UPDATE: And getting thinner by the minute. Carl Gaskins lost for the season due to a torn ACL
Which is an ironic statement of sorts when talking about guys who are routinely close to 300 lbs.
The offensive line can make or break an offense for two simple reasons. First, the protect the QB and in UNC's case T.J. Yates is probably not someone you want ending up with his facemask in the dirt too often given the history of injuries there. In fact, Yates' broken foot versus Virginia Tech came from a defensive playing catching his foot from behind. In this respect the offensive line has a huge job to protect the signal caller. The second duty of the offensive line is to open up lanes for Shaun Draughan and Ryan Houston to run through. Well at least for Draughan anyway, Houston tends to make his own holes as he goes. Winning the battle in the trenches means the play in question has a chance to develop. If the offensive line does their job, then the odds of success on any given play go way up.
Given the importance of the offensive line, it is not good news for the Heels that they are already a little thin depth-wise heading into the season. Compounding the issue is the fact Aaron Stahl, a potential starter, decided to graduate and Kelvin Bryant, who was listed as the backup at both right side slots failed to even show up at camp. Stahl's decision is understandable and Bryant's departure is probably for the best given he was also embroiled in some legal trouble that involved him hitting a girl rather than a teammate. Losing two guys you could have used is going to hurt, especially if the injuries pile up.
So what is left? The two deep depth chart lists two seniors, two juniors and a redshirt freshman as the starters. That at least provides experience however, none of these guys were particularly highly rated coming out of high school so a great deal will depend on how much the UNC coaching staff has been able to develop these players into high caliber college linemen. Butch Davis has already indicated that he has been pleased with the play of RS freshman Jonathan Copper(probably starter at left guard) as well as true freshman Travis Bond and Brennan Williams. That is a fairly strong indication of where the offensive line is likely headed. That is not to say Kyle Jolly, Lowell Dyer, Alen Pelc, Mike Ingersoll and Greg Elleby are not ready to step up their play, but when the head coach is pointing to a pair of true freshman five days into camp, chances are those guys are going to see some time. Which is not really earth shattering news given the lack of depth.
The best case scenario is the offensive line does its job and the injuries are kept to a minimal. The latter is a tough task considering the size of these players and the fact they often end up in dogpiles on almost every play. It will also be paramount the offensive line plays clean football. Holding and false start are possibly the most frustrating penalties that occur in the course of a game because they often kill momentum or wipe out a key gain. Keeping those down while still doing the job of run blocking and pass protection is the key to the UNC offense being able to move down the field.