One of the biggest issues with Virginia Cavaliers football during the decade leading up to Bronco Mendenhall’s arrival was a lack of depth on the offensive line. From 2000-2009, Virginia had six offensive linemen drafted. From 1990-1999, Virginia also had six OLs drafted. However, from 2010-2019, Virginia had just three (Oday Aboushi, Morgan Moses, and Luke Bowanko), and all of those were recruited by Al Groh. Yes, Mike London did not recruit a single OL who was drafted. And you wonder why his teams struggled.
Of course, we don’t know what 2020-2029 will look like, but Dillon Reinkensmeyer, Chris Glaser and Ryan Nelson all look like four-year starters, and four-year starters for power-5 teams tend to see the NFL. Add in some talented youth on the line and it seems like you might want to take the over on six for the next decade.
The trio mentioned above will be anchoring the line. However, exactly which position they’ll be in may not be set in stone. For example, Reinkensmeyer has played just about everywhere on the line, mostly at OC. But he started the Belk Bowl at RG and seems to be entrenched there for the time being. Depending on injuries and performance, Reinkensmeyer could move around a bunch. That versatility is a huge help in getting the “best 5” out there.
Glaser is listed on the roster at OT, but played both LG and RG last year. He seems like the starting LG right now. He began his career at RT in 2017. Glaser was just 280 when he began his career, a bit slight for an interior lineman. He’s up to 305 now, giving him the bulk to handle bigger DTs.
It is all but a given that Nelson will start at LT—guys who start at LT as freshmen don’t lose that spot as sophomores. At 6’4” 315, Nelson is an ideal LT and should remain there for the next three years.
With Reinkensmeyer vacating the OC spot, that position is up for grabs. The leader right now appears to be sophomore Air Force transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi. At 6’3” 305, he’s certainly got the size for the position. His primary competitors for the starting nod are Tyler Fannin and Gerrick Vollmer, both of whom are actually listed at center on the roster (Vollmer is listed as C/OG). Oluwatimi is just listed at OL. Early reports out of camp are that Oluwatimi is running with the starters but that Fannin is right behind him. One benefit of having a former OC in Reinkensmeyer at RG is that he can help with the line calls. That is an under-appreciated aspect of playing OC. Inexperienced centers often struggle with the line calls, which can mess up the entire line.
That just leaves RT. Heading into camp, that position was expected to be filled by Penn State graduate transfer Alex Gellerstedt. Sadly, Alex injured his knee and will miss the entire season. Even though he was a graduate transfer, Alex had two years of eligibility remaining. He may be able to garner a medical redshirt and retain both years.
With Gellerstedt out of the picture, RT is up for grabs. The “leader” is sophomore Ryan Swoboda. Swoboda actually got a start last year at TE, but also saw action at both OT spots and on special teams. He’s 6’10”, and I can’t find a single NFL player that tall in the last 50 years. He’d certainly have the reach that scouts want in an OT. You also wonder if Swoboda might line up on the FG defense unit. With that height, he’d be ideal for trying to block a low kick.
Competing with Swoboda is sophomore Bobby Haskins. At 6’7” 285, Haskins has a more traditional OT frame. He saw limited action on the OL last year, but saw extensive special teams action. Haskins was originally recruited as a TE.
The coaching staff talks about playing the “best 5” on the OL. That means guys will move around to get the best unit out there. That could mean Reinkensmeyer or Glaser playing multiple spots. It could also mean guys move in and out of the rotation depending on how well they’re playing. If Swoboda starts the season at RT and struggles, he could be replaced by Hasksin. Or, Reinkensmeyer could move back to RT, with Vollmer (for example) stepping in at RG. If Oluwatimi struggles in the middle, Reinkensmeyer could move back there, with Vollmer stepping it at RG (Oluwatimi could also get a shot at RG).
2020 and Beyond
One of the things Bronco Mendenhall repeatedly discussed during his first few year or so at the helm was the need to increase the “playable depth” on the OL (and the DL). He has focused on recruiting OLs heavily during his time in Charlottesville. Mike London’s final recruiting class (2015) included 4 OLs, only one of whom (R.J. Proctor) ever played the position for Virginia (one was Eli Hanback, who moved to DL and has excelled there). Bronco’s first class (2016) included two OL (Reinkensmeyer and Ben Knutson). Knutson played sparingly for the Hoos and has since transferred.
Bronco’s 2017 class included six OLs, and it’s likely that four of them will start the season opener. Nelson and Glaser are givens. All three candidates at OC are from that class, as is Swoboda. That’s an impressive showing from one recruiting class. All six will almost definitely be on the two-deep this season. And all six have at least one more year of eligibility after this one (as do Reinkensmeyer and Gellerstedt). So it seems like 2020 will be a strong year for the OL.
The last two recruiting classes didn’t focus quite as much on the OL (five OLs in 2018 and four in 2019), largely because Bronco had already secured that “playable depth”. But that’s still nine more guys. True freshman Ja’Quay Hubbard is the highest rated of those OL recruits and may find himself on the two-deep this year. Bobby Haskins, Martin Weisz and Derek Devine were both on the two-deep last year as true freshmen, though only Haskins saw any action. Those two should figure in again this year, and for several years to come.
There may still be some unanswered questions about the OL for 2019, but they will be answered before this season ends and the future is very bright for this unit.