'Hoos hope deeper line will be strength in 2019

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- One of Bronco Mendenhall's first goals when he took over as Virginia's football coach was to improve the program's depth along the offensive line.

Though the course of his first three recruiting classes, Mendenhall believes that goal has been accomplished. Now, the head coach has another goal for those linemen.

"I would love our offensive line to be more dominant," Mendenhall said. "And even though our numbers, our scholarship numbers at the position, are healthier, I would love to be able to run the football when we want to, in any situation, to close out a game. If we're in obvious pass situations, to protect the quarterback at a higher level."

UVA's offensive line allowed 197 sacks last season. That was the sixth-highest total in the ACC. The Wahoos also ranked 10th in the league in rushing offense, averaging 173.2 yards per game on the ground.

The Wahoos had four players start all 13 games on the line last year -- Ryan Nelson at left tackle, Dillon Reinkensmeyer at center, Jake Fieler at right guard and Marcus Applefield. At left guard, Chris Glaser started seven games, while RJ Proctor started six, including the Belk Bowl. Fieler and Applefield both graduated following the season, while Proctor departed for Oklahoma as a graduate transfer.

This summer, Nelson and Glaser are working to reclaim those starting spots on the left side of the line, while Rienkensmeyer is expected to slide to right guard to make room for Air Force transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi at center. 6-10 Ryan Swoboda is expected to take over as the Cavaliers' right tackle.

Nelson, Glaser and Swoboda were all part of Mendenhall's first true recruiting class at UVA, in 2017. They're now three of the 22 linemen on the Cavaliers' roster. None of those linemen are seniors.

Nelson says the added depth is forcing everyone to improve this summer. As one of the veterans in camp, Nelson also says he's taken on the responsibility of mentoring some of the newer linemen.

"My first year, we didn't have many guys. People were forced to play. People had to come in, you had to be able to play," Nelson said. "Now guys, we can teach them. You can't be selfish in this. Everyone wants to be like, 'Oh, I want to play, I want to play.' You have to be able to teach them. That's the best thing to do if you want to be able to play. If you can teach it, it means you know it."



 
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