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It didn’t take running back Shaun Draughn very long into training camp to notice something was different about the unit in front of him.

After all, losing five players and more than 1500 pounds from one’s offensive line is pretty hard to miss.

“They started off, I wouldn’t say shaky, but as far as depth-wise, we didn’t have a lot of depth,” Draughn said.

“But the freshmen have stepped up. Brennan Williams and Travis Bond are doing a good job of taking coaching and getting better every day.”

The raid on UNC’s offensive line began last winter when starters Garrett Reynolds and Calvin Darity, old hands at right tackle and right guard, finally exhausted their eligibility.

Then Aaron Stahl, penciled in after spring practice as UNC’s starting left guard for 2009, opted to forgo his final season of eligibility and graduate early.

And when it became clear early in training camp that reserves Kevin Bryant (who left the team after a misdemeanor) and Carl Gaskins (who tore his ACL) wouldn’t be contributing to the Tar Heels this season, North Carolina was officially thin at the game’s biggest position.

“It's one of those things. You know it happens but you try not to think about it,” starting left tackle Kyle Jolly said. “But then you just have to realize that it happens and you just have to get the young guys ready to play those roles that the guys that are injured were going to play.”

But the departures of those aforementioned players haven’t tremendously affected the wealth of experience UNC will have in its starting linemen. Four out of the five starters rank as upperclassmen, with redshirt freshman Jonathan Cooper as the only outlier. 

It’s in the backups to these starters, however, that inexperience at the position shows itself. True freshmen Bond and Williams are backups at right guard and right tackle, respectively, and junior Greg Elleby, who converted to offense after playing defensive line for two seasons, backs up Jolly at left tackle.

Butch Davis said he would like to redshirt Bond and Williams this season to get them more experience at the position, but he might not have a choice should an injury situation arise in a game.

“They may be kids that we may travel,” Davis said. “If something happens, and if they have to go into the game then they’ll lose the redshirt year, and then if they didn’t have to play in a game maybe they won’t.

"A lot of it will be dictated by injuries and things that are out of our control.”

If Bond and Williams are forced to play, they won’t be entirely unprepared for the situation.

North Carolina as a team has known about its depth issue on the offensive line for most of training camp, and third-year starting left end E.J. Wilson said the defensive line has been doing its best to offer pointers and teach their young teammates the ropes.

“We give them pointers. When we go out there in pass rush we’re not going out there just beating up on our guys. That’s not making them better,” Wilson said. “And if we’re not making them better, we’re not making the team better so we’ll give them pointers, and every day you’ll see them start to take those pointers.”

 As for Elleby, his conversion for attacking the quarterback to protecting him is progressing rapidly. Elleby is already learning to play both  tackle and guard because of the depth issue, and Jolly said his backup has flourished in his new role.

Wilson, who has both played with Elleby on the defensive line and now watches Elleby practice at left tackle and guard, had similar sentiments.

“I’ve been watching him and Greg is doing really, really good,” Wilson said. “He’s way ahead of the learning curb of where we thought he’d be.

“I think he’s going to be a great addition to the offensive line.”

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