With key departures in the offensive skill positions, expectations for a big season rest with quarterback Sam Howell — a likely Heisman Trophy finalist — and an offensive line that retains all of its starters from last season. This will be the third season running that these linemen (from left to right: Asim Richards, Joshua Ezeudu, Brian Anderson, Marcus McKethan, and Jordan Tucker) have played together.
Last season, the coaching staff made the conscious decision to have all of its offensive linemen learn multiple positions along the line. This would help inoculate the OL in the case of both injury and possible COVID-related absence. Ed Montilus, a “sixth” starter on the line, was plucked and planted all along a line that largely kept a tight rotation and averaged 537.3 yards per game -- best in the ACC and fifth in the nation.
Starting center Brian Anderson has so far sat out training camp with a lower body injury, which is giving more snaps on the first team to Quiron Johnson, who performed admirably last season when Anderson was injured at Duke. Not only did UNC not miss a beat in thumping the Blue Devils, but when he started at home against Wake Forest, Johnson protected Sam Howell who led the Tar Heels’ offense the tune of 59 points and 742 total yards. See #69 in the video below:
That experience will be great for Quiron Johnson and his own self-confidence. It will also give Mack Brown confidence in case Brian Anderson isn’t available at any point in the season. Tar Heel fans will no doubt remember the ... underwhelming performance that young Brian Anderson had when he replaced Nick Polino in the Miami game in 2019. Johnson’s baseline level of success against ACC-level competition (though admittedly not against a D-line of Miami’s quality) will allow either more substitutions for Brian Anderson, or the trust to start against Virginia Tech on September 3rd in case Anderson isn’t cleared (Mack Brown said that Brian Anderson is likely to be ready by the season opener).
One other bit of news from this week is that back-up center AJ Beatty is entering the transfer portal:
Looking forward to what God has in plan for me pic.twitter.com/QWauWYIuBn— Aj Beatty (@ajbeatty88) August 9, 2021
Mack Brown warned that his staff would have honest conversations with his players after summer workouts and training camp, and it would appear that Beatty saw that his opportunity to play meaningful snaps at Carolina was not likely. This is another result of the increased talent that Mack Brown and his recruiters are bringing to campus, and is not a bad thing.
UNC still has sophomore Jonathan Adorno and redshirt freshman Chance Carroll competing with Quiron Johnson for snaps at back-up center. If Brian Anderson misses meaningful time, there will be a drop-off in levels, but it shouldn’t be dire. Carolina will definitely want Anderson back in October, when the schedule gets tougher with visits from Florida State and Miami followed by a trip to Notre Dame on the docket.
If Brian Anderson is back (and healthy) against Virginia Tech, and the Tar Heels can pound Georgia State and Virginia hard and fast, there should be ample time in the second half for Anderson to put his feet up and rest -- and not risk any fluky/silly injuries. The more rest, the better. Anderson will be central (no pun intended) to UNC’s success going forward.