Heel Tough Blog: 2021 Tar Heel Position Previews- OL
We close our look at the Tar Heel offense with a look at an offensive line that is set to be one of the better units in the ACC this season. For starters, the unit returns everyone but one player that took a single snap a year ago and according to Mack Brown during the spring, has added to the depth of the offensive line in the process.
Junior Joshua Ezeudu is the anchor of the line, returning after another strong season as a sophomore. The versatility that he brings makes him such a valuable piece of the unit and he may have very well been the team’s best run blocker and pass protector a year ago. He was banged up and missed all of spring camp, but that doesn’t appear to be something that is a long term concern for him, meaning that he has a great chance to challenge for the All-American honors that college football guru Phil Steele is projecting he will.
He’ll have help on the opposite side of the line where two seniors will bring plenty of experience and some solid results. At right guard, Marcus McKethan is back for his third season as a starter and will look to build on his All-ACC honorable mention from a year ago. Just like Ezeudu, he had a very solid 2020 season in both run blocking and pass protection scenarios and is that the Tar Heels should be confident can handle the majority of the snaps at the position again this season.
The same goes for Jordan Tucker, as he enters his third full season as a starter for the team at right tackle. In the game against Florida State and Notre Dame, he was exposed a bit in pass protection situations, but overall he is a pretty productive pass protector and has been a good run blocker for the majority of his career. He and McKethan combine as one of the best right side tandems in the ACC and will look to build on their performance from last year to help make it easier for an offense that will have so many weapons to replace.
Center Brian Anderson also enters his senior season with the Tar Heels and this will be the first season where he won’t be locked in a tight battle for his starting job. His Pro Football Focus numbers weren’t quite as good as the other three that we talked about above, but he’s a guy that works hard, is well respected by his teammates and has shown improvement in his time on campus. Seeing him take another step forward this fall would be welcome and another big boost that could help this backfield immensely, especially early on.
Junior Asim Richards is back at left tackle to start after being thrust into the starting role on Sam Howell’s blindside without the help of a normal offseason and had his struggles, as you would expect. As the season went along, you could definitely see the progression from Richards, peaking out as just about everyone did against Miami. Coming into this season with a much more normal offseason than a year ago and a year of experience under his belt, he has a chance to take a step forward.
Last year, we heard from Mack Brown rather often about the fact that he would like to have ten guys that he could trust on the offensive line and he has continued to harp on that this offseason. The good news is, he seems much closer to that number than he was a year ago. The most experienced depth piece will once again be junior Ed Montilus, who has started fourteen games in his career, but has shown that he thrives much better out of the rotational role than as a starter. He is a guy, though, that if for some reason the Tar Heels need him to start games or at least command some significant reps, he has the experience and can be at least serviceable for you in that role.
The same goes for Quiron Johnson, who really showed his value in 2020. He played some important snaps for the team early in the season in lue of struggles from both Richards and Montilus last year and came up big when Anderson was out for a game later in the season against Wake Forest, a game he started for the team at center. With his versatility that allows him to play anywhere along the line, this former walk-on has turned himself into a valuable rotational member of this team.
The Tar Heels capped out at about seven guys that they could feel confident in a year ago with the unit, but that number has appeared to climb to nine this spring. Junior William Barnes seems to have finally broken through a bit this spring, as he was the talk of the unit for most of the spring. As he talked himself this spring, he has gotten himself back in shape after getting up to 342 lbs. and is now primed to play a significant rotational role for the first time in his career. He is another player that could have a little bit of versatility to him that will make him even more valuable than his upside already brings.
Sophomore Jonathan Adorno rounds out the nine man group and is another guy that can move around a bit. He projects as an interior guy and can play at all three positions, but he does still remain a bit undersized. Still, he is as athletic as just about anyone on the offensive line and it’s hard to forget the fact that he saw some valuable playing time last year as a true freshman, even if he struggled a bit in those reps. The talent is definitely there, it’s now just making sure he can get the body there.
