There may not be a position group in the ACC that needed to have a productive spring as much as the Virginia offensive line.
Simply put, the Cavaliers had a strong-armed quarterback in 2016, with speed and talent at other skill positions. But the offensive line allowed Kurt Benkert to get beat up and couldn’t open holes for ball-carriers.
But how much progress the Cavaliers can make up front this spring might be limited by the personnel available. Second-year coach Bronco Mendenhall has talked about being ahead of last year in terms of establishing a culture. At some spots, that allows the staff to work more on identifying top personnel and fine tuning.
However, the offensive line might be left to spend more time reviewing the basics.
Returning starters Jack McDonald and Jack English will lead the way, but at least 10 linemen — several of whom could compete for spots on the two-deep — won’t participate this spring. That includes a handful of incoming freshmen, but also three key graduate transfers and two injured returning lettermen.
That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to grad transfers, and Notre Dame’s Colin McGovern and John Montelus and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pertile could offer a quick fix while younger players develop. There is hope these experienced players coming from similar systems can quickly adapt to subtle changes in terminology and philosophy to make a significant impact when they arrive in the summer.
A tougher issue might be injured redshirt sophomores. Ryan Bischoff and R.J. Proctor could have used this spring to establish themselves and move up the depth chart.
At this point, it’s hard to even list exactly where players will end up on the offensive line. English played left tackle last season while McDonald played largely at right guard. Proctor could compete for a starting guard spot, and Jake Fieler could as well. In addition, Fieler could be in the mix at center.
But don’t be surprised if a number of current Cavaliers shift positions. McGovern started eight games at right guard for the Fighting Irish, while Montelus originally projected as a tackle. Pertile has potential to play either tackle spot.
Virginia should feel good about the upgrade in talent and depth that’s coming into the program. However, there’s also concern its rivals have a huge head start in terms of continuity.