While we've already covered the outlook for this season at quarterback and running back, it's time now to turn our attention to the unsung heroes in the trenches, the offensive linemen. Unlike quarterback and running back, however, Virginia brings back a veteran-heavy, seasoned line for the 2015 season. Conner Davis, who started all 12 games last season at right guard, and Cody Wallace, who started three games at left guard and served as a utility lineman are gone and will certainly be missed, but the rest of the gang returns.
Coming out of spring practice Michael Mooney (Jr) and Jake Fieler (R-Fr) were listed as the starting tackles, with Ryan Doull (Jr) and Ross Burbank (Sr) manning the guard spots and Jackson Matteo (Jr) filling in at center. It would not be a surprise, however, to see this area of the depth chart remain fluid throughout the fall as Sadiq Olanrewaju (Jr), who started two games at left tackle last year, and Jay Whitmire (Sr), who missed last season due to three surgeries but started all 12 games in 2013, work their way back from injury. They will be joined in their return to the field by Jack McDonald (So), Eric Tetlow (So), and Grant Polk (Fr), all of whom spent portions of spring practice on the trainer's table.
Obviously the ideal situation would be for everyone to enter fall camp healthy and for a starting five to emerge early and be given time to gel into a cohesive unit. If this occurs, an opening day starting five could consist of Whitmire and Eric Smith (Jr) at the tackles, with Mooney and Doull inside, freeing up Burbank to return to center, where he started 11 games last season. Even if things don't play out quite this way, Virginia fans can take solace in knowing that the bench is deep and filled with experienced players.
While there may be consistency on the field, off the field the Cavaliers had to replace last season's offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim who left to take the head job at VMI. Stepping into the role is Dave Borbely a former Virginia offensive line coach from 2006-09 who also has a wealth of experience elsewhere through previous stints at Colorado, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Stanford among others. Borbely will need to hit the ground running to help the Cavaliers establish the power running game Steve Fairchild desires.
Despite a public mandate to control the line of scrimmage, the Cavaliers ranked 102nd in the country last year with a meager 3.7 yards per rush (ypr), and Fairchild's first year at the reins was not much better with Virginia finishing 90th nationally at 3.8 ypr in 2013. In Borbely's previous stint at Virginia the team finished 96th (3.3 ypr), 87th (3.6), 96th (3.4) and 114th (2.9) nationally during his four seasons, though it must be noted that these all occurred under a different regime at the tail-end of the Al Groh era.
Ultimately much of the offensive success for this coming season could hinge upon the line's performance. With a deep receiving corps (more on them tomorrow), an agreed upon starting quarterback and a talented (if unproven) stable of running backs, the Cavaliers have the pieces necessary to move the ball effectively. If the players can stay healthy and the coaching staff puts them in a position to succeed, the experience and depth are there for this to be the season Virginia re-establishes some dominance at the point of attack