OL Leading UNC's Late Charge

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After early season struggles, North Carolina's offensive line has spurred the program's three-game ACC winning streak. OL coach Sam Pittman spoke with Inside Carolina prior to Butch Davis' pre-practice media gathering on Wednesday to discuss the challenges up front.

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Butch Davis Pre-Practice

** The Tar Heel offensive line has been a topic of conversation ever since Aaron Stahl announced his decision to graduate early last summer. Hit with a rash of offseason injuries and attrition, Pittman understood in August the frailty of the situation, saying, "We'll put a good product out there, but obviously we have to stay away from injuries."

But that didn't happen. Center Lowell Dyer missed six games with a shoulder injury and left guard Jonathan Cooper spent the first half of the season dealing with an ankle sprain. Those injuries forced true freshmen Brennan Williams and Travis Bond into the equation, as well as former defensive linemen Greg Elleby and Tavares Brown .

Pittman had to deal with two issues simultaneously.

"For the guys that don't understand O-line play, it's really important that if you and I play next to each other, I know you and you know me – very well," Pittman said. "Especially on the road where we can't communicate because we can't hear each other."

With various players being thrust into the line-up in September and early October, there was little opportunity to learn their teammates' tendencies. Combine the unfamiliarity with a lack of experience and in most cases the result will look like what happened in hapless efforts against Georgia Tech and Virginia.

But things have changed since that Virginia loss on Oct. 3. UNC is averaging 178.2 rushing yards per game in its last five weeks after managing just 60.5 yards in its previous four contests.

"They should play better," Pittman said. "I think we've started eight or nine different guys this year, but for the most part, over the last three or four weeks we've kept most of the core together… I think we have gotten better and it's just by the hard work of the kids. They've put a lot of extra time in on their own to try to figure this thing out."

Pittman indicated that Bond and Williams played in September due primarily to necessity, but that both players are earning time on their productivity these days. Bond has played in excess of 120 snaps, while Williams currently sits around 60-play mark – a number that will rise above 100 before the season is over.

Williams graded out at 80 percent in 20 snaps against Duke two weeks ago, while Bond played the entire second half and graded out at 72 percent in 40 snaps.

"You earn everything," Pittman said. "And as they get better in practice, they'll get more reps. That's just how it is. If they don't practice well, then like everybody else, they're not going to play on Saturday. They've earned the right to play now."

North Carolina has a legitimate shot at closing out the regular season with a 9-3 record, something that no one would have guessed after watching the Tar Heels' offensive line get dominated by the Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers. But Pittman's not about to pat himself on the back for services rendered.

"There's 60,000 people that come out to watch us play and there's 10 different coaches – there's a lot of people depending on each one of us to do our jobs," Pittman said. "They're not going to ask you, ‘Are you healthy?' When the season is over, they're going to ask if you did your job. And it's my job to put out a good product on the offensive line. So there wasn't any time to complain about it. That's my job. That's what Butch Davis hired me to do, so that's what I'm trying to do and it's still a work in progress."

Considering the adversity that's saturated the offensive line this season, Davis has to like what he has seen through 10 games.

"I think Sam's done a phenomenal job as has the whole offensive staff," Davis said on Wednesday. "… That's when you find out how good your coaches are as teachers. And clearly, Sam's done an outstanding job."

** Defensive back Gene Robinson was nearly bent in a half during a nasty collision in Saturday's win over Miami and did not return to the game. The freshman was not at practice on Wednesday.

"I think he was a little bit sore and stiff," Davis said. "Our training and medical staff did a great job on Sunday and Monday on the players' day off with getting him a lot of treatment and a lot of therapy, so we'll see… Thank God he's 18 years old."

Robinson's availability for Saturday's contest at Boston College will be announced when UNC releases its injury report on Thursday afternoon.

** When the Tar Heels play beneath the pines at Kenan Stadium, you can expect Davis to voice his preference for a late kickoff time in order to build excitement throughout the day. But while the UNC-BC kickoff is scheduled for noon on Saturday in Boston, Davis joked that he would prefer a 6am start time for the exact opposite effect.

"For home games, certainly, you would like it later in the afternoon because you're selfish – you would like for your fans to be able to get there and for the kids and families to get there," Davis said. "When you get on the road, the earlier the better."

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