Tar Heels’ injury situation goes from bad to worse

Three key players -- LB Andre Smith, WR Thomas Jackson and OT William Sweet -- are listed as out for the season on the injury report issued by UNC on Thursday

UNC linebacker Andre Smith (10) makes a tackle in the Tar Heels' season opener against Cal. Smith will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora was only joking on Monday when, commenting about his team’s injury situation at his regular weekly news conference, he told reporters that “the way things are going right now, we’re going to need every single guy and probably some of you.”

Or maybe he wasn’t joking at all.

The official injury report issued by the Tar Heels on Thursday looked more like a depth chart with no fewer than nine potential starters listed listed as either out, doubtful or questionable for Saturday’s rivalry game against Duke.

What’s worse is that three of the most important of those players — linebacker Andre Smith, wide receiver Thomas Jackson and offensive tackle William Sweet — are now designated as being out for the season.

Smith, UNC’s best defender and the team’s top tackler with 21, has a knee injury suffered two weeks ago against Louisville. Jackson, who is tied for the team lead with two touchdown catches, injured his knee in last Saturday’s win at Old Dominion.

Sweet, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound right tackle, also suffered an unspecified injury last week.

In addition to those three, offensive guard Tommy Hatton is among those listed as out, and defensive tackle Jalen Dalton and cornerback Corey Bell Jr. are both doubtful. Starting center Cam Dillard, offensive tackle Bentley Spain and wide receiver Dazz Newsome are all listed as questionable.

Dillard didn’t play against ODU and Spain was on the field for only a handful of snaps, meaning that the Tar Heels could face the Blue Devils without three starters on the offensive line.

Left guard Nick Polino and right guard R.J. Prince are the only healthy starters.  

“We’re going to have five guys that go out there and five guys that fight their butt off,” Fedora said when asked about his offensive line situation. “Whether we’ve had any continuity with the same five, it is what it is.”

Redshirt freshman Jay-Jay McCargo and sophomore Charlie Heck played well in place of Dillard and Spain last Saturday. Sophomore Mason Veal filled in after Sweet was injured late in the first half.

Their task this Saturday will be much more difficult, however, against a Duke pass rush that ranks second in the ACC with 10 sacks through the first three games.

“I have faith in those guys,” quarterback Chazz Surratt said earlier this week. “I think they did a good job coming in, showing up and filling in last week, so (they need to) just continue to improve each day throughout practice. I have a lot of confidence in those guys.”

Here is UNC’s complete injury report:

Out for the Season:

Antwuan Branch, TB

Jesse Cuccia, S

Luke Elder, OL

D.J. Ford, S

Thomas Jackson, WR

Jacob Schmidt, TB

Andre Smith, LB

William Sweet, OT

Noah Turner, TE

Out:

Tommy Hatton, OL

Tyler Pritchett, OL

Ben Stobaugh, CB

Stanton Truitt, TB

Doubtful:

Corey Bell Jr., CB

Jalen Dalton, DT

Questionable:

Cam Dillard, C

Rontavius Groves, WR

Dazz Newsome, WR

Bentley Spain, OT