As we get ready to begin fall camp, it’s time for another one of the Heel Tough Blog’s exclusive in-depth position previews. The series will take a look at every player on the Tar Heels 2019 roster and tell you the impact we expect each to have and give you the projected depth chart position-by-position. We continue with a look at the Tar Heels 2019 offensive line.
Two starters will return for a 2018 line that allowed just 10.0 sacks, a number that ranked 7th in the country, and helped the Tar Heels average 193.0 rushing yards, a 48.7 yard per game improvement from 2017. It all starts with senior right tackle Charlie Heck, who somehow did not even receive even an honorable mention for the 2018 All-ACC team after a fantastic junior season, where he graded out at an 82 or higher in seven of the Tar Heels nine graded games. Heck, the Tar Heels starter at right tackle in each of the last 22 games, will kick over to left tackle after William Sweet’s decision to go to the NFL. Heck has handled the blindside duties for each of the past two seasons and thrived and with a weaker than usual ACC offensive line group, it’s not out of the question that he could earn postseason All-ACC first-team honors and possibly the Jacobs Blocking Trophy. The Tar Heels are lucky to have Heck here to anchor this 2019 offensive line.
The other returning starter from the 2018 offensive line is senior Nick Polino. The veteran guard started every game a year ago at left guard, but will flip to right guard for the 2019 season. After struggling with consistency in his first two seasons, Polino molded into the Tar Heels most consistent offensive lineman a year ago. In eight of the nine games that were graded by the offensive staff a year ago, Polino received a grade of 81 or higher. The flip to right guard shouldn’t be much, if any, issue and comes after he spent the bulk of the spring at center. Polino will once again be a steady force on the interior of the Tar Heel offensive line and should challenge for All-ACC honors.
Three new starters are slated along the offensive line for the Tar Heels this fall. Sophomore tackle Jordan Tucker is the most experienced, which isn’t saying a whole lot considering he has just one career start (last year against NC State). The start against the Wolfpack last season was very promising, as is the fact that he has had a strong offseason both in the weight room and on the field, but he is still far from a veteran. Talent-wise, though, Tucker has all the tools necessary to be the next Tar Heel offensive tackle to take the sophomore leap that many tackles before him have.
Redshirt freshman Ed Montilus is slated to take over at left guard after Polino’s move to right guard and Jay-Jay McCargo’s medical retirement. Montilus was one the spring standouts after taking over the starting role midway through spring practice. Montilus was the lower ranked of the two Apopka, FL redshirt freshmen, but his high motor and strong run blocking ability is the reason he has a chance to shine at left guard in the 2019 season.
The newest starter of the group is at center, where Brian Anderson has seized control of the job. A strong summer was said to be the difference and that has carried over into fall camp. Anderson saw limited snaps in the two games he played a year ago, meaning experience is extremely limited, something that might be concerning, however, Chris Kapilovic and his staff called Anderson the future of the position last year, so there is reason to be encouraged about what he brings to the table.
The Heels have some solid depth behind the starters. Sophomore Billy Ross will likely be the top rotation option at guard after starting every game a year ago at right guard. In the nine games that were graded, Ross received credit for 39 knockdowns and recorded four games with a grade of 77 or higher. His experience is nice to have behind the young talent in case of injury or struggled, something the team has lacked over the last couple of injury-ridden seasons.
Redshirt freshman Joshua Ezeudu was a starter at right guard late in the spring and the spring game, but has been pushed back into a depth role with Nick Polino moving to right guard at the start of fall camp. Ezeudu had a great spring camp and was a standout in the spring game, giving Tar Heels fans a lot of hope about what the future holds for him. As for the 2019 season, Ezeudu gives the Tar Heels a promising rotational player that could play guard or tackle if needed.
