Protecting the Blind Side

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A little more than a year ago, Carl Gaskins felt his knee pop during a hot August practice at Navy Fields, ending his third season in Chapel Hill before it ever really began. Now, the red-shirt junior left tackle is ready to deliver on the promise that has followed him since first arriving on campus.

Gaskins was set to push incumbent left tackle Kyle Jolly for playing last fall before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee during an inside run drill on Aug. 12, less than two weeks into the '09 training camp. The Melbourne, Fla. native sat out the contact portion of spring practice back in April, and did not receive a "full go" from the training staff until May.

"The ACL injury is a difficult one to recover from," Gaskins said. "It's a long process. It was very frustrating… I'm just trying to get back to normal, trying to get back to where I was before the injury to help my team out. Left tackle is a very important position, so I'm going to try to do my best."

Gaskins has drawn praise since enrolling at North Carolina in the summer of '07, both for his talent and for his athleticism. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder owns the UNC record in the 40-yard dash for an offensive lineman with a 4.87.

Offensive line coach Sam Pittman added fuel to the fire when he told Inside Carolina in '08 that, "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."

While Gaskins may have been limited physically for most of the past year, he kept mentally sharp by reading the playbook and living in the film room. After getting clearance to hit the weights hard, Gaskins rebuilt the strength in his lower half this summer, but he's not quite ready to proclaim that he's back to 100 percent.

"I'm close – I'm close to being back to normal," Gaskins said. "Just after practice, I have to ice up and do the regular rehab, but I'm getting close to normal."

Arguably the most difficult part of returning from a serious injury is in regaining your confidence, and Gaskins is no exception.

"I would tell you that, in all honesty, he's been a little, tiny bit tentative the first two, three, four practices," UNC head coach Butch Davis said on Monday. "But what we've been able to see from him is that he's gained confidence. We knew that there would be a certain element of that.

"Any time you come off knee reconstruction there's a little bit of period of time that psychologically you got to feel yourself going through some drills. And I would say his performances every single day have gotten a little bit quicker, a little faster, a little bit more physical as he's learned to trust that knee and it is healthy. He's going against a good quality defensive line so it challenges him every day, but I think he's making some strides."

The junior entered training camp as the listed starter at left tackle and remains in that role, edging out James Hurst despite the true freshman performing well during spring practice.

Gaskins has heard the praise directed his way from both teammates and coaches, and he has no plans on letting them down when North Carolina takes the Georgia Dome field against LSU on Sept. 4.

"I just have to perform," Gaskins said. "I just have to prove them right. I just have to go out there and be on top of my plays and show everybody what I can do."

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