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2012 OL: A Lot Riding on this Group

Previous UVA Football
Position Breakdowns
* Quarterbacks
* Running Backs
* Fullbacks
* Wide Receivers
* Tight Ends

In 2011, the Hoos started the same five offensive linemen in all 13 games. That is, obviously, pretty rare in today's game. While that group didn't take every snap, they were on the field for most of the non-garbage time plays.They combined to allow just 16 sacks (good for 24th in the nation) and allow the running game to pick up over 4 yards per carry.

Of those five linemen, only three return. The top two tackles, Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi, both return and both are potential first round NFL draft picks. The other returning starter is last year's starting RG Luke Bowanko. Bowanko, however, may not stay at RG. He may move to C. He may even move to LG. All 3 of those options seem possible (although LG doesn't seem likely).

From what we've previewed so far, the offense has the potential to be dynamic and high-powered. Talent at all the skill positions and capable QBs. But, as we all know, football games are won and lost in the trenches. So can the OL win that battle?

As mentioned above, the two OTs are not a problem. Senior Oday Aboushi and junior Morgan Moses are as good a set of bookend tackles as you'll find in the nation. Both are big (6'6"), strong (310 lbs for Oday and 330 for Morgan) and have great footwork. Aboushi is currently projected as a first round pick, and Moses may get there as well if he has a solid season. Despite being just a junior, I do not expect Moses to be back next season.

At this point, I am assuming that Luke Bowanko will be starting at C. The other candidate for starting C is senior Matt Mihalik. Neither one is really a prototypical center, as they are both on the tall side (6'6 for Luke and 6'7" for Matt). But, they are both comfortable at center. The main reason I think Luke starts at C is that he is more experienced and is likely going to be making the line calls. There is another reason though. Mihalik is a bit more versatile, and could move around the line depending on the health of the rest of the OLs. The main reason Mihalik would start is if Bowanko isn't at 100% after offseason shoulder surgery. Whichever one of the two is picked to start at C, the other will start at RG.

At LG, the starter will be junior Sean Cascarano. Cascarano was actually a tackle up until this offseason, when he was moved inside after the departure of Mihota and Austin Pasztor. Cascarano, at 6'6" 280, is a bit tall for OG and perhaps a bit light. However, he moves well, and he is a good, grinding run-blocker.

Those are the 5 starters, and they average 6'6" and 305. That is a very large OL for an NCAA team. That bodes well for their continued solid work in the ground game, and the presence of two All-America candidates at OT means they should be able to handle pass-blocking as well.

As already mentioned, Mihalik is a sort of utility player, capable of playing anywhere along the line. He'll slide over to C if Bowanko isn't 100%. If Mihalik or Cascarano were to miss any time, the first player in would likely be sophomore Cody Wallace. Wallace actually worked as the starting LG in spring practice, because Sean Cascarano was out. At 6'4" 295, Wallace has the look of a very good athletic OG who can play in space. As a pulling lineman, Wallace would be ideal, but he might struggle against some of the bigger, stronger DTs we'll face. If he does struggle, fellow sophomore Connor Davis could see some time. Davis has more of a typical OG look, at 6'4" and over 300 pounds. He is inexperienced, but has better size and bulk to handle most big DTs.

The first substitute at OT will be Kelby Johnson. Johnson actually played last year, as a true freshman, although only saw a handful of plays. At 6'7" and over 300 pounds, Johnson just looks like an OT. He's big, long and moves well. Obviously, the dropoff from Aboushi to Johnson would be a big one, but Johnson can hold his own in most situations. The other option at backup OT is Jay Whitmire. Whitmire is a little smaller than Johnson, but is far more athletic. Whitmire is best in space, so we would lose something in the ground game with him in there. If we were facing a team with a dominant edge pass rusher, and Moses were to have to miss some time, Whitmire would likely fill in.

Assuming Luke Bowanko is healthy, we are in very good position with returning starters at 3 positions. If you are going to break in new players, OG is the best place to do it, because they have help on both sides. It might take a little while for Cascarano to be truly comfortable, especially since he was mostly an OT in high school. But he has the skills and body for the position, and he'll be ok. Mihalik is a little bit more of a question mark. After all, there is a reason he has come this far in his career without getting much playing time. Also a former OT, Mihalik was moved because he had been passed on the depth chart. I could see that happenning again, and would not be too surprised if Davis or Wallace were starting in his place before the season ended.