Ezeudu isn’t the only redshirt freshman expected to hold down a sizable rotational role, as William Barnes, the former 4✮ prospect, will be a part interior offensive line depth this season. Last year, Barnes appeared in just three games after battling Ross for the starting job, allowing him to redshirt and setting the stage for a battle early in camp this season. With McCargo’s medical retirement, many thought Barnes would be the one to benefit the most, but instead that has been his high school team, Montilus. There were some weight concerns with Barnes in the spring, but thankfully it seems like those have been fixed over the summer. The talent is there for him to be successful, but he has seen that this staff won’t just hand him the job. That could be the difference this year for Barnes.
Unlike at guard, there is some unease about the depth at tackle behind Heck and Tucker. Sophomore Marcus McKethan is the favorite to be called on if a tackle is needed, but he has appeared in just five games as he heads into his third year with the program. McKethan looked good in his most extensive appearance, grading out at an 85 in the game against Duke this past season. There hasn’t been much buzz around McKethan this offseason, though, which begs some questions about how much he has progressed.
The backup left tackle in the spring was sophomore walk-on Tobechi Nwokeji, who had a decent showing in the spring game, but that was in part due to the lack of depth that was available. Nwokeji has shown some nice progression, though, since his arrival as a walk-on prior to the 2017 season and has a legitimate chance to earn that backup spot if he can hold off a talented group of true freshman tackles that joined the team in the summer.
The battle for who will backup Anderson at center will be an interesting one to watch, as well. True freshman Ty Murray seems like the favorite, especially after Mack Brown and his staff went all in on his recruitment to land what they called “the future of the position.” Murray has the size to play on the interior of the offensive line immediately; it really just comes down to how quickly he can get adjust to Stacy Searls blocking scheme, which we’ve heard from some lineman is not too complex to pick up.
His competition will be junior walk-on Layton Barber, who has bounced all over the line in a backup role in his first three seasons on campus. Barber appeared in all eleven games a year ago, most as a part of the special teams unit, and has the advantage of being with the new staff in the fall. Senior walk-on Jonathan Trull showed last year that seniority matters and with Trull gone, Barber will look to follow in his steps this season.
Redshirt freshman Avery Jones is the final returning scholarship player from a year ago. Jones is back on the offensive side of the football in fall camp after spending the spring as part of a depleted defensive line. Jones did not see the field at all a season ago and will now have to make up for the time he lost on the offensive lin in the spring. It's tough to expect anything more than a special teams role for him this season.
We’ve already highlighted true freshman Ty Murray, but he is not the only true freshman on this 2019 offensive line. Wyatt Tunall was an early enrollee back in January, but was not able to participate in the spring due to an injury. The good news is he has returned for fall camp and does have the advantage of learning the scheme during the spring rather than having to do so on the fly here in the fall.
One player who will have to do that will be Triston Miller who arrived in August after a strong career at the prep level. Miller has the talent and size to make an impact at tackle, but the questions are just how quickly can he comprehend the playbook and is there a specific area where he can push for snaps?
It will be a bit of a similar situation for Asim Richards, a former 3✮ who joined the team in June. Richards might be the rawest prospect of the four true freshmen, meaning he is likely a couple seasons away from contributing.
Four freshman walk-on’s will be apart of the team this season, as well. Redshirt freshmen Nick Mackovic and Jacob Setterlind will be battling for reps on the interior, while true freshmen Noland Brown and Hunter Shope will look to battle for reps anywhere they can fit in.
Projected Depth Chart
#67 Charlie Heck, Sr.
#66 Tobechi Nwokeji, So.
#71 Triston Miller, Fr.
#72 Asim Richards, Fr.
#63 Ed Montilus, RFr.
#56 Billy Ross, So.
#76 William Barnes, RFr.
#53 Jacob Setterlind, RFr.
#68 Brian Anderson, RFr.
#55 Ty Murray, Fr.
#78 Layton Barber, Jr.
#65 Nick Mackovic, RFr.
#58 Nick Polino, Sr.
#75 Joshua Ezeudu, RFr.
#54 Avery Jones, RFr.
#79 Hunter Shope, Fr.
#74 Jordan Tucker, So.
#73 Marcus McKethan, So.
#51 Wyatt Tunall, Fr.
#77 Noland Brown, Fr.