That quest for that tenth man is still ongoing, but there are some solid candidates for the spot. Sophomore Wyatt Tunall is one of the top candidates, as he returns after playing in three games a year ago. He has developed the size that he needed out of high school and he was one of the first names mentioned by Mack Brown when talking about the group that is battling to become that tenth player in the rotation.
Fellow sophomore Cayden Baker is another young tackle that will fight for that spot in the rotation after seeing action in five games during his first season with the team and he too has gone over that 300 lbs. mark that the Tar Heels have seemed to target for most of their offensive lineman. Both him and Tunall present plenty of upside and will have a chance to solidify themselves as trusted options for the team as rotational pieces.
So too will true freshman Diego Pounds, the lone early enrollee in along the offensive line. Mack Brown said some positive things throughout the spring about him and his versatility makes him an intriguing option. He is one of the rare offensive line prospects that comes in with the size as a freshman to make an impact, so it’s all about whether he can beat out Baker and Tunall who would probably be ahead of him on the depth chart right now.
This doesn’t even take into account some of the deeper depth options that will also be a part of the unit. True freshman Eli Sutton was a highly sought after offensive tackle by the team in this past class, but since he enters in the summer, will likely focus on settling in during fall camp. He has an outside shot to challenge as that tenth player that Mack Brown is looking for if he can adjust quickly, but he will likely be focusing on adding a little more size to his frame and learning the ins and outs of being a college player.
Redshirt freshman Trey Zimmerman is a bit of an unknown in terms of where he is on the depth chart after he spent most of last season recovering from a shoulder injury. As a former 4✮ prospect, the talent is definitely there for him, but he was not a name that Mack Brown mentioned when talking about the guys that were battling to become a part of the main depth pieces for this season and that may be because of the fact that he is still a bit undersized. It is worth watching to see if his name begins to get mentioned as fall camp begins, but as of right now he remains buried a bit on the depth chart.
Fellow redshirt freshman Malik McGowan is a guy that has the size already but simply has too much in front of him on the depth chart. With all the proven depth that the Tar Heels have on the interior of the offensive line, it’s probable that he will spend most of his time this season as a deeper depth piece barring injury.
Two former defensive linemen will also be hoping to carve out some sort of role on the line this year. Sophomore Wisdom Asaboro is in his second season on the offensive side of the football, while redshirt freshman A.J. Beatty will be in his first season as part of the unit. Neither guys look like they are setting up for major reps this year, but will most likely get some opportunities on special teams and possibly in garbage time situations.
Five walk-on’s will be a part of the unit this year. Redshirt freshman Chance Carroll saw some significant reps in the spring game and looks like the guy with the best chance to take on a role out of the group. Junior Nick Mackovic, sophomores Noland Brown and Hunter Shope and true freshman Cater Kulka round out the unit.
There is no arguing that the Tar Heels are in a good spot with their offensive line returning all five starters, but this unit has to be more consistent than it was a year ago. The success of this offense, especially early on, will lie in the group's hands as the offense attempts to replace four extremely talented skill position players. With the unit in its second full year together and more talent and depth that can rotate in than in recent memory, this Tar Heel offensive line has the chance to be one of the best in the ACC this season.
Projected Depth Chart:
#72 Asim Richards, Jr.
#57 Cayden Baker, So.
#51 Wyatt Tunall, So.
#77 Wisdom Asaboro, So.
#60 Carter Kulka, Fr.
#75 Joshua Ezeudu, Jr.
#63 Ed Montilus, Jr.
#64 Malik McGowan, RFr.
#54 Chance Carroll, RFr.
#68 Brian Anderson, Sr.
#69 Quiron Johnson, Sr.
#55 A.J. Beatty, RFr.
#65 Nick Mackovic, Jr.
#73 Marcus McKethan, Sr.
#52 Jonathan Adorno, So.
#61 Diego Pounds, Fr.
#70 Noland Brown, So.
#74 Jordan Tucker, Sr.
#76 William Barnes, Jr.
#67 Trey Zimmerman, RFr.
#66 Eli Sutton, Fr.
#79 Hunter Shope, So.