Position Preview – Offensive Line

Welcome to our 2020 Football Season Preview. To view our preview table of contents and read already-completed pieces, click here or on the Series button above.

 

No position group is arguably more important to the success of a team than the offensive line, no position takes longer to develop, and none in the UVA program was a bigger rebuild for coaches Bronco, Anae, and Tujague. But this is the year we’ve been waiting for. The 2-deep is full of program veterans at every spot, all recruited and developed by this staff for this offense. And just in time, as the program needs to replace all-everything QB Bryce Perkins, a Houdini who made the OL look better than maybe it was the last two years by both eluding pass rushers and padding the team’s rush stats. The Offensive Line this year will be heavily counted on to provide ample time to either Brennan Armstrong or Keytaon Thompson under center, while opening up more consistent holes for the running backs.

 

Position Coach

Garrett Tujague – VirginiaSports.com Bio

 

Who’s Gone?

Martin Weisz – The young guard was forced to medically retire after his redshirt freshman season, without ever logging a snap for the Hoos.

Ja’quay Hubbard – The promising freshman, who logged snaps in a couple of early games last year, was dismissed from the team this winter.

 

Who’s Back?

Dillon Reinkensmeyer – Senior (R) – 6’6″ 315 lb  – The old man on the line, Dillon is the lone lineman to be entering his 5th year playing for coach Tujague. He’s started games at just about every line position over his career, and has been a mainstay of the starting rotation since he was a redshirt freshman in 2017. The question isn’t whether he’ll start, but simply at what position as the staff looks to put their “Best 5” on the field.

Alex Gellerstedt – Senior (R) – 6’7″ 320 lb  – A well-rated 3-star in the 2016 class, Gellestedt spent his first 3 years at Penn State, appearing in a handful of games for the Nittany Lions, before finishing his degree early and transferring to UVA last summer. An injury ended his first year at UVA before it began, but reports are that the 5th Year is healthy and will be competing for a starting tackle job for his final (barring waiver) season in Charlottesville.

Chris Glaser – Senior – 6’3″ 300 lb  – Pushed into action as a true freshman in 2017, Glaser started his career as a Right Tackle, then moving to Left Guard as a sophomore, and finally starting the entire season at Right Guard in 2019. Despite being listed on the official roster as a tackle, his lower center of gravity makes him a better fit at guard where he’s been the last two seasons, though maybe a little lighter than is ideal. He’ll be in the mix at guard this year with Nelson and maybe Reinkensmeyer; whether he starts and at which side is up in the air.

Ryan Nelson – Junior (R) – 6’4″ 325 lb  – Given the benefit of a redshirt year in 2017, Nelson has started every game of his career since, first at left tackle in 2018 and then at left guard last year. He’s steady and has great size for the guard position, and should continue to be a key piece of the interior rotation for the next two seasons.

Olusegun “Victor” Oluwatimi – Junior (R) – 6’3″ 310 lb  – Maybe the biggest pleasant surprise from the OL group in 2019 was Vic’s breakout. The DeMatha (DC) grad started his career at the Air Force Academy in 2017 before transferring and sitting out the 2018 season. But he seized the starting center job in 2019 and never looked back, starting 13 games (missed one start with a hand injury), never allowing a sack, and earning Honorable Mention all-ACC honors.

Ryan Swoboda – Junior (R) – 6’10” 325 lb  – Maybe the biggest wild card of the group, folks have spent the last couple years raving about Swoboda’s potential as a future stalwart tackle. His height and length, at 6’10”, gives him a bit of an unconventially high center of gravity, but he’s racked up 22 games played and 3 starts over his two eligible seasons despite a medical emergency essentially costing him his redshirt year. He’s got the ability to play either side, and seems primed to lock up the right tackle job as the season gets closer.

Tyler Fannin – Junior (R) – 6’3″ 300 lb  – The last couple of offseasons have seen Fannin’s hopes to break into the rotation dashed by injury. He finally was able to start a season on the 2-deep last year but was shut down after his lone start, ODU, with another injury setback. If healthy he’ll probably be listed as Oluwatimi’s backup at center; fingers crossed this is the year he at least stays healthy all year, though he’s behind a lot of established depth when it comes to expecting snaps from scrimmage.

Gerrik Vollmer – Junior (R) – 6’5″ 295 lb  – The rising 4th year has yet to make any impact on the 2-deep, with only one game’s mop-up duty in 2018 to show for his career so far. Hard to see the guard on the 2-deep this year as well, but could find himself backing up Oluwatimi at center if he’s able to overtake Fannin.

Tommy Christ – Junior (R) – 6’5″ 315 lb  – After spending his first two seasons at UVA at DT/DE, Christ flipped to offense last season to address some depth concerns. However, he never made a dent during the season, and with the returning production elsewhere, we expect to see him only if injuries become a big issue. Early reports suggest he may be moving back to Defensive End for his final two years, so that’s something to keep an eye on.

Bobby Haskins – Junior – 6’7″ 280 lb  – The other breakout of the 2019 offensive line, Haskins was a big TE coming out of high school that was immediately pressed into action at OT as a true freshman in 2018. Once he solidified his job as the starting LT last year, however, the game slowed down for him and his upside showed. He’s got the upside to start at tackle for the remainder of his college career, with NFL upside awaiting at the end, though due to offseason surgery he’s been limited in camp this year and may not be 100% early in the season.

Jospeh Bissinger – Sophomore (R) – 6’4″ 310 lb  – The glut of veteran experience has meant Bissinger continues to patiently wait his turn, but word is he’s impressed in his reserve role and has even shown up on the 2-deep last season, putting in extensive work on special teams over the back half of the season. Of all the underclassmen, Bissinger is probably the closest to being ready for meaningful scrimmage snaps.

