Virginia's offensive success may hinge on the line

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010; 6:46 PM

CHARLOTTESVILLE - Before B.J. Cabbell was old enough to obtain a driver's license, he went to the junkyard a quarter-mile from his home in Roseland, Va., and bought a beat-up 1979 Z28 Chevy Camaro for $300. The fender was missing. The front clip was battered. There were holes in the floor panels.

Cabbell, his father and his uncle worked to restore that car for three years until it met the vision they shared for it at the outset. These days, the Camaro rides on 18-inch chrome wheels, and a 350 Corvette engine sits under the hood. Cabbell's car has won five trophies at car shows across the state, and he couldn't be prouder of the finished product.

"Over time, just seeing the car take shape and form" is rewarding, said Cabbell, a senior guard for the Virginia football team. "From its junkyard days to its custom, car show days. It's just a process, and that's what I love."

In a similar fashion, the Cavaliers hope to restore an offensive line that turned in a ragged showing last season. Virginia allowed an ACC-high 40 sacks, and its rushing and passing offenses both ranked second worst in the conference. If Virginia is to employ an effective, balanced offense, it will need a more show-worthy performance from its hosses up front.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said the offensive line's pass protection development is "on pace" with where it needs to be at this point in training camp, though he acknowledged video from blitz drills during Tuesday's practice would reveal mistakes that need to be corrected.

"You expect there to be errors," Lazor said. "We don't ever want any, but we know that there will be as things start happening faster and faster. I think they understand what we're doing. We have to get really good at executing it."

However, Cabbell said the unit's pass protection has improved at a faster clip than has its run blocking. The Cavaliers are in the process of rediscovering the mentality necessary to execute the team's blocking schemes effectively.

No Virginia running back has compiled a 1,000-yard season since Alvin Pearman in 2004. And while there are a half-dozen tailbacks on this year's squad vying for the opportunity to reach that mark, their ability to do so largely will hinge on the progression of the team's offensive line.

"In the past, U-Va. football was known for the run," offensive line coach Ron Mattes said. "They had some great linemen here and they were known for their power play and for their zone play and rocking guys off the ball. That's what we're getting back into. We're getting back into power football. We're going to double team. We're going to knock guys back off the ball."

A fairly experienced bunch returns to man the Cavaliers' offensive line. The projected starters include three upperclassmen - left tackle Landon Bradley, left guard Austin Pasztor and Cabbell, who plays right guard - who started at least 11 games last season, junior center Anthony Mihota and sophomore right tackle Oday Aboushi, who appeared in six games in 2009 and began rotating in on offensive series as the season progressed.

Aboushi may be pushed for his starting spot by true freshman Morgan Moses, who is listed at 6 feet 6 and 350 pounds. Moses, a highly touted recruit out of Richmond who spent last year at Fork Union Military Academy, at times displayed his physical power and technical prowess during the first few days of training camp.

"I don't know about immediate impact, but he blocks out the sun when you stand up next to him," Virginia Coach Mike London said. "He is a large individual. And his learning curve from where he was at high school and Fork Union to now at college is, you know, he's got a lot to learn."

With the season opener against Richmond a little more than three weeks away, Virginia's timetable for restoring its offensive line is more truncated than was Cabbell's for fixing up his car. But the required dedication remains the same, and the final product can be equally rewarding.

"Especially this early in camp, the key is, individually, detailing the fundamentals, and then as a group teaching and helping them understand how the scheme all fits together," Lazor said. "We're not nearly good enough today to play, but I really think we're on pace. We have a plan. We have a real vision of what it's going to look like in the end, and we're pushing hard to get there."

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