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Aug. 4, 2014

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This is the fifth installment of a series in which breaks down the 2014 football team by position.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — With Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko off to the NFL, it was no secret UVa’s offensive line would look much different this year than in 2013. But Jay Whitmire’s persistent back problems have made offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim’s rebuilding project that much more challenging.

Whitmire, one of the line’s three returning starters, has a back injury that will sideline him for at least the first part of the season. And that means the Cavaliers could end up starting three linemen who played as a true freshmen in 2013: center Eric Tetlow and tackles Eric Smith and Sadiq Olanrewaju.

Of the Wahoos’ O-linemen, only two are seniors: Conner Davis and Cody Wallace, each of whom is in his fifth year in the program.

Davis, one of Wachenheim’s two healthy returning starters, along with Smith, understands why many consider the offensive line to be Virginia’s biggest question mark this season. That doesn’t mean he has to like the assessment.

“It’s my job as the old guy to make sure that people don’t take that personally as an O-line unit,” said Davis, who started at left guard in 2012 and ’13. “We don’t need that negativity. We know where we need to be. We know how to practice, and we can’t let last year, and who left, affect how we play. We’ve got to move on.”

Davis was a redshirt sophomore when he broke into the starting lineup in 2012. He learned that season that “you can’t use your age as an excuse, because the opponent’s not going to care [what class] you are. When I started as a sophomore, I was playing next to Luke and Oday [Aboushi], and the last thing I wanted to do was let those two down. So I had to raise the way I played, and there were games where I definitely didn’t do that, and that’s what made me go out the next week to play better.

“It’s kind of like age doesn’t really matter on the field, or experience. All that matters is how you play that one day.”

Wachenheim often says he wants to have his five best linemen on the field together, and it’s not uncommon for players to train at more than one position. Davis, for example, is likely to get reps at tackle while Whitmire is out.

“Coach Wach always says that we don’t have a depth chart, we have an organizational chart,” Davis said. “The best thing an offensive lineman can be is be versatile and play multiple positions.”

Of the three sophomores likely to play prominent roles this season, Smith is the only one who started in 2013.

“So he has experience,” Davis said. “He has to know that he has experience and the confidence that he blocked a lot of good players last year, and now he’s had a whole offseason underneath his belt.

Eric Tetlow, he’s a big kid. He’s done really well in the weight room and on the field, running. And he’s smart, too. So he’s not just physically getting better, but he’s mentally getting better. And Sadiq, who’s very athletic, played in games last year. It’s just a confidence thing. Young guys need to know that they were recruited here for a reason, they’re playing the position they are for a reason, and if it’s their time to step up, then they need to help out this team, because the coaches and their teammates know they can do it.”

Another projected starter, at right guard, is junior Ross Burbank, who also has played center at Virginia.

“I think he knows that it’s his time to step up, being a junior, and he wants that responsibility and he wants that job,” Davis said. “I’m excited for that. I’ve been here, and I’ve seen Ross develop as a player. “

“So I’ve got total confidence in him. Because he’s going to be a leader on this offense, whether he wants to or not.”

The 2013 season was a frustrating one for the Cavaliers, who finished 2-10, but there were high points, including the production of tailback Kevin Parks. With 1,031 yards, Parks became the first UVa player to rush for 1,000 in a season since Alvin Pearman in 2014.

Parks topped the 1,000-yard mark in the season finale, a 16-6 loss to Virginia Tech at Scott Stadium.

“It was huge,” Davis said of Parks’ feat last year. “I wasn’t by any means happy or satisfied, because of the way the season went and the way the Tech game went, but it was a way to show people that the O-line didn’t do an awful job.

“Yeah, KP’s a great running back, and he did a lot of things on his own, but to get 1,000 yards, you need to open up some holes. I’ll be able to say that, if I come back here in five, 10 years, `I was an offensive lineman for Kevin Parks, who had 1,000 yards,’ and not a lot of people can say that.”

Asked last month about the revamped offensive line, Parks said, “I believe those guys are going to get it done this year. They’re going to be young, a couple of them, but I believe they’re ready for the task.”

