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UNC Football: Position Preview - Offensive Line

A position group with its third coach in three years is looking to take a big step forward

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has changed about football over the years, especially in the last 20 or so, but throughout it, the importance of a good offensive line has remained constant. Whether it’s road grading to keep the chains moving or keeping a quarterback upright, without a functioning offensive line, it’s very, very difficult to create any kind of structured, consistently functional offense. Last year, with a new position coach, the UNC offensive line went from atrocious to functional if frustrating. There’s no promise that trend continues, however, as the group has experienced some major turnover in the time between last December and now. Let’s take a look:

Key Losses:

Left tackle Asim Richards is gone for the NFL, having been drafted in the 5th round by the Dallas Cowboys, where he’s currently listed as a third-string guard. Richards underwent a complete revolution in play after two subpar years as a starter, becoming an absolute brick wall and easily UNC’s best lineman on Drake Maye’s blind side as a senior. His meteoric improvement in strength, technique, and balance were all apparently down to receiving instruction from a new position coach, Jack Bicknell, after he’d been working under Stacy Searels the past three years.

Bicknell has also left, leaving alongside old colleague Phil Longo for Wisconsin after just a year in Chapel Hill. Bicknell had a good reputation as an offensive line coach prior to coming to UNC and mostly lived up to it; while the Heels allowed a lot of sacks, a much greater proportion of those were quarterback-inflicted than in 2021, and Richards’ improvement in play speaks for itself. Bicknell also had a unit that was starting together for the first time, cobbled together from two transfers, two upperclassmen who hadn’t started in years, and a returning starter, and got them working together remarkably quickly. The unit wasn’t great run blocking, but they were serviceable — and hurt by a revolving door at the running back position. I’m not sure it’s a stretch to say Bicknell had the potential to be UNC’s most acutely felt loss of this past offseason.

Key Returnees

Besides Richards, the other four starters on last year’s line are back, though they’re not all guaranteed to start. Those would be, from left guard to right tackle, Ed Montilus, Corey Gaynor, William Barnes, and Spencer Rolland. Rolland, a transfer from Harvard, was probably UNC’s best run blocker last year, though his pass protection was inconsistent. He’s likely a lock to hold on to his starting spot, between his experience and the importance the coaching staff has publicly put on the run game this year. Barnes was highly rated as a recruit but hadn’t done much on the field until last year, where he wasn’t all that impressive. However, he’s apparently impressed the coaches enough to be the presumptive starter at left tackle going into 2023. He was recruited as a tackle and I think he’s more of a mover than a driver, so the move makes sense to me, but I’m curious to see how well he does. Gaynor, who transferred from Miami, is in his 7th year of college, and figures to hold on to the center spot, where he’ll be a valuable leader. Montilus was, in my opinion, UNC’s worst starting lineman last year and the one whose starting spot is most up for grabs. He actually entered the transfer portal this spring before returning to UNC, and he’s got some competition for the left guard spot. That he was high school teammates with Barnes could give him something of an advantage as far as chemistry on a new line goes, but we’ll see.

Others to keep an eye on include Jonathan Adorno, whose name has been thrown around for a couple of summers in a row as somebody who could surprise and snag a starting spot on the interior line, and the duo of Diego Pounds and Zach Rice, two second-year players who probably still have some maturing to do but whose potential is enormous. Adorno probably has the inside track on replacing Barnes at right guard, where he played ~200 snaps in replacement duty last year and according to, didn’t allow a sack.

Key Newcomers:

After finding success in the transfer portal last year, Mack Brown and his staff went back to that well in 2023. This time, they found Willie Lampkin out of Coastal Carolina. Lampkin’s an undersized interior lineman who plays with a ton of nasty, but at just 290 pounds, I’m concerned about his ability to hold his ground against ACC defensive linemen. He could start at either guard position or be a swing backup interior lineman.

Jack Bicknell’s replacement as position coach is Randy Clements, who comes to UNC from the University of North Texas after a long and successful career in high-major college football, probably headlined by his work at Baylor from 2008-2016. That’s right — UNC now employs both the person whose defense was run on for 600 yards in 2015 and the guy whose offensive line paved the way for it. Like Bicknell, Clements is a highly respected offensive line coach, and I think one of few available guys who could make it so I’m not all that concerned about the quality of instruction from that staff position dropping off.


Last year was a year of total turnover for the UNC offensive line, after losing four starters, a position coach, and a starting running back. This year, despite some shuffling and another new coach, the unit will be leaning on the continuity of returning four starters and the entire backfield so that they can hopefully start at a much higher baseline and work up from there. For the past several years, UNC’s had talented offensive lines that have played well below their ability due to a myriad of factors: subpar coaching, lack of chemistry, inconsistent priorities on the sideline, etc. All of those things should be ironed out this year. Can they parlay it into becoming an above-average unit? It’s certainly possible.