By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As promising as Chris Glaser looks at offensive tackle, some University of Virginia coaches believe he’d be equally good, if not better, on the defensive line.
Is Garett Tujague one of them?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tujague said with the slightest of smiles Thursday morning after the Cavaliers’ second practice of the spring.
Tujague, of course, is UVA’s offensive line coach, and he has no intention of letting his defensive counterparts take Glaser from him. As a true freshman last season, Glaser started two games, and he’s working with the first-team offense at right tackle this spring.
“It’s a good thing coming in with some experience,” Glaser said. “Even though I’m a first-year still, I think guys see me as a leader, just because of that experience.”
At 6-foot-3, Glaser is shorter than most FBS offensive tackles, but he compensates for his lack of height with other attributes.
“Number one, he’s very athletic,” Tujague said. “Second, he’s strong. And then the third thing is his grit, his determination and desire. Usually you see that in third- and fourth-years. He came in with it.
“It’s a good testament to where he’s from and his family. Grit is a huge part of his background and his culture.”
Glaser graduated from Solon High — the Ohio school where former UVA linebacker Steve Greer also starred — but he was born in Honolulu and spent most of his childhood in Hawaii.
“My dad was stationed out there in the Navy,” Glaser said, “and then when he retired after 20 years we wanted to move. He was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, and so we decided to move back to Ohio and find a good school [with a] good football program there.”
Like offensive coordinator Robert Anae, running backs coach Mark Atuaia and defensive line coach Vic So’oto, Glaser is of Polynesian descent. So are three of UVA’s incoming recruits: Wayne Taulapapa, Aaron Faumui and Micah Mariteragi, all Hawaiians.
“It’ll be fun getting some of my uces out here,” Glaser said with a smile, using a Samoan word for brothers.
Since the end of last season, Glaser said, he’s added about 10 pounds, while lowering his body fat. He now weighs about 295 pounds and hopes to bulk up to 310.
Tujague wants his linemen to be able to play multiple positions up front. For now, though, he said, “just for chemistry and Chris’ development, we’re going to just keep him at that right tackle spot. I think that’ll be a good place for him.”
After Bronco Mendenhall left BYU to become UVA’s head coach in December 2015, Tujague was among the assistants who followed him from Provo, Utah, to Charlottesville.
The offensive line struggled in 2016, when the Wahoos finished 2-10. It showed some improvement last season, when the `Hoos finished 6-7 and advanced to a bowl for the first time since 2011, but more progress is needed.
Glaser, with three seasons of eligibility left, is one of the Cavaliers’ building blocks.
“Without question,” Tujague said. “He’s got to earn it every day, but hopefully he’s the future of this offensive line.”
WORK IN PROGRESS: Of the defensive linemen who played for UVA during the regular season last year — Eli Hanback, Andrew Brown, Mandy Alonso, Juwan Moye, Steven Wright, John Kirven and James Trucilla — only Hanback, Brown, Alonso and Trucilla were available for the Military Bowl.
To bolster the line, Richard Burney moved from tight end to defensive end in December and in the bowl game played that position for the first time as a Cavalier. That Virginia’s opponent, Navy, runs an intricate option offense added to Burney’s challenge on that frigid day in Annapolis, Maryland.
Burney survived the experience, but he was “sometimes 10 yards downfield and being moved and wondering what he was doing,” Mendenhall, also UVA’s defensive coordinator, recalled with a smile Monday.
In its 49-7 win, Navy overwhelmed UVA’s defense, piling up 452 yards — all on the ground.
“It was especially tough for me,” Burney said, “because it was my first game playing defense, and it was against the option offense, and there was a lot for me to retain and a lot for me to do, in terms of knowing my assignments and things like that.
“Obviously, I wish the outcome would have been different, but overall it was a good experience for me. I learned a lot from that game, and I took what I learned and moved forward.”
Hanback, Alonso and Trucilla are back this year, but Brown was a senior last season, and so the D-line remains depleted. That’s created an opportunity for the 6-4, 265-pound Burney, who stayed on defense after the 2017 season ended and will compete for a starting job this spring.
“We need him,” Mendenhall said, “and so hopefully it ends up being a really productive move for him and us. It’s really early right now to say.”
Burney, who’ll be a redshirt junior in the fall, said he has a much better understanding of UVA’s defense than he did in December.
“Now it’s just taking my knowledge of the game and putting in on the field,” he said. “That’s where I’ve got to work.
“It’s a good challenge for me, something different, and I like it. It’s a lot of hard work, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Midway through the regular season last fall, the coaching staff considered making Burney a two-way player, and he practiced some at defensive end.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, so I just stayed on offense,” said Burney, who played defensive end and tight end at Hickory High School in Chesapeake.
Virginia used Burney primarily as a blocker at tight end. His career totals in the passing game: two receptions for 11 yards and two touchdowns. His profile on defense might be higher.
“I just want to be on the field,” said Burney, whose father played football at Wisconsin, “so whatever is open for me, I’m going to try my best to take it and try my best to contribute to the team.”
Reinforcements for the defensive line are on the way: three incoming recruits and at least one graduate transfer. They’ll join the program after this school year ends.
FIERCE COMPETITION: Elsewhere on defense, the Cavaliers have many more options. Among the returning players are linebackers Chris Peace, Malcolm Cook, Jordan Mack, C.J. Stalker, Charles Snowden, Elliott Brown, Matt Gahm and Zane Zandier and defensive backs Bryce Hall, Juan Thornhill, Tim Harris, Brenton Nelson, Chris Moore and Joey Blount.
“I like our depth at linebacker and I like our depth in the secondary,” Mendenhall said. “Those are probably the two deepest positions on our team, and it will be interesting to see how that sorts out: who and what combination of [linebackers] are out there. There’s going to be a lot of competition.”
Virginia has an athletic group of linebackers, and that’s “great in terms of covering the field, in coverage, and especially blitzing,” Mendenhall said. “My focus with our linebackers right now is to go through, not around. We’re pretty good at going around. We need to be much better at going through, and our Navy game exposed that at a level we’re addressing every minute.”
NEW DIRECTION: For the first time under Mendenhall, the Cavaliers expect to start a dual-threat quarterback, and it’s likely to be Bryce Perkins, a 6-3, 215-pound junior who spent last season at Arizona Western Community College
Perkins, who led the Matadors to the National Junior College Athletic Association championship game, passed for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 353 yards and four TDs in 2017. His brother, Paul, is a running back with the New York Giants, and their father and uncle are former NFL players.
“He’s fast, he’s athletic, he’s dynamic, and it does not seem like the game or the pace is too fast for him,” Mendenhall said of Perkins after the Cavaliers’ first practice of the spring.
Mendenhall’s assistants include one of the finest quarterbacks in program history, Marques Hagans, who was as dangerous running as he was passing.
Hagans now coaches the Cavaliers’ wide receivers. Asked Monday about the potential of an offense led by Perkins, Hagans said, “I think the sky’s the limit. We just gotta keep plugging and making sure that we’re doing things that give him the opportunity to be successful, give us a chance to move the ball and put points on the board. And right now, that’s our whole objective throughout the spring.”
Perkins enrolled at UVA in January and immediately began integrating himself into his new team.
“You establish that bond and that trust through workouts,” Perkins said Monday. “People are attracted to hard work. Every time I get on the field I try to work my hardest, and then I gain the respect of the people and the players around me.”
Mendenhall said: “His intent was to be one of our team members, not the team member. He’s felt and expressed just how fortunate he thinks he is to be here. So I think when a player comes in and is looking to contribute, rather than [focusing on] what they’re going to get, it endears them to their teammates. He’s very talented. He’s a really good person, but he also is wanting to earn his chance to be on the team before he is the team, and I think that’s why he’s kind of viewed the way he is.”
Many of UVA’s assistants also worked under Mendenhall at BYU, including offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck. When the Cavaliers were recruiting Perkins, they showed him videotape of the offense BYU ran with dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill.
“I could really see myself doing big things in the offense,” Perkins said. “It was built for someone like me.”
The 6-2, 221-pound Hill, an exceptional runner, is now in his second year with the New Orleans Saints.
“He’s a freak athlete, and I see that in myself, too,” Perkins said, “but the ability to stretch plays and extend the ball downfield, too, with his arm, is also a similarity I see between him and myself.
“Watching that I was like, `Wow, this is me, just in a different body.’ It got me excited.”