Pittman, Part V: Spring Plans

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- With all that is going on with the offensive line - the players out in the spring, the January enrollees, the myriad line-ups employed in '09 - how will the Tar Heels line up this year on the offensive line?

Offensive line coach Sam Pittman isn't one who gives you different scenarios - he has a definite plan going into the spring. He also feels better about the line right now than he did at any time last year.

"If you look back, you've got Alan (Pelc), Greg Elleby who started five or six games, and then Cam Holland who started that many times," Pittman said. "And you've got (Jon) Cooper and Mike (Ingersoll), and Brennan Williams and Travis Bond, and I think I just said seven guys maybe right there, maybe eight with Carl (Gaskins). Then you're going to have these two guys who come in for spring ball (James Hurst and T.J. Leifheit), one or both will probably be ready to play in the fall."

There were many different configurations last year, and the last game was an interesting one. Pelc, who had played guard his entire career, was moved to center because the staff wasn't certain that either Lowell Dyer or Holland, one and two on the depth chart at center, would be able to get through bowl practices healthy enough to start at the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Is this the plan going forward? No.

"Going into the spring we're going to move Cooper to center," Pittman said. "Alan Pelc has had some surgery, so he is going to be out for the spring, so the only logical thing to do is to move Cooper in there and see if he can play center. Obviously we feel like he can, and if he comes in and plays as well as we think he can, then you know, Alan has been a fine guard for us, and we can move him back there and we'll have a heck of a two-three back-up center with Cameron and him."

With Kyle Jolly graduating, who is going to move over to left tackle, particularly with Gaskins sidelined until the fall? Williams? Ingersoll? Nope.

"We will keep Mike and Brennan on the right side and let them battle it out over there at right tackle," Pittman explained. "Of course we're going to have Carl back (in the fall), and we're going to play James Hurst and T.J. Leifheit over at left tackle this spring, and that's the only way we're going to find out if they're going to be ready or not."

While it is common for teams to publish two-deep charts and for fans and the media to think in terms of "starter and reserve" at every position, Pittman debunks that way of thinking for the offensive line:

"I don't know that I've ever been anywhere that we had more than eight guys," he said. "You usually have three tackles, three guards, and two centers, and I don't know that you ever really say, ‘We're two-deep at left tackle and two deep at right tackle,' that you can go out and win a conference or even a game with. A lot of times you have a starting left tackle and a starting right tackle, and a guy that rotates - your third-best tackle - so we're going to have that (this year)."

"(On the interior) we've got a lot of guys that have played ball, and it's like about everything in life, if you've practiced and you've got experience at it, you're going to get better at it. The first time you try and ride a bike, you're going to fall off, and then you're going to get a little better and a little better, and it is sort of that way with the line."

"You can rotate a guy in and you can do those things, but to have three or four guys in new, in a series, or the next series, maybe some guys can do that, but I can't. I don't trust that for a steady movement of the ball."

When all is said and done - and recruiting, schemes, and personnel are all factored in - how are fans to judge how effective all these efforts have been?

"If you are making yards, if you are not giving up negative plays, you're usually on the right guys," Pittman said. "We're going to get beat every now and then, somebody is going to whip us, we don't want that to happen, but every now and then that's going to happen. As long as we're consistent - and that's where the five guys and the tight end playing together comes in - as long as we're moving the ball on a consistent basis, then we're probably playing pretty well up front."

"The ultimate test, if you're having drives, if you're moving the chains, you either got a great back or you're playing pretty well up front."

That about sums it up.

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with UNC offensive line coach Sam Pittman for a one-on-one interview. This is the final installment of a five-part series running all this week from that interview session.
Part I: Stoic Leadership
Part II: Recruiting Tales
Part III: Gamers
Part IV: Schemes
Part V: Spring Plans

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