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2020 Virginia Cavaliers Football Preview: Offensive Line

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 29 Virginia Tech at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2020 FBS college football season officially kicked off last night, and while the Virginia Cavaliers won’t be playing until September 19, we’re using our time now to project what this team might look like. Yesterday we took our first look at the Hoos, starting with potential depth charts for the quarterback, running backs, and wide receivers. Today, we’re taking a look at the offensive line.

Last year, the Hoos basically rotated six players around the line. Seven players started at least one game, one of those because Olu Oluwatimi injured his hand and couldn’t snap (he started at Guard in that game). All seven of those starters return, and Alex Gellerstedt returns from injury as a strong addition. This unit should be good.

Considering the lack of depth and experience at the skill positions, a good OL will be a necessity for a successful offense. We saw last year during the middle part of the season that a poor OL can sink a strong, experienced offense. That is no surprise to any football fan, especially a Virginia fan. Similarly, a strong OL can bolster a weaker, less experienced offense. It goes without saying that it’s easier to run the ball if your OL is opening up holes. And it’s easier to pass the ball given extra time to scan the field.

Whether it’s Brennan Armstrong or Kayteon Thompson and whether it’s Wayne Taulapapa or Ronald Walker, success this year is going to rely on a strong performance from the OL.

Left Tackle

Starter: Bobby Haskins (Jr)
Backup: Ryan Swoboda (Jr)

Though they rotated in and out a bit last year, these two sophomores were the LTs last year and nothing points to that changing this year. Haskins was the more consistent performer last year, but Swoboda has NFL size and potential. He’s looked strong in preseason work and could very well run away with this job.

Left Guard

Starter: Ryan Nelson (Jr)
Backup: Joe Bissinger (So)

Again, this was the lineup for much of last year, and since both return there’s no reason to think it’ll change.

This is one of my favorite highlights. This play took over 10 seconds to complete, and that’s a tremendously long time for an OL to be engaged. Nelson takes out three FSU defenders, allowing Perkins the space to dance into the endzone.

Center

Starter: Olusegun Oluwatimi (Jr)
Backup: Tyler Fannin (Jr)

Olu was the best and most consistent OL on the team last year. The transfer from Air Force Academy will be the anchor once again this year (and with another year of eligibility remaining).

Olu is in the middle (as you’d expect of the center) and just pushes his man five yards back. That opens up a nice hole for Taulapapa to run through. This is a strong job by the entire OL, but Olu is the anchor in the middle there.

There are a couple of candidates at backup OC, including Dillon Reinkensmeyer and Gerrick Vollmer. But Fannin got the start last year when Olu couldn’t play Center against ODU and seems likely to have that role again.

Right Guard

Starter: Chris Glaser (Sr)
Backup: Gerrick Vollmer (Jr)

Glaser was starting as a true freshman, and though his performance last year was up and down, he still started 13 games at RG. He’ll start there again. Ja’Quay Hubbard was the backup last year, but he’s transferred. That position could go to Vollmer, but it may also be Bissinger (who would be backup at both OG positions), depending largely on how ready Vollmer is.

Right Tackle

Starter: Dillon Reinkensmeyer (Sr)
Backup: Alex Gellerstedt (Sr)

Reinkensmeyer has been a mainstay on the line since his redshirt freshman year. He’s played inside and outside, he’s been in and out of the starting lineup. Even if he doesn’t start this year, he’ll be the first OL off the bench regardless of what the depth chart says. Gellerstedt was a Penn State graduate transfer who was expected to start last year before an injury knocked him out. He still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Even if Gellerstedt doesn’t start, chances are any injury or substitution along the line (except perhaps at OC) would force Reinkensmeyer to move, thrusting Gellerstedt into action.

When last season ended, it seemed like replacing Perkins was the only issue for keeping this offense rolling. But the transfers and injuries have changed the picture. There’s now new bodies being incorporated in, not much depth at RB or WR. And of course Perkins still needs to be replaced.

If the OL is as good as advertised, there is reason for optimism. We know Armstrong is capable and there’s talent at the skill positions, even if it’s largely unproven. But the opener, against Virginia Tech, will be a big test. Even with some attrition, that is a solid defense with speed and depth.