As is typically is the case, coaching changes in the UVA program have led to roster turnover. Perhaps the most significant component was the Virginia Cavaliers’ offensive line, which will feature an entirely new group of players.
Position coach Garett Tujague developed a very stable group that paved the way for Virginia’s dominant offense last season. They ranked in the top 25 in both average line yards per rush and average average quarterback time in pocket.
The good news is that, although his core group of players do not return, Tujague himself does. Here is what you need to know about the Virginia offensive line next season:
There’s program familiarity, but little experience
A primary example of this is redshirt senior Derek Devine. Although he’s seen just 41 offensive snaps in his career, he knows the ins and outs of Tujague’s system and the Virginia program. Devine has risen to a leadership role among a mostly younger group. Redshirt junior Jonathon Leech is in a similar scenario.
The key will be if the second and third year players in the program step up. This includes Noah Josey (R-FR), Logan Taylor (R-FR), and Jestus Johnson (R-SO). All were well-regarded recruits — and rated higher than the previous group — but have yet to showcase their abilities in a real game situation.
Tujague will need to mix and match FCS transfers
When Virginia’s entire starting rotation from last year departed, Tujague needed to reestablish the offensive line room. He looked to the transfer portal to fill out some spots.
Tujague added two players from FCS programs — John Paul Flores (Dartmouth) and Mac Hollensteiner (Georgetown). Both were all-conference performers at their respective schools and both have plenty of size to compete at the power five level. The concern is that, even compared to skill position players, there is a clear difference in the strength and athleticism of linemen at lower levels of college football. That is why it is difficult to project how they will fit into the ACC.
Depth could be a problem
Last year, UVA was fortunate to be relatively healthy at the offensive line position. When they needed reinforcements, Leech stepped up.
This year, things look drastically different. Leech will seemingly be tasked with anchoring one of the tackle spots while, as alluded to previously, those who were in the shadows will play more prominent roles.
Outside of the likely six to seven man rotation, there is both youth and inexperience. Virginia signed six linemen in their incoming freshman class but ideally, they get time to redshirt and make the necessary adjustments to play in college. If injuries occur, or if some of the expected regulars do not rise to the occasion, they may be forced to see the field early.
Remember that there is no time restriction for portal acquisitions so theoretically, Tujague could continue to add.
Trust the process
UVA’s offense will be predicated on quick quarterback reads and zone runs. Last year’s crew was great but they fit what Anae wanted to do, which is different from Elliott’s philosophy.
In 2022, the offensive line does not need to be the biggest strength of the roster, it just cannot be a major liability. Armstrong and the skill players are more than capable of creating on their own.
Expect growing pains to occur but for the line to come into their own and do enough for the Wahoo offense to succeed this fall.