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UNC offensive line puts the pieces in place ahead of game week

CHAPEL HILL, NC — With less than a week to go until the season kicks off, North Carolina’s offensive line is still putting the pieces together.

Up to nine linemen are in the mix to buy game time for the Tar Heels, from the real five-star freshman rookie Zack Rice to fifth-year seniors such as William Barnes and Ed Montilus transfer of graduates Corey Gaynor and Spencer Rolland.

“We’re going through rotations with the O line,” Barnes said after practice Thursday. “We don’t really have a starting line yet, but we’re still working on it and every one of our guys is working hard.”

Left tackle Asim Richards started all 13 games last season, playing 696 snaps on an offensive line that included future NFL draft picks Joshua Ezeudu to the left guard and Marcus McKethan to the right guard.

“We really need to polish who we have as starters and who’s going to play,” the elder Richards said this week.

UNC opens the upcoming season Aug. 27 against visiting Florida A&M.

“I think it could be a scenario where there’s about eight or nine guys playing and rotating,” Richards said, “because we’ve got a lot of talent up front honestly. We’ve got a lot of people who can play for sure, but we just need to solidify it.

UNC Offensive Lineman Ed Montilus (Photo: Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

Coach McBrown listed a number of preseason positives and concerns with North Carolina’s offensive line, which is led by new assistant coach Jack Bicknell Jr. this season, after the former assistant coach Stacy Searels led the group for three years.

Richards and Montilus (left guard) performed well during training camp, as did Gaynor and Brian Anderson down the middle, a potential one-two punch for the Tar Heels anchoring the midline.

“So it’s been really solid,” Brown said. “And then on the right side, you’ve been all over the place trying to figure this out.”

Brown said Rice and Treyvon Green, the pair of massive freshmen, missed practice time due to injuries. Barnes got hurt a little too, but resumed training. And Brown said Rolland, the Harvard transfer, was missing some practice because of conflicts with his graduate courses. This movement had Cayden Baker swing between guard and tackle in practices.

“We moved it back and forth,” Brown said. “It forced us to watch everyone more than we would have.”

Brown is expected to announce a 2022 positional depth chart for the first time Monday, as UNC enters the week of play ahead of Florida A&M’s season opener.

Richards said he has seen progress from Rice and Green, despite their injury setbacks.

“You can tell they both felt uncomfortable doing some drills, but Coach Bicknell did a great job working with them and making them feel more comfortable,” Richards said. . “They’re really moving forward and I love seeing them grow and then continue to grow throughout the season.”