Leech comes on bigtime for UVA in training camp

By Kenneth Cross
JerryRatcliffe.com correspondent

Jonathan Leech (Photos: UVA Athletics)

Dealing with the transfer portal can be a major issue, as the Virginia Cavaliers found out when they lost their entire offensive line from a year ago. Four of the players went to the portal, while two graduated.

Competition in the offseason and training camp to protect an amazing passer in quarterback Brennan Armstrong has been a key objective under first-year head coach Tony Elliott.

“Teams know we have Brennan and get great at throwing the ball and stuff, so they like to blitz a lot and do a lot of twists,” said Jonathan Leech, who is the only current UVA offensive lineman who has started games.

Leech’s starts were against Miami and Georgia Tech last season.

Armstrong threw for 4,449 yards last season as he tossed 31 touchdown passes with only ten interceptions in an even 500 pass attempts.

“We have to learn against every type of defense, every type of blitz, and every type of twist that can be thrown at us just to keep him healthy,” said Leech. “We are not going to let him get hurt again.”

Armstrong injured his ribs in the 66-49 loss at BYU last October, and then he had to miss the 28-3 home loss to Notre Dame two weeks later.

The Cavaliers finished at 6-6, but with the renewed emphasis on a running attack, the potential for a balanced offense behind Armstrong would improve Virginia in a very competitive way.

“We are definitely running the ball more,” explained Leech. “Last year, we would throw the ball 90-percent of the time, I feel like. I can’t tell you what type of runs we are doing. You will have to wait to see that.”

The proliferation of the commitment to a rushing attack is a philosophy that is obviously on-point with the offensive linemen.

“The O-line is excited because O-linemen like to run the ball instead of pass, so we are really excited to be able to run the ball and get people downfield,” Leech commented.

The style and potential of the running game is another entity inside of Elliott and offensive coordinator Des Kitchings’ premise and philosophy. 

The making of an offensive line that works together and has continuity will be a solid factor for Armstrong and the passing attack, as well as a renewed emphasis on the run.

“That group, they have to work the same combination with the same guy,” explained Kitchings of the offensive line. “If I am the right tackle, I am working with a right guard and I am working with the same guy over and over and over. It’s just muscle memory.”

Meanwhile, Leech has gained weight in the offseason to put him where he was able to solidify his playing weight at right guard.

“I just take every rep I can that is possible,” explained Leech. “In the spring, we didn’t have that many O-linemen, so I was able to take every single rep and improve a lot. Take rep after rep and get in shape and never be tired on the field.”

Kitchings has a solid strategy of practices, and the offensive linemen have enjoyed the recipe with the opener against Richmond a little over two weeks away. 

“We have to get five, six, seven guys that we can constantly work together so we can get those combinations,” Kitchings noted.