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UNC Shifts Offensive Line Ahead of Matchup with Notre Dame

CHAPEL HILL, NC — Even with the return of Spencer Rolland to the North Carolina offensive line, senior William Barnes is expected to stay at right tackle, the position he played two weeks ago at Georgia State in Rolland’s absence.

Barnes’ athleticism and physicality, paired with cross-training in the spring and preseason at both positions, has allowed for a seamless move and makes sense for the North Carolina line.

“I’m still moving around at right guard and right tackle as of right now,” Barnes said during player interviews on Tuesday afternoon inside the Kenan Football Center. “They still have me as the starting right tackle, but I’m ready for coach to move me anywhere on the field. Today, I had a little bit of time at left tackle. So who knows what could happen?”

Barnes played 58 snaps at right guard vs. Florida A&M, 66 snaps at right guard and four snaps at right tackle vs. App State, and then shifted to right tackle for all 71 snaps vs. the Panthers in UNC’s 35-28 win.

Barnes said he likes both guard and tackle and doesn’t have a preference for playing one over the other. The differences are in technique, hand placement, and the type of defensive players you face. “It’s just certain techniques that you have to have when it comes to setting the pass pro at tackle and then transitioning to guard — not getting so far back off the line of scrimmage,” Barnes explained. “Coach has been preaching consistency and just executing what he puts me at.”

“I feel like when it comes to playing at guard there’s a certain type of physicality that you need to bring because there’s a lot of strong defensive tackles out there that are going to be inside,” Barnes added. “And then when it comes to tackle, just being able to get those quick guys set out there as fast as possible and lock them up.”

This season Barnes is seeing consistent starting snaps across multiple games for the first time in his career. He has played here and there during the previous three seasons. He played double-digit snaps on the offensive line eight times in 2021 and made his first collegiate start vs. Virginia last season.

Spencer Rolland, William Barnes (Photo: Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

Barnes’s offensive line snaps at UNC: 2021: 228 snaps; 2020: 55 snaps; 2019: 47 snaps; 2018: 114 snaps

But this season Barnes has cemented himself as a starter, whose versatility gives a new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell some emotional flexibility.

It’s been a long road to this point for Barnes. The fifth-year senior arrived at UNC as a 247Sports Composite four-star in the 2018 class, the No. 53 prospect in the country, and No. 6 offensive tackle. He was a big-time prospect and a significant recruiting win for UNC. A national recruit, Barnes held early offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, and Tennessee before he committed to the Tar Heels.

Barnes’ move to right tackle sets up a competition for who will man the right guard spot on Saturday vs. Notre Dame.

“Spencer (Rolland) and Jonathan (Adorno) are both in the rotation of playing guard to see who’s gonna be playing this Saturday,” Barnes revealed. “They’re both working hard, and they’re both getting after it. The whole O-line is getting after it.”

Rolland returned to practice during the break after missing the Georgia State game with a lower-body injury.

Ahead for the UNC offensive line is a matchup with the Notre Dame front seven. The Irish gave up 172 yards rushing and recorded a sack in the loss to Ohio State, 219 yards rushing yards allowed and notched three sacks in the loss to Marshall, and gave up 112 yards rushing and got six sacks in the win vs. Cal last week.

“It comes with execution,” Barnes said about facing the Irish on Saturday. “These past few years, definitely competing against Notre Dame, they’ve been a great team and they’ve always come out with the win. But we’ve been working really hard to stay intense and working on both sides of the ball in the trenches to make sure that we have that physicality, the same physicality that they brought to us two years ago when they came to our stadium.

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