Tackles more important this year as Cavaliers plan to air it out more
Coach Mike London has done a remarkable job quickly turning around the fortunes of the Virginia football team. But two of the biggest and most important pieces of the rebuild were already in place upon his arrival.
In offensive tackles Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses, London has one of the best tandems in college football, worthy heirs to an illustrious Charlottesville tradition. Former Cavaliers tackles D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert currently start in the NFL. Ray Roberts and Jim Dombrowski did the same a generation earlier.
As the Virginia offense looks to take another step forward under London, Aboushi, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound senior captain, and Moses, a 6-6, 325-pound junior, will be counted on to provide the grunt work.
"To have two of them on the same team at the same time playing opposite of each other, it's always good to have those guys on the anchor, on the edge," London said.
Virginia quarterbacks were sacked just 16 times last year, second best in the ACC. Part of that had to do with the Cavaliers' preference for high-percentage, low-risk passes. This year, however, London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor have stressed the importance of making big plays. Translation: Virginia receivers will run more deep routes, and Michael Rocco and the other Cavaliers quarterbacks will need more time to throw.
"When you're on the outside, you're going against the other teams' best rushers, those defensive ends," London said. "We're gonna ask a lot of them. We're gonna ask them to protect the quarterback blind side and front side."
As good as Aboushi and Moses have been the last two seasons as starters, they went in slightly different directions last year. As Aboushi grew into an All-ACC second-team choice last year, Moses grew in another way, finishing the year at 355 pounds. To gain more stamina and quickness, Moses has trimmed 30 pounds from his massive frame.
"I don't eat fast food. I don't eat fried food. I don't eat as late. I get my last meal before 8 o'clock," Moses said. "I feel way better. Being able to make your times on the runs and not being physically drained afterwards. Now I feel like I can play a 60-minute game."
London remembered Moses last year finishing near the back of the pack in linemen sprints. At the end of a recent practice, Moses was in the lead. The Richmond native lost weight before last season but