The Tar Heels lost another player — junior defensive back Matt Merletti — to a torn ACL Tuesday, team spokesman Kevin Best said in a statement.

The Cleveland, Ohio, native joins Carl Gaskins, a sophomore offensive tackle who was injured Aug. 12, as players who will miss the entire 2009-10 campaign due to a torn ligament.

Da’Norris Searcy and Merletti (pictured) were competing to replace Trimane Goddard at safety this season, though Searcy headed into preseason practice slated in the starter position.

A co-captain on Carolina’s special teams in 2008, Merletti recorded 11 tackles and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery against UConn.

Merletti can use a medical redshirt to salvage an extra year of eligibility, allowing him two more seasons to suit up for the Tar Heels. Junior Jonathan Smith is listed behind him on the preseason depth chart.

Overall team depth must be a concern for Butch Davis, especially with the unexpected loss of several key players before the season has started. The offensive line is especially thin, and Goddard’s outstanding season cannot possibly be replaced by one man.

Another key injury in the secondary or the offensive line could hinder any progress expected in year three of the Davis experiment.