The linemen feel the same way.

“I don’t think we really care what people have to say, because an offensive line, it’s a group thing, it’s not an individual position,” Davis said. “So we’re leaning on each other to do really well.”

A look at UVa’s offensive linemen:

* No. 74 Conner Davis (6-5, 300-pound fifth-year senior, Henrico). Davis, the most experienced member of the offensive line, is heading into his third season as a starter at left guard. He could see some time at tackle, too, while Jay Whitmire is out.

* No. 61 Cody Wallace (6-4, 300-pound fifth-year senior, Moorestown, N.J.). Wallace’s ability to play every position on the line increases his value, as does his experience. He has three career starts.

* No. 77 Jay Whitmire (6-6, 310-pound junior, Alexandria). The projected starter at left tackle coming out of spring practice, Whitmire has a back problem that will sideline him for at least the early part of the season. He started all 12 games last season: four at right tackle and eight at right guard.

* No. 65 Ross Burbank (6-4, 310-pound junior, Virginia Beach). Burbank, a former wrestling star at Cox High, has split time at center and guard at UVa. He came out of spring practice as the No. 1 right guard. He started four games at center last season.

* No. 60 John Pond (6-3, 325-pound junior, Chester). A walk-on from Matoaca High, Pond adds depth at center. He played in one game last season, against VMI.

* No. 68 Eric Tetlow (6-6, 310-pound sophomore, Richmond). The leading candidate to replace Luke Bowanko as UVa’s starting center, Tetlow played in five games last season. He was in for 108 plays.

* No. 72 Eric Smith (6-5, 295-pound sophomore, Decatur, Ga.). Of the 12 true freshmen who played for the `Hoos in 2013, Smith might have been the most impressive. He started the final eight games at right tackle and helped tailback Kevin Parks finish the season with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

* No. 75 Sadiq Olanrewaju (6-6, 290-pound sophomore, Gaithersburg, Md.). He appeared in only five games as a true freshmen last season, for a total of 152 snaps, but much will be expected of Olanrewaju this fall. With Whitmire out, Olanrewaju is likely to begin training camp as the No. 1 left tackle.

* No. 62 Sean Karl (6-6, 305-pound sophomore, Manorville, N.Y.). The No. 3 right guard coming out of spring ball, Karl played in one game last season. He was in for five plays against VMI.

* No. 63 Ryan Doull (6-5, 305-pound sophomore, Kanata, Ontario). As a redshirt freshman last season, Doull played in nine games, primarily on special teams. He came out of spring ball listed as the co-No. 2 (with Cody Wallace) at left guard.

* No. 67 Jackson Matteo (6-5, 290-pound sophomore, Ashburn). A former walk-on from Broad Run High, Matteo starts preseason as the No. 2 center. He played in every game as a redshirt freshman last year, with one start against Ball State.

* No. 76 Michael Mooney (6-6, 290-pound sophomore, Malvern, Pa.). On a line with little experience or depth at tackle, Mooney will have an opportunity to make a significant contribution. He played in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman last year, mostly on special teams.

* No. 71 Jack McDonald (6-5, 280-pound redshirt freshman, Quincy, Mass.). A graduate of Boston College High School, McDonald came out of the spring as the No. 2 right guard.

* No. 66 George Adeosun (6-6, 305-pound redshirt freshman, Alpharetta, Ga.). A well-regarded prospect coming out of Alpharetta High, Adeoson suffered a severe knee injury last fall and will miss this season, too.

* No. 64 Jake Fieler (6-5, 290-pound true freshman, Parkersburg, W.Va.). One of two players to enroll at UVa in January, along with defensive tackle Andrew Brown, Fieler came out of spring ball as the No. 3 right guard. But he’s a versatile player who’s likely to get reps at tackle during training camp and could end up at that position.

* No. 70 Steven Moss (6-5, 275-pound true freshman, Fredericksburg). Moss played both offensive guard and offensive tackle during a stellar career at Chancellor High. He may begin his college career at tackle, where the Cavaliers are thin.

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