The North Carolina football team is gearing up for a new season, backed by the support of an experienced offensive line with some under-appreciated stars.
Following a historic offensive campaign in 2020, this unit will look to build on last year's success and potentially help the Tar Heels climb near the top of the ACC in head coach Mack Brown's third season since returning to Chapel Hill.
The entire starting lineup for UNC's 2020 offensive line will be returning this fall, with Asim Richards at left tackle, Joshua Ezeudu at left guard, Brian Anderson at center, Marcus McKethan at right guard and Jordan Tucker at right tackle.
These returners are led by the accomplished junior Ezeudu, who helped pave the way for the Tar Heels to average a school record of 537.3 total yards per game last season, leading the ACC.
Like many great offensive linemen, Ezeudu has also seen periods of being overlooked in favor of the star quarterback and tailbacks playing behind him. However, his hard work has been turning heads as of late, as he was named to the All-ACC Preseason Team and is on the watchlist for the 2021 Outland Trophy, given annually to the nation's top interior offensive lineman.
Despite missing all of spring practice with an injury, Ezeudu has been a full participant in recent weeks and is expected to be ready for the season opener at Virginia Tech on Sept. 3.
Ezeudu isn’t the only returner expected to provide quality protection for quarterback — and Heisman candidate — Sam Howell. Graduate students Quiron Johnson and Brian Anderson will also fill critical roles this season.
Johnson earned the team’s Don McCauley "Be The One" Award last season for his strong efforts on the field. He was able to serve his team in a variety of positions on both offense and defense, leading him to become a scholarship player this year.
Anderson has also stirred up conversation in the past about the possibility of him winning an award of his own, as the center was placed on the Rimington Trophy watchlist last season. Anderson started in all 11 games he appeared in during the 2020 season and was named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week after helping the Tar Heels rack up 656 yards of total offense in a 56-45 win against Virginia Tech.
Anderson grew as a player throughout the course of last season and became a quality ACC center as a pass protector, a skill he will likely continue to develop this season.
The strength of the UNC offensive line isn’t likely to diminish any time soon, as a talented group of younger players on the roster are expected to provide much-needed depth for the veterans.
One of these young players is four-star prospect Eli Sutton, who will be joining the Tar Heels as a first-year this fall. Sutton was named the No. 7 player in his home state of Tennessee in the 247Sports Composite and was a three-year all-state and all-region selection.
Tar Heels fans saw some of fellow four-star prospect Cayden Baker in his first season in 2020, as he appeared in five games and played 30 snaps. As Baker enters his sophomore season, he can expect to see more action as an offensive tackle and become a more significant contributor to the UNC offensive line.
UNC’s well-decorated and skilled offensive linemen — backed by underclassmen hungry to help the North Carolina football team — could be a force to be reckoned with this season.
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