Roundtable participants: Don Callahan, Mark Paschal, Greg Barnes and Buck Sanders. Paschal, who was a standout linebacker for the Tar Heels last year, is joining the IC staff this season and will provide weekly analysis on the site as well as co-hosting the Inside Carolina Call-In postgame show. Stay tuned for more details.)
The offensive line took some hits with the losses of Calvin Darity and Garrett Reynolds, and the depth there is pretty thin. What steps can UNC take to shore up this area during fall camp, or is the plan to try and get through this year while younger talented players get acclimated?
Don: Due to the lack of depth, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of the incoming freshmen in the two-deep. Travis Bond, for example, already has the required size, he just needs to work on his technique and learn UNC’s schemes.
Greg: While I think offensive line depth issues are typically blown out of proportion because those statements are made assuming injuries, losing Aaron Stahl in addition to Darity and Reynolds means that UNC departs with over 90 starts along the line. Mike Ingersoll received the bulk of the snaps at right tackle in the spring, but the staff has raved about red-shirt sophomores Carl Gaskins and Kevin Bryant, as well as red-shirt freshman Jonathan Cooper, for two years now. It’s time for those players to live up to the expectations and give the Tar Heels a legitimate 7-to-8 man rotation.
Mark: To be honest this is my biggest area of concern on the offensive side of the ball. Losing Garrett (Reynolds), Calvin (Darity) and Aaron (Stahl) will be tough. Garrett was the hardest working player I have ever been around. Calvin had a lot of experience and Aaron played valuable minutes the last two seasons. Losing Richard Quinn at tight end is also a huge loss because of his outstanding blocking ability. That being said, we have Alan Pelc, Kyle Jolly and Lowell Dyer coming back who have played and contributed. I look for this group to continue to get tougher, more physical and in better shape, because we are very thin behind them. The inexperience and depth is concerning. Jonathan Cooper and Mike Ingersoll will probably round up the starting five and have no true playing time between them. Look for Coach Pittman to try his best to develop as much depth as possible for the opener, and try to get guys in the game to gain experience.
Buck: If Travis Bond has to play as a true freshman, the wheels have fallen off the wagon. What I will look for is what the staff and other players say about the progress of players like Greg Elleby, Kevin Bryant, and Cam Holland. I look for Kyle Jolly to play left tackle and back up right tackle, with Carl Gaskins the first guy off the bench at tackle. Alan Pelc will play right guard while Jon Cooper should be fine at left guard, but the depth there is a concern. I keep hearing good things about Elleby’s progress, and it would be huge for the line if he can be a legitimate reserve at guard. How well Coach Pittman can shuffle the deck to develop some depth at offensive line will be one of the most important offensive storylines of fall camp.
For T.J. Yates to have a stellar junior year, what area or areas does he need to concentrate on during fall camp?
Mark: Stay healthy, develop a solid running game, and consistent pass protection would be a start. Then bringing along the receivers as quickly as possible is the next step. T.J. is the leader of the offense and he has got more talent than many people give him credit for. T.J. will manage the game like he has always done, but his success or lack thereof will lie on the shoulders of the O-line, receivers’ and running backs. I think he is one of the best QBs in the ACC, but this is a team game and he is the leader, but will need a supporting cast to help him lead this team to week in and week out success.
Don: Yates needs to focus on preventive measures to stay healthy this season. While there are plenty of areas of his game that need work (i.e. accuracy and velocity), it won’t make a difference if he finds himself on the training table with an injury. Also, behind Yates, UNC has a lot of question marks.
Greg: This one’s easy – stay healthy. While he recovered from shoulder surgery following the ’07 season, Yates locked himself in the film room. After fracturing his ankle against Virginia Tech last fall, the red-shirt junior learned from the sideline and then worked diligently in the offseason on his footwork and quickness. Yates has all of the tools, including leadership capabilities. Now he just has to stay healthy enough to showcase those talents to the college football world.
Buck: Maybe I am seeing the glass half full, but it is not as though Yates doesn’t have some of the necessary pieces around him for a successful offense. Draughn and Houston were, at a minimum, adequate last year and should be improved. Greg Little has some experience, and there is a lot of talent, albeit unproven, among the wide receivers. Yates has a solid safety valve in Zach Pianalto, who could be in for a big year. Put another way, I’d be far more concerned about the offense if the Tar Heels were starting a red-shirt freshman at quarterback and had more experience at wide receiver. I see this one as pretty much all about the offensive line. If they can help establish the run even more and do a decent job in pass protection, Yates could have a monster year.