Derek Devine – Sophomore (R) – 6’6″ 280 lb  – Just one appearance to report for Devine, late in the W&M game last year, as otherwise the tackle will continue to work and develop behind the established veterans. Probably still at least a year away. 

Jonathan Leech – Freshman (R) – 6’4″ 270 lb  – While only playing in two games and maintaining his redshirt, Leech impressed the O-Line coaches enough in his true freshman season to eventually show up on the 2-deep, and has good buzz as a future starting option at tackle as an upperclassman. For this year, however, it’s expected he’ll continue to develop while serving in a reserve role, likely ending up on the 2-deep again, maybe picking up some work on special teams.

Kariem Al-Soufi – Freshman (R) – 6’3″ 350 lb  – The largest player on the team, Al-Soufi has great measurables at guard. But the German had never played football in the US before last year, and likely still needs time to continue to acclimate to the speed and complexity of the US game, probably seeing little if any game time again this season, especially since he (along with fellow German Luke Wentz) was delayed returning to the US this summer due to pandemic hurdles and missed a key month of workouts.

Zachary Teter – Freshman (R) – 6’5″ 310 lb  – Not much to report yet on the young lineman. No appearances as a true freshman but that’s not surprising given the depth. Likely another year in the weight room and scout team this season before taking his shot to start moving up the pecking order next year when guys start graduating.

 

Who’s New?

Jestus Johnson III – Freshman – 6’3″ 330 lb  – The lone OL member of the matriculating 2020 freshman class, the DC native is a well-regarded prospect on the interior of the OL, projecting well to both guard and center. He’ll redshirt this season, but has a bright future ahead.

 

Preseason MVP

Vic Oluwatimi – This was a toss-up between Oluwatimi and Haskins, and by no means should it be taken as any disrespect to last season’s preseason MVP Dillon Reinkensmeyer, who’s obvioiusly still a critical piece of this program. I shied away from picking Haskins due to his missed time this summer thanks to to offseason surgery, and instead am going with the steady center Vic. The lone UVA O-Lineman to make an all-ACC team last year, his steady play in the middle of the line as the guards and tackles were sometimes in flux last year gave 2J a rock to build his line around. With a year under his belt, he can now be trusted to be a leader of the unit and make pre-snap adjustments, and the stability at center is even more valuable in a year we’re breaking in a new QB.

 

Breakout Candidate

Ryan Swoboda – It’s hard to classify many of our guys as breakout candidates since most everyone in contention for a starting role this year was a starter last year too. The only place where we may see a breakout new face is at Right Tackle, where either Gellerstedt or Swoboda may take over to move Reinkensmeyer back inside. For either it would be the first real consistent starting opportunity of their careers. I’m going with Swoboda because his summer buzz has been a little too hard to ignore. He jumped two colors in the S&C program and got rave reviews in this Jeff White article on VirginiaSports.com. 

 

A Stab at the Opening Day Depth Chart

LT

Alex Gellerstedt (RS Jr)

Bobby Haskins (Jr)

LG

Ryan Nelson (RS Jr)

Joe Bissinger (RS So)

C

Olusegun Oluwatimi (RS Jr)

Gerrik Vollmer (RS Jr)

RG

Dillon Reinkensmeyer (RS Sr)

Chris Glaser (Sr)

RT

Ryan Swoboda (RS Jr)

Jonathan Leech (RS Fr)

 

Grade: B+

 

Final Thoughts

There’s not a ton we can safely assume about slotting right now other than that Oluwatimi is going to start at center until he graduates. At this stage, Swoboda’s place on the right edge feels like it can probably be written in pen as opposed to pencil, as the early practice reports are very positive about his work there. If he were healthy, Haskins would be a lock on the left edge, but he’s not, and while folks are saying the expect him back in September, that doesn’t mean he’ll be back close enough to 100% to start.

So that means we’re playing a game of musical chairs this month at LT, LG, and RG. We’re seeing Reinkensmeyer and Gellerstedt compete at the LT spot in Haskins’ absence, and on the interior we see Reinkensmeyer (RG), Nelson (LG), and Glaser (LG and RG) are all candidates to start at the guard spots. So take our starting projections at those three positions with some small grain of salt. With Haskins out, it’s in flux probably for at least another couple weeks.

Without Bryce, it’ll be a different offense and we’ll be asking the offensive line to do different things. The pass protection calls will be different, the run blocking schemes will be different, and the tempo may be different as well. But the core philosophies should be the same. We’ve got up to 7 or 8 guys we can comfortably deploy across the 5 spots with minimal drop-off, especially once Haskins is up to speed. And we’ve even got two exciting youngsters in Leech and Bissinger who could potentially fill in in a pinch. That’s the depth side of the equation, and we can feel pretty good there. As to performance, this unit was one of the better ones in ACC play at preventing TFLs. The sack numbers were slightly below average for the league, but that may be simply a factor of how much the ball was in Bryce’s hands. The yards-per-rush were a little above average, though hard to predict that’ll continue without Bryce’s explosiveness.

But in a preseason of massive uncertainty, both because of the pandemic and because of the turnover at QB and WR, it’s nice to largely know what we’re working with on the OL, even if the exact Left-to-Right starting lineup still needs ironing out. If the unit stays healthy, there’s every reason to think we can deploy one of the ACC’s more productive offensive lines, which will allow us the stability to focus on growth from other areas of the offense.