The North Carolina football team is looking to capitalize on last year's momentum this season. Although they're often overlooked, the offensive line will be crucial this season as they protect Sam Howell, the crowning jewel of head coach Mack Brown's air raid offense.
The offensive line will look to improve this season, sealing up the gaps that led to 37 sacks and a lot of pressure on Howell last year. They will also seek to maintain last season's success at protecting the rush that led to over 1,900 rushing yards from Michael Carter and Javonte Williams combined.
The line will feature four returning starters in Joshua Ezeudu, Brian Anderson, Marcus McKethan and Jordan Tucker. These returners assisted the Tar Heels to an average of 474 yards of total offense per game last year, good for second in the ACC. Tucker also recorded 41 knockdowns, bringing a punch to the O-line.
Even with all of their returning talent, the Tar Heels will struggle to fill the void left by Charlie Heck, the anchor of last year's line. Over preseason workouts, offensive coordinator Phil Longo has been eyeing redshirt sophomore Asim Richards to possibly fill Heck's spot. Richards gained experience against Mercer last season when he played 25 snaps against the Bears.
Another struggle for the offensive line will be depth. The loss of Heck and Nick Polino, the do-it-all fill-in, last season will be even harder with the uncertain nature of playing football in a pandemic. Injuries, quarantines and the possible spread of COVID-19 mean that depth is more important now than ever.
Longo and Brown's rotational strategy gave a number of linemen game experience last season and somewhat prepared them for this scenario. In all, the Tar Heels have 10 linemen on this year's roster that appeared in three or more games last season.
The Tar Heels will seek depth from returners Ed Montilus, Ty Murray and William Barnes. Montilus held the starting left guard position early last year, and Murray has had a preseason to make a name for himself on the line. At 6 feet, 3 inches and 335 pounds, Barnes brings sheer size and a high-level of pure athleticism to the table.
Brown has also been dominating the recruiting trail and brought in a handful talented recruits at offensive line in Jonathan Adorno, Cayden Baker, Trey Zimmerman and Malik McGowan. Although the adjustment process to the offensive role in college is typically one of the most difficult to complete, these young players could potentially see action in such an unprecedented season.
With so much returning production on the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line will be a key piece in Brown's plan for a successful season.
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