Key for OL is Consistency

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Mike Ingersoll doesn't need reminding about what went wrong for North Carolina's offensive line last season. He has run the mistakes over in his head many times, and being a smart guy, Ingersoll doesn't have to strain much to come up with a logical explanation.

"We had a lot of guys get on the field last year, which wasn't a good thing for last year's team, but can be for this year," the 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior offensive tackle said.

The revolving door along UNC's offensive line last season at times was almost chaotic. Partly as a result, Carolina's offense finished ranked No. 108 in the nation with its rushing attack at No. 79 and its inconsistent passing game at No. 102. Carolina coach Butch Davis has suggested many times part of quarterback T.J. Yates' struggles were because the line didn't always give him much time to set his feet and check off receivers.

But Ingersoll believes that is a problem of the past. He said UNC's offensive line is vastly different from the one that was in dire straits last October.

"We're healthy and we have depth now," he said. "It was kind of a blessing in disguise having so many guys come into play… We have a lot of depth now at every position."

The Heels have talent, too. Sophomore center Jonathan Cooper (6-3, 295) is likely a future pro. Alan Pelc is experienced and has a possible future at the next level, and several others have been through the wars in the trenches enough times they consider it old hand by now.

In fact, Carolina's line has gone from lacking a great deal of experience to having plenty. And to understand how an offensive line works is to appreciate the importance of chemistry. You have to trust the guy next to you perhaps more than anywhere else on the field. And the only way to gain that trust is to get your splits and go snap after snap alongside your mates.

"Absolutely," Cooper said when asked about trust. "Chemistry is such a key. You can have the other elements down, but if you lack chemistry on the line, it isn't going to work like it should."

Ingersoll points to a pair of drives late last season as indications the group grew up and has become much more efficient.

A late scoring drive to put away Miami at home and a crucial fourth-quarter drive at Virginia Tech that responded to quite possibly the ugliest play of the season for the entire team were glimpses of what's to come.

"That was one of the changes of the momentum of the season," Cooper said about the drive at Virginia Tech that rendered a field goal, setting up UNC's game-winning kick at the end of the game.

"It showed we had the ability to finish games and that we could come together and be a great team."

Both Cooper and Ingersoll also credit the coaching staff for recruiting athletes to play along the offensive line, some of whom had very different roles in high school or played other sports.

Ingersoll was a tight end in high school, Greg Elleby came over from the defensive line after arriving at UNC, Cooper wrestled in high school, Pelc played basketball in high school, and Travis Bond played basketball, baseball and participated in track & field in high school.

"People think the only requirements to be an offensive lineman is to be fat and semi-strong," Cooper said, smiling. "They don't understand you have to be flexible, strong, quick and fast, and that's just to prevent injuries."

Those skills are also needed to execute UNC's system. It requires enough pulling that plodding oafs need not apply. Timing is crucial, and if the linemen can't get around the end or down the line of scrimmage when pulling, or slip block and charge down a cornerback or safety, then the offense will stagnate.

"I love pulling," Ingersoll said. "And we're blessed to have so many guys that can move. We can move guys around and they can still handle the requirements of that position."

And if that bunch has progressed like Ingersoll and Cooper believe, Carolina's offense should make strides this fall.


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