O-Line Remains A Concern In Virginia Training Camp

By Jerry Ratcliffe

The ‘Hoos hit the field for the first day of fall camp (Photo courtesy UVA Media Relations).

With all the positives in Virginia’s training camp, including eight starters returning from a nasty defense, one of the ACC’s most dynamic quarterbacks, and having been picked as media favorite to win the league’s Coastal Division, the Cavaliers still have some problem-solving to do.

“The team is confident, the attitude is really positive, and leadership has emerged in a much clearer manner than it was prior to the summer,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Specifically Joe Reed (senior wide receiver), Terrell Jana (junior wide receiver), Charles Snowden (junior linebacker), Jordan Mack (senior linebacker), Bryce Hall (senior corner), and Bryce Perkins (senior quarterback).”

Mendenhall said that his team has picked up right where it left off in the spring, and there’s no slowing up.

“We don’t have the luxury, nor do we intend to go backwards,” Mendenhall said. “First-years will catch up as best they can. We’re accelerating the program as fast as we can and from the reference points that are already existing.”

Yet, there are question marks.

For the fourth year in a row during Mendenhall’s reign, the offensive line remains an area of concern. Three starters return in center Dillon Reinkensmeyer, guard Chris Glaser, and tackle Ryan Nelson. It didn’t help that veteran guard R.J. Proctor transferred to Oklahoma for his final year of eligibility, while Ben Knutson also left the program.

“This will be repetitive,” Mendenhall said about his thoughts on the O-line. “I would love for our offensive line to be more dominant. Even though our scholarship numbers are healthier, I’d rather be able to run the football when we want to in any situation … to close out a game, or if we’re in obvious pass situations, to protect the quarterback at a higher level.”

While UVA’s numbers are healthier than they have been in restocking the O-line, Mendenhall said the yield hasn’t met expectations. Expect that to be one of the major points of emphasis during this training camp.

Another priority is to identify who’s going to carry the mail. The Wahoos have a boatload of running backs, but no one has emerged as the next Jordan Ellis, who cracked the 1,000-yard rushing barrier last season.

Mendenhall likes junior P.K. Kier’s and true freshman Mike Hollins’ potential. Kier was Ellis’ backup last season but didn’t see a lot of action. He’s 5-foot-11, 225, and a physical, one-cut runner. Hollins is a 5-9, 200-pound rookie from Baton Rouge, La., where many believed he was the best running back in the state. He had 1,645 rushing yards and 33 TDs his senior season, including 237 yards in the state title game.

Then, there’s sophomore Wayne Taulapapa, who exited spring drills with his name atop the depth chart at the running back spot. Mendenhall said that Taulapapa, who hails from Hawaii, was the most reliable.

“I hope [the running back position] does shape up,” Mendenhall said. “It’s one of my goals to have a clearer idea by the end of camp who or which one of them can become Ellis-like. It might be both (Kier and Hollins), it might be one. Between those three, I hope one of those will be the primary ball carrier.”

Mendenhall prefers having one go-to back that gets the load of carries. He likes the continuity and chemistry between a running back, the quarterback, and the offensive line. That doesn’t mean that running back by committee won’t work. He’ll adjust if that happens, but he likes the idea of one back.

A few spots that may go overlooked by fans (but certainly not the coaching staff) are the three kicking positions: kickoff, placements, and punting. Mendenhall said at the end of spring that sophomore Brian Delaney had nailed down the starting job in all three spots, somewhat unusual in most Power 5 programs.

Delaney won all three jobs in direct competition. However, the coach said there is open competition in training camp for all three jobs.

“Nash Griffin (sophomore) is a very good punter, which I thought in the spring he would be the punter,” Mendenhall said. “But Brian was more effective. Another player who we really like is Justin Duenkel (a freshman from Great Falls).

“It’s much like the running back position. By the end of camp, I hope we have a better idea. I don’t anticipate having a kicker that’s doing everything, but if [Delaney] earns and keeps that job, I’m certainly not afraid to do that. I’d rather have a place-kicker, and I’d rather have a punter if possible.”

Delaney was 12 of 16 on field-goal attempts last season, including 6 of 9 between 30-39 yards, and 3 of 3 from 40-49. 

Lester Coleman was the punter the past few seasons, and averaged 41.8 yards per kick in 2018.


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