The No. 25 North Carolina football team won’t have to game plan for an opponent on Saturday, but the Tar Heels have been working hard nonetheless in their bye week. For some players, that means a chance to get back fully fit, while for others it provides the opportunity to hone their skills.

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Junior wide receiver T.J. Thorpe has been sidelined with a left ankle injury so far this season, but Thorpe says he’s taking it all in stride and knows his return to competition is not all under his control.

“At this point, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s out of my hands. I’m a big person of faith. It’s God’s will. If He wants me to continue to play, I’m going to play. If not, I’ll know it,” Thorpe says.

WR T.J. Thorpe hauls in a  TD pass (Elliott Rubin)

WR T.J. Thorpe hauls in a TD pass (Elliott Rubin)

But with the bye week aiding the healing of his ankle, Thorpe is harboring hopes of lining up with the Tar Heel offense next weekend at East Carolina.

“I don’t know what Coach Fedora has to say, but for me personally, I have every intention of playing against ECU. I told the staff that it’s my goal. Hopefully, that will be attainable,” Thorpe says.

Despite the obvious frustration of not being able to help his team with his athletic prowess on the field,  Thorpe has been contributing in other ways.

Thorpe was credited by multiple players after the San Diego State win for his encouraging words on the sidelines and for rallying the team to lift its level when trailing to the Aztecs. Head coach Larry Fedora, for one, certainly took notice.

“If you watch film, watch T.J. Thorpe and those guys on that sideline, they sweated through everything they had. They were energetic and pumped up on that sideline. They were doing everything they could possibly do to help their teammates. I’m really proud of the way they responded and what they did throughout the game,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the sliver linings resulting from Thorpe’s injury may be the emergence of sophomore receiver Mack Hollins, who has carded a touchdown in each of the first two games in 2014.

Coach Fedora says Hollins is now an integral component of the UNC offense.

“The guy can make plays for us all the time. He’s really come on. He understands everything, so we can put him in a lot of different places to help us out. Mack is going to help us all year,” Coach Fedora says.

Sophomore center Lucas Crowley says the open week has allowed his teammates to perfect their responsibilities and become a more cohesive unit.

“These two weeks is going to help. It gives us an extra seven days to be able to go over the film and look at what each guy is doing – what blitz they are going to do and what they show. It will help out a lot,” Crowley says.

UNC O-linemen Caleb Peterson and John Ferranto team up with TE Jack Tabb on the strong side. (Elliott Rubin)

UNC O-linemen Caleb Peterson and John Ferranto team up with TE Jack Tabb on the strong side. (Elliott Rubin)

Crowley says the most growth on the UNC offensive line has come from a leadership standpoint. He says everybody now recognizes the vital role they play.

“Leadership is starting to come along. In the beginning at camp, everybody’s looking at Landon [Turner], because he’s the most experienced guy. But now, everybody is starting to realize that we can’t just rely on Landon. Landon’s even telling us that sometimes he needs us. Everybody’s stepping up,” Crowley says.

The Tar Heels certainly know they’ll need to step up when they hit the road to face the ECU Pirates next weekend.