North Carolina coach Larry Fedora doesn’t often discuss details of injuries – what they are, how long they might keep a player from playing – but the overall health of his team is growing so dire that he can’t help but acknowledge the obvious.
“The way this thing’s going right now, we’re going to need every single guy and probably some of you,” Fedora said to reporters following the Tar Heels’ 53-23 victory at Old Dominion on Saturday.
UNC left that game with three more starters hurt: defensive tackle Jalen Dalton, offensive lineman William Sweet and receiver Thomas Jackson. Dalton left the stadium wearing a boot on his right foot, and Sweet watched the second half while wearing street clothes.
The status of all three of them is unknown for UNC’s game on Saturday against Duke. Those injuries, though, along with others, have put the Tar Heels in a perilous position entering an important divisional game against a rival.
UNC was already hurting before its victory at ODU, what with offensive linemen Bentley Spain, Cam Dillard and Tommy Hatton out, and starting middle linebacker Andre Smith out, as well. Smith, one of UNC’s best defensive players, suffered a knee injury in a loss against Louisville. He could miss significant time.
All told, approximately a dozen players UNC expected to either start or play a significant role this season are attempting to overcome injuries. The Tar Heels could be without several starters on Saturday against the Blue Devils, who rallied to defeat UNC in Durham last season.
“It’s been tough since day one,” Fedora said of his team’s injury situation. “It’s just unfortunate. It is what it is, and it’s the same old thing, the next guy’s got to get up and the next guy’s got to play, and you hope you can build some type of continuity at some point.”
The Tar Heels’ offensive line, especially, has been a patchwork creation reliant on fill-ins. Only two of its five starters on Saturday – R.J. Prince and Khaliel Rodgers – were expected to be in line to start during the preseason. And Rodgers suffered a minor injury against ODU but didn’t miss much time.
“We’re going to have five guys that go out there and five guys that fight their butt off, you know,” Fedora said of the line. “I mean, this is a big game for us. So our guys understand the importance of it and (offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic) will get five that will be ready to go.
“Whether we’ve had any continuity with the same five, it is what it is.”