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Virginia offensive line aiming to be more physical unit in 2010

If Virginia is going to establish the balanced offensive attack preferred by first-year Coach Mike London, the Cavaliers are going to need a vastly improved effort from their offensive line. Virginia owned the second-worst rushing (99.1 yards per game) and passing (170.5 ypg) offenses in the ACC last season.

That’s balance. Just not the kind coaches typically look for.

The Cavaliers also allowed a conference-worst 40 sacks in 2009, so there was plenty of work to be done on the offensive front this offseason.

As for where the unit stands now – three practices into training camp and 18 workouts into the London regime – coaches and offensive linemen said they are in the process of rediscovering the mentality necessary to execute the team’s blocking schemes effectively.

“In the past, UVA football was known for the run,” Offensive Line Coach Ron Mattes said. “They had some great lineman here and they were known for their power play and for their zone play and rocking guys off the ball. That's what we're getting back into. We're getting back into power football. We're going to double team. We're going to knock guys back off the ball.”

No Virginia running back has compiled a 1,000-yard season since Alvin Pearman in 2004. And while there are a half-dozen tailbacks on this year’s squad vying for the opportunity to erase that mark, their ability to do so largely will hinge on the development of the unit up front.

A fairly experienced bunch returns to man the Cavaliers’ offensive line. Exiting spring practice, upperclassmen who started at least 11 games last season – left tackle Landon Bradley, left guard Austin Pasztor and right guard B.J. Cabbell – possessed three of the five spots on the first team. Another upperclassman – junior Anthony Mihota – had claimed the center position, and sophomore Oday Aboushi – who appeared in six games in 2009 and began rotating in on offensive series as the season progressed – was listed first on the depth chart at right tackle.

“As far as knowing the schemes, those guys know it, the first group,” London said. “And I think next is when the ball is thrown or when there's a run downfield is get downfield and make blocks, get downfield once the ball has been thrown and be an active guy that can maybe knock somebody off that's hanging around a pile.”

Pursuing blocks is an active measure that offensive linemen sometimes stray from, according to Pasztor. While most offensive linemen might prefer run blocking, they also know what skill sets lead to high profile positions in a unit that rarely grabs the spotlight.

“Sometimes linemen will just work on their pass blocking all the time because they want to be that left tackle that can block the quarterback's blindside or whatever, and they don't worry too much about their run blocking,” Pasztor said. “But I think, as a group, we've all worked hard on our run blocking and our pass blocking so that we're able to be a balanced offense.”

To have an effective rushing attack, a team needs an offensive line with power and athleticism – or, as Pasztor put it, the ability to “move a (defender) to where he doesn't want to be. To have a potent passing attack, a team needs an offensive line with sound technique. Developing both sets of traits individually and then being able to employ both sets of traits cohesively as a unit are not easy tasks.

Cabbell said the offensive line has shown signs of improvement in both regards, though he noted the unit’s pass protection has improved at a faster clip than has its run blocking.

One player that might be able to help fortify the offensive line is freshman tackle Morgan Moses. The 6-foot-6 Moses said he weighed in Thursday at 353 pounds. London said at one point this summer Moses weighed 15 pounds heavier.

“He's a big guy,” said Pasztor, who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds. “I thought I was a big guy, but he makes me look kind of small.”

Rated by Rivals.com as the No. 3 run blocker and the No. 5 offensive tackle in the nation in the Class of 2009, Moses spent last season at Fork Union Military Academy. Now that he’s made it to campus in Charlottesville, Moses could see immediate playing time at right tackle if he continues to demonstrate the physical power and technical prowess he’s displayed at times in the first few days of training camp.

“I don't know about immediate impact, but he blocks out the sun when you stand up next to him,” London said. “He is a large individual. And his learning curve from where he was at high school and Fork Union to now at college is, you know, he's got a lot to learn.

“But I'll tell you what, we're going to play him over at right tackle and we're going to get him more in the mix of things and kind of see if he can pick up some of the offense and some of the technique. Guys like that come here to play. They don't come here to sit down on the bench and watch. We're going to see if he can handle everything we'll throw at him.”

During team workouts over the weekend, several offensive linemen got a little chippy with their counterparts on the defensive line during drills. Senior tackle Isaac Cain, just to name one, has gotten into a few brief mix-ups in the past couple of days.

For a unit in need of an improved showing this season, such attitude was a welcome sign of evolution.

“We want our offensive lineman to get the mentality of being a physical, tough-nosed unit,” Mattes said after practice Saturday. “And you know, it's starting to get there. There were some tussles out there today, which is good to see.”

By Steve Yanda  |  August 9, 2010; 7:55 AM ET
 
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