Home Virginia should be able to build around an experienced offensive line in 2024

Virginia should be able to build around an experienced offensive line in 2024

Chris Graham
uva offensive line
Photo: UVA Athletics

The first two Tony Elliott offenses at Virginia were behind the 8-ball because of issues with talent, experience and depth on the offensive line.

Basically, if you can’t block, it’s hard for the skill guys to do what they do.

Good news: the O line, in Year 3, could be a strength for Elliott, offensive coordinator Des Kitchings and offensive line coach Terry Heffernan.

The announcement last week by center Brian Stevens that he will return for a COVID-redshirt senior season was a huge shot in the arm in that respect.

“That’s huge. He brings a ton of leadership, ton of experience. So, excited about having him back,” Elliott told reporters last week at his prep signing day news conference, which became a back-and-forth on the preps, incoming transfers and the guys that Elliott and the staff were able to retain from the 2023 roster.

Stevens wasn’t even on my radar as a guy who could return, because he came to Virginia as a grad transfer from Dayton, where he started out as a freshman in 2019 – redshirting that year, then sitting out the 2020 season because Dayton didn’t field a team during the COVID year.

The 2023 season at Virginia was a fifth year of college for Stevens, but he gets that COVID redshirt year back, so 2024 will be Year 6 for him at the college level.

He can’t be far from finishing up a Ph.D.

“It’s kind of crazy when you got signing day, but sometimes you’re celebrating just the guys staying on your roster as much. So, that was a huge get for us as a program,” Elliott said.

Stevens, in 2023, played 869 snaps, with a 77.1 Pro Football Focus grade, 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 left tackle McKale Boley (847 snaps, two sacks, 18 QB pressures, 62.8 PFF grade).

The right side returns right guard Ty Furnish (772 snaps, four sacks, 28 QB pressures, 47.9 PFF grade), 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 has, to date, 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.

“Yeah, it gives us gives us option there, and obviously, so now you feel good with three guys that could snap the ball that have all done it in live action,” Elliott said. “But what Drake brings is, man, he brings a toughness, he plays on the edge, a nasty demeanor about himself, a complete gentleman off the field. He’s an experienced guy, he’s got versatility. He doesn’t have much of an ego.”

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].