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Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Virginia's o-line gives new offense stability

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's tough to find faces that aren't new on Virginia's offense this spring -- the Cavaliers have a new offensive coordinator in Gregg Brandon, they'll likely make a switch at quarterback, and they've got to find new leading receivers and rushers. The stability, though, can be found where college offenses usually need it the most -- up front.

With the exception of NFL-bound left tackle Eugene Monroe, Virginia returns four starters on the offensive line, including senior right tackle Will Barker. Barker enters his fourth season with 37 career starts. Next to him is junior B.J. Cabbell at right guard. Cabbell proved to be an effective blocker last season in his first year as the starter. Fellow junior Jack Shields was another first-time starter a year ago who improved throughout the season.

Sophomore Austin Pasztor moved into the starting line-up in the fifth week against Maryland and remained there the rest of the season.

"Everything seems to be going real smooth," Shields said. "We've been picking up the new offense really well, even into the two-and three deep, everyone has a good grasp on it. It looks really promising. It really does look like everything is going the way we want it."

Sophomore Landon Bradley backed up Monroe and while he lacks game experience, Bradley has been getting the bulk of the reps there this spring.

"With everyone getting a lot of experience last year and Landon, he's been around for a while, so he's gotten a lot of experience at practice being around some of the older guys," Barker said. "We're all ready to go, especially in this new offense. We're really excited about it.

"There's a lot of new things we've had to learn, but there's also been a lot of carryover from our old offense," he said. "We were able to use some of the same communication, language, terminology. I think we're all pretty happy about it. We feel pretty comfortable after a couple of weeks to learn it, we feel pretty solid about it now.

While the starters have somewhat cemented their roles, depth is usually an issue and Virginia is no exception. Sophomore center Anthony Mihota is the only other lineman who has seen any significant playing time, as he started in place of an injured Shields in last season's finale against Virginia Tech.

Without hesitation, Shields said the area the line needs to make the most improvement is in the running game. Despite talented tailback Cedric Peerman lining up almost every game, Virginia ranked 108th in the country and last in the ACC in rushing offense last year.

"We definitely need to make drastic improvement there," he said. "We're just watching a lot of film and focusing hard on the techniques ... we're just drilling and drilling. Drills that might seem pointless to some people but in reality once you get the hang of them it becomes second nature and that's what you need in the run game -- coming off the ball with the right speed, fitting on the linebackers the right way."

They did well in protecting the quarterbacks, though, and led the ACC in fewest sacks allowed. (1.33 per game).

"Obviously we want to score a lot more points this year, and I think we will," Barker said. "The pass protection has been pretty good for us. If we get this run game going we'll be pretty good too."