Home Virginia O line coach Terry Heffernan looks to build unit’s depth, versatility

Virginia O line coach Terry Heffernan looks to build unit’s depth, versatility

Chris Graham
uva offensive line
Photo: UVA Athletics

The O line has been the weak point for Tony Elliott’s Virginia football team in Years 1 and 2. It could be a strength for his team in Year 3.

“We’ve got to build off of last year, which is good, being able to, you know, have that experience, carry it into the spring, learn a bunch of lessons from our defense in the spring, and how we want to do things better, take it into the summer, and then hit the ground running a lot quicker than we did a year ago,” Elliott’s offensive-line coach, Terry Heffernan, told reporters last week.

Heffernan took over as O line coach ahead of the 2023 spring practice, so his focus at the outset was on getting to know his guys and implementing his approach to offensive-line play.

Because he has a lot back from his 2023 unit, the 2024 spring is not so much about getting everybody up to speed as much as trying to build toward the fall.

The one limitation on the line this spring is injuries to projected starters Brian Stevens, McKale Boley and Ty Furnish, but Heffernan is spinning the injuries as opportunities for younger guys to get reps that they might not have gotten if the veterans were around.

“There’s a ton of opportunity out there, and it’s about competition,” Heffernan said. “We didn’t play well enough as an offensive line to say, we’re gonna roll this unit out. Right now, we are far, far, far from naming starters. We’ve got a ton of competition amongst the guys that are going to show us who’s gonna go out in the field first in the opener.”

That’s good coach-speak, but, OK, let’s be real, Stevens, who, in 2023, played 869 snaps, with a 77.1 Pro Football Focus grade, is the starter at center, and you can write his name on the card with a Sharpie.

Stevens’ PFF grade was tops on the unit, and on 473 pass dropbacks, he allowed a starters-low one sack and nine total QB pressures.

With Stevens back at center, Virginia will have seven guys from its 2023 O line who got at least 100 snaps.

The left side of the line will return left guard Noah Josey (870 snaps, three sacks, 23 QB pressures, 63.5 PFF grade) and Boley (847 snaps, two sacks, 18 QB pressures, 62.8 PFF grade) at left tackle.

The right side returns Furnish (772 snaps, four sacks, 28 QB pressures, 47.9 PFF grade) at right guard, and three guys who split the snaps at right tackle – Blake Steen (466 snaps, six snaps, 18 QB pressures, 52.2 PFF grade), Ugonna Nnanna (382 snaps, eight sacks, 17 QB pressures, 41.7 PFF grade) and Jimmy Christ (146 snaps, one sack, eight QB pressures, 41.6 PFF grade).

The transfer portal brought in depth in the form of Drake Metcalf, a transfer from Central Florida by way of Stanford, where he played for two seasons under Heffernan.

Metcalf has primarily played at center in his three college seasons, logging 200 snaps at center at Central Florida in 2023 – allowing one sack and two total QB pressures on 90 pass dropbacks, with a 63.0 PFF grade.

Having another guy who can play at center – Stevens started the last 10 games in 2023 at center, taking over for Furnish, who started at center in the first two games of the season – is great for depth.

Heffernan has been focusing this spring on cross-training his guys to be able to play multiple positions, the aim being to add to the depth and versatility of his unit.

“There’s a couple attributes we really look for. The first is availability, you’re healthy, and you can go, and two is versatility,” Heffernan said. “The more you can do, the more valuable you can be to the team. I think being able to get, my goal as O line coach is to put our best five players out there. And if you got guys that can only play left guard, and your two of your top five are left guards, that’s not good. So, I want to keep guys moving around. I think it helps them to learn the offense and the other positions overall. And it challenges them. You never know when somebody’s going to stub their toe or the shoe is going to come off, and somebody’s got to run in for a critical play.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].