Heel Tough Blog: 2022 Position Previews- OL
Updated: Aug 20, 2022
The Tar Heels are steaming towards their August 27th opener in Kenan Stadium against Florida A&M and we at the Heel Tough Blog are getting you ready the way we always do with our in-depth positions previews. Today, we look at the unit that is in need of the biggest bounce back this season after a brutal 2021, the offensive line.
Head coach Mack Brown has been very excited by what he has seen from the unit so far this offseason and a large part of that has to do with the change in coaching. Jack Bicknell Jr. is a veteran line coach who has succeeded at a high level at both the college and NFL levels and is taking a much different approach regarding how he uses guys. That strategy along with more willingness to use players than the previous coach could be a combination that works well for this Tar Heel team.
In terms of the personnel, the team will be replacing four of the five starters from a year ago, but that might have been the best thing for this group at the end of the day. The good news is, even with all that departed, this is still a group that has a nice amount of experience coming back. Senior left tackle Asim Richards has started 24 of the last 25 games for the team and is entrenched at that spot once again this season. Even with that being the case, he simply has to be more reliable than he was a year ago. He has to be able to protect better than he did a year ago and he may need to show just as much, if not more, improvement as a run blocker. The good news is that Brown seemed pleased with what he saw from Richards back in the spring and we haven’t heard anything to the contrary so far in the fall.
Next to him at the left guard spot, senior Ed Montilus looks like he will get the chance to be a starter again. He has started fifteen games in his career, but has never been able to hold that job for the entirety of the season. He had the best season of his career last year and there seems to be a lot of confidence that he can build on that and become a steady force on the interior of the line. If he can take the next step, the left side of the line could become one that can be counted on once again.
The unit will be anchored in the middle by the guy that Brown has bragged about the most this offseason, transfer Corey Gaynor. A veteran of 28 career starts at ACC foe Miami, he brings with him a pretty strong track record. He was consistently one of the best players on the offensive line for the Hurricanes in his final three seasons there and the Tar Heels are hoping that he can be that steadying presence for the unit. The staff has raved so far about both his play and leadership on the field and this could be a major addition to this group if he can stay healthy.
The picture on the right side of the unit isn’t nearly clear right now. At tackle, graduate transfer Spencer Rolland is the guy that looks like the most likely to win the job, but it is far from a guarantee. He started all 20 games that he played in at Harvard, earning first-team All-Ivy honors a year ago. Brown said earlier this week that there certainly has been a learning curve for him with his jump to the Power 5 level, but there is a reason that this staff brought him in.
That being said, he will be challenged for the job by the extremely talented true freshman Zach Rice. The talent is definitely not the issue here and he showed that back in the spring. The question for him is whether or not the game has slowed down for him after Brown said it was a bit fast for him back in the spring. Whoever can solve the learning curve the quickest will likely be the starter here, while the other will have a chance to be a factor in the battle at the right guard spot or at least a strong rotational option at both spots.
Senior William Barnes is the guy that looks like the favorite to get the right guard spot, although, there is a chance he could get a look at right tackle, too. His strengths, though, lend well to success at guard with him being a stronger run blocker than pass protector. Wherever it is at, this feels like this is his best chance to start and everything seems to point to that being the case with what he has done so far this summer.
Grad senior Brian Anderson who returned for his sixth season with the program is the mystery of the group. He has started 25 games in his career, but started just three last year despite playing in all thirteen games. Part of that was the fact that he was dealing with a nagging ankle injury for most of the year, but he simply wasn’t effective enough when he was in there. Right now, it looks like he will serve as the backup center to Gaynor, but with his experience, he could factor in at one of the guard spots at some point this season.
The unit has some of the strongest depth it has had in a while. Sophomore Cayden Baker is a guy who can play any of the spots along the offensive line, something that will be much more valuable to this next regime than the previous one. He is the guy probably the closest to joining the group of seven as a sure-fire rotational player.
Junior Jonathan Adorno also provides similar versatility, with his strength being on the inside. With 2+ years in the system and a new coach in place, this might be his chance to become a part of the rotation here.
True freshman Trevyon Green has also impressed the staff and could also factor in his first season. He spent the majority of the spring at guard but is now seeing some significant snaps at tackle in the fall. If he can continue to build on the moment he gained back in April, he could become a part of the rotation, as well.
Redshirt freshman Diego Pounds is another guy who has the versatility to play both guard and tackle and is undoubtedly more comfortable than he was a year ago. Right now, it appears that he is getting a look with the second team and if he can prove himself, don’t discount him as a guy that could become a part of the rotation this fall.
Another true freshman who is also seeing some reps with the twos so far is Justin Kanyuk. It would take a lot of injuries for him to become a major contributor, but it is encouraging to already see him getting reps with guys who will play some significant snaps.
Redshirt freshman Eli Sutton was the highest-rated offensive lineman in the 2021 class, but it appears like it is taking him more time than the others to settle in. Right now, it appears like he will be a little bit deeper on the depth chart than the others that we have talked about so far.
Sophomore Malik McGowan is another guy who will provide deeper depth for the group at guard. He is in the best shape he has been in at Carolina down the 325 lbs., so it would this is his best chance so far to challenge for a bigger role.
Sophomore Chance Carroll, who was put on scholarship prior to last season, will also help to provide some deeper depth on the interior of the offensive line.
The unit will carry four walk-ons this season. Junior Noland Brown and redshirt freshman Carter Kulka are the guys who return from last year, while Bo Burkes and Jarvis Hicks are the new arrivals.