Depth a Factor Up Front

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In determining the victors in trench warfare, it often comes down to the haves and have-nots. North Carolina's defensive line has depth, while its offensive counterparts do not.

The score at halftime of Saturday's spring game was 10-10, despite using a standard clock and despite the first-team offensive line pairing up with the second-team defensive line. Running backs T.J. Logan and Elijah combined for 24 yards on 10 carries for the blue team, while Khris Francis managed 33 yards on eight carries.

Walk-on Charles Brunson was the lone tailback to find early success, churning out 54 yards in 14 carries before halftime.

Meanwhile, quarterbacks Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky both threw a pair of interceptions while the defense racked up seven sacks in the first half.

"Our D-line is magnificent right now," junior safety Sam Smiley told reporters after the game. "Those guys are going to help us in the back end. So they get sacks and if they throw the ball, we get picks."

Rush tackle Justin Thomason tallied five tackles and two sacks and bandits Norkeithus Otis and Shakeel Rashad both notched sacks for the blue team, while tackle Devonte Brown led the white defensive line with five tackles and 1.5 sacks. Freshman Greg Webb was also credited with half of a sack.

"Our guys have got a lot more experience now," linebacker Travis Hughes said. "I feel like everybody on our defensive line is a lot more confident, so everybody's playing with confidence and they all want to get better and better. Plus, we have a lot of depth at defensive line, so everybody's pushing each other."

While the defensive line has been able to increase its depth this spring, the offensive line has gone in reverse as injuries have mounted. Starting left guard Caleb Peterson sat out spring ball due to injury, while tackles Jon Heck and Bentley Spain have been limited at times.

The result on Saturday was a starting offensive line with three sophomores, a transfer and a lone veteran in junior right guard Landon Turner, who head coach Larry Fedora praised for his play following the game.

"Right now for the offensive line, I feel like the best thing that we're doing for them during this spring process is getting them a lot of experience," Hughes said. "A lot of those guys are new to our offensive system. Will Dancy is a transfer, so everybody's really new… So I feel like they're going to keep progressing through fall camp and this spring was great for them just to see what's going on and learn the tempo."

As the clock rolled on and the play count increased, however, the offensive line came together as fatigue set in for the defensive line.

"There's some situations where when you split the teams you don't have backups and now those guys are going 7-8-9-12 plays in a row and you really see that they get out of their comfort zone because they're used to playing about 3-4-5 plays at a time and then coming out and the next guys roll in," Fedora said. "You start seeing some guys getting gassed there later in the game."

Logan, Hood and Francis combined for 154 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries after halftime. The offensive line only allowed two sacks in the second half.

"When the offensive line is at its best, you really see this offense rolling," freshman quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. "I think it's hard to stop when everyone does their job… I'm looking forward to everyone getting healthy so we can really maximize our potential in this offense."

 

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