By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — August football practices at UVa often end with a grueling series of sprints. As the players run — and run and run and run — strength-and-conditioning coach Brandon Hourigan exhorts them to push through their pain.
No. 67 needs no external motivation. The offensive linemen run together, and Landon Bradley can usually be found at the head of the pack.
“He can run pretty well, and he likes to be out front, he likes to set the example,” said Ron Mattes, UVa’s new offensive line coach. “And that’s what’s good about Landon. He’ll set the tone for the team and, especially, for the offensive line unit.”
Bradley said: “I don’t like to get beat in anything, and especially running. At the end of practice, I feel like some people are out there getting tired, getting lazy, whatever. Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and go all out for 10 more minutes.”
A 6-7 redshirt junior from Conway, S.C., Bradley is heading into his second season as Virginia’s starting left offensive tackle. He’ll be the one protecting quarterback Marc Verica’s blindside.
“He is probably right now our best offensive lineman,” head coach Mike London said. “I love the way he plays. He runs downfield, he gets the extra block, he’s blocking corners, safeties. Just all those things.”
Bradley’s predecessor at left tackle, Eugene Monroe, weighed about 320 pounds. Bradley started training camp this month at around 270, though he has since climbed into the 280s. He struggles to keep his weight up, but not for lack of effort.
“I’m always eating,” Bradley said. “We always joke about it on the offensive line. Guys are constantly gaining weight, and I’m constantly losing. We’ll go to the Wood Grill Buffet as a line. Everybody else will come out 10 pounds heavier, and I’ll lose a pound. It never makes any sense.”
What Bradley lacks in sheer mass he makes up for with athleticism and football IQ.
“I’m not going to be a 315-pound tackle that’s going to just come out and manhandle every person that lines up across from me,” Bradley said. “But at the same time, I think I’m smart enough and I have good enough technique to where I can always put myself in a good position to win.”
Mattes, a UVa graduate who’s a former NFL offensive tackle, is the second line coach Bradley has had in college. Bill Lazor is the third offensive coordinator.
A season ago, when the Wahoos finished 3-9, they surrendered 3.42 sacks per game. Only five teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision allowed a higher average. Virginia ranked 118th (out of 120 teams) in total offense.
Not since 2005, in fact, has UVa finished a season ranked among the nation’s top 100 teams in total offense.
London hired Lazor, who spent the past seven seasons on NFL staffs, to revive this moribund offense. The real tests are yet to come, of course, but Bradley likes what he’s seen so far of Lazor and UVa’s new pro-style offense.
“I’m more excited about this offense than I’ve ever been in any program at any level,” Bradley said. “I think Coach Lazor’s one of the smartest offensive minds I’ve ever spoken to. In every play, every scheme, he knows exactly where he wants each player to be, to a T. And that’s real important. Because sometimes, with certain coaches, you ask, ‘All right, Coach, what do I do on this play?’ And they say, “Well, it’s kind of similar to this. Just kind of go over here and do this thing.’
“With Coach Lazor, it’s a real specific answer: ‘I want you to be six inches from this spot and take this six-inch step and then be in this spot.’ It’s a lot more specific, and it helps me, and then I can understand what’s going on around me, what my teammates are doing with or without the ball.”
Especially frustrating to many fans last season was Virginia’s lack of success on short-yardage running plays. The players weren’t happy either.
“At the same time, when you talk about that, you’ve also got to look at what plays were run on the third-and-2,” Bradley said. “Because in the past, it’s been third-and-1, third-and-2, and we haven’t always lined up and run the power. And that’s what you would expect.
“This year I don’t think it’s going to be any tomfoolery or anything. It’s going to be line up, and if we’ve got to run the ball, then that’s just what’s got to be done. We’re playing against our defense right now, and our defensive line is by no means slack, and we’re able to run the ball well.”
Bradley is one of three returning starters on the offensive line, along with guards Austin Pasztor and B.J. Cabbell. As a sophomore in 2009, Bradley “had spots that he shined pretty well,” Mattes said, “and there’s some spots that, not so much. But overall he had a pretty decent year.”
UVa needs more than that from Bradley this fall, and his coaches believe he’ll provide it.
“He’s done a really nice job of just concentrating on the things that he can control and taking the coaching that Coach Mattes has given to him,” London said, “and he’s kind of stepped up a little bit as a vocal leader. And he needs to. We need to find leaders on offense, vocal leaders. It’s good to have them lead by example, but you need somebody that will get in somebody’s face very once in a while.”
Off the field, Bradley remains the team’s resident computer expert. He’s working toward a bachelor’s degree in sociology major, in part because his football obligations would have made it difficult for him to major in computer science.
“I thought about it,” Bradley said, “and I think the best thing for me to do is finish out my one major, get a degree in that, and then come back to school. And I think I have the ability to go somewhere like MIT and try to do something, just because I’m so passionate about it. If I set my mind to it, I definitely think I could do it.”
He has two flatscreen TVs and a Dell laptop, and he’s learning to fix Macs.
“I’m an electronics geek, I guess you could say,” Bradley said, smiling. “I love electronics. I’m always reading up on what’s new and what’s not.”
In the UVa football program, much is new, starting with the head coach. When Bradley arrived at Virginia in 2007, London was the team’s defensive coordinator, and they didn’t interact much.
That hasn’t been the case since London returned from the University of Richmond, where he went 24-5 in two seasons as head coach.
“He’s a lot more personable, I feel like, and approachable than our coaches were in the past,” Bradley said. “I can sit down and tell him a joke if I want to and not feel uncomfortable, or see him in the hallway and pick on him real quick, make a funny comment about something that happened earlier in the day. I think it’s a lot better player-coach relationship, which is real important.
“One of the things Coach London wanted to do was get in and immediately change the attitude of everyone. Once we realized Coach was really trying to change things, change our attitudes, people started buying in and realizing that it didn’t have to be the way things were. We run around laughing and joking and still working hard, and we can still win.”