of reporters at the Grandover Resort on Sunday. "If they have to move around to help, they have the ability to do that, because they know every position on the offensive line. They've been able to help out the new guys."

The remaining options have seen limited action along the offensive line – red-shirt sophomore tackle Carl Gaskins, red-shirt sophomore tackle Kevin Bryant, red-shirt sophomore Cam Holland and red-shirt junior tackle Mike Ingersoll.

Add in red-shirt freshman guard Jonathan Cooper (pictured right) and defensive-lineman-turned-guard Greg Elleby, as well as three true freshmen (Travis Bond, David Collins and Brennan Williams), and what you have is a bowl of prospects raw with experience yet bubbling over with potential.

The glowing comments have arisen from various individuals, beginning at the top of the food chain with Davis and working their way down.

Regarding Bryant, Davis had this to say in late March: "He's a big, physical, intimidating guy. He's really working hard on his sets and getting up. Once he gets his paws on somebody, he is massive. He is hard to run over and run around. He's a big man."

Telling words, but not quite as strong as offensive line coach Sam Pittman's earlier comments on Gaskins: "Everybody's going to have to watch out for Carl Gaskins, because I'm telling you, he's a super young player – I mean really good."

Those types of accolades continued to roll out during the print media's session with Wilson, who heaped praise upon the 2008 recruiting class' lone signee on the offensive line.

"A lot of people talk about how freakish our defensive players are, but Jonathan Cooper is a freak of nature himself," Wilson said. "He's one of the most flexible offensive linemen that I've seen. He's fast, he's explosive. We tell him sometimes that he needs to come and play defensive line, because it's like he's a defensive lineman stuck in an offensive lineman's body."

The fifth-year senior also highlighted Cooper's willingness to tire himself out during workouts to pick a teammate up, calling that act the "ultimate sacrifice."

Wilson pointed to Elleby as being a player that has taken advantage of his move from the defensive line to the offensive line, where he is currently listed as the backup at both guard spots.

"Ever since he moved over, he's been in the film room and meeting with coaches," Wilson said. "The first day he was out there, we were doing one-on-one pass protection, and we were like, ‘Wow, Greg might actually surprise us.'"

Yates indicated that the offensive line made "great strides in protections and in the run game" during spring ball, and expressed a strong confidence in the unit's ability to perform this fall.

While no player is going to disparage his teammates in this type of setting, there was no hesitancy in Yates and Wilson's words about the offensive line. The media scrutiny on that position group will carry over until the line proves otherwise in September or beyond, but the questions at hand may find their corresponding answers are already residing in the Tar Heel locker room.

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