(Editor’s note: This is Part 5 in an eight-part series breaking down the 2018 Virginia football team, position by position.)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Bronco Mendenhall poked his head into the offensive line’s meeting room and smiled. For the first time in his three years at Virginia, the room was full.
“That’s a sign of a healthy program,” Mendenhall said. “When you can get enough big bodies that allows us to practice in a more physical and demanding manner.”
Two years ago, the Cavaliers were so thin on the offensive line it was difficult to practice, and last year wasn’t a whole lot better, though a pair of graduate transfers helped bolster the unit. This season, U.Va. returned five linemen with some starting experience and added another grad transfer, Rutgers guard Marcus Applefield.
They also have six true freshmen and five redshirt freshmen working there.
Even with a summer injury to redshirt freshman center/guard Tyler Fannin, Virginia is in a far better position up front than in recent seasons.
And thanks to an offseason focus on getting the entire roster bigger and stronger, those players appear more ready for the rigors of a full season in the trenches.
“There’s no question, we look a lot better, a lot stronger, move a lot faster,” line coach Garett Tujague said. “They look better. They move way more steel. They move better laterally.”
U.Va. opened camp with sophomore Dillon Reinkensmeyer at center, senior Jake Fieler at right guard, junior R.J. Proctor at left guard, sophomore Chris Glaser at left tackle and Applefield at right.
Thursday, Fieler sat out practice with an injury and Proctor left after being hurt during the workout, but neither situation was expected to keep them out when the season starts.
Sophomore Ben Knutson started two games — one at each guard spot — last season and gives the Cavaliers a capable backup on in the interior. Fannin also can play there when he returns.
So while the numbers may be up at the position, the team is still short on game-ready options.
“I would say we’re still to the point where we’re staffing about a first five, and then a comfortable six and a stretch seven,” Mendenhall said. “That’s about where we are. That’s been similar each year, and so we’re still trying to accelerate the growth of the young guys, adding grad transfers to patch while we’re developing and eventually, we’ll grow.”
Returners: Jake Fieler, Chris Glaser, R.J. Proctor, Dillon Reinkensmeyer, Ben Knutson
Key losses: Jack English (St. Christopher’s), John Montelus, Brandon Pertile
Newcomer: Marcus Applefield
A (half) year’s experience: Chris Glaser was one of two true freshmen to play on the offensive line last season, along with Dillon Reinkensmeyer. Glaser became a starter late in the season, later than Bronco Mendenhall would have liked to begin using him.
“When Chris’ redshirt was pulled, there were five games to go, but we needed him,” Mendenhall said.
This season, offensive line coach Garett Tujague said what he needs most from the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Glaser is an improvement in his consistency.
“Confident with his athletic ability,” Tujague said. “Need to make sure we get him going mentally, not as far as assignments, just working on being a little more mentally tough and finishing every down. When he’s on, he’s on, and when he’s off, he’s off. That’s just a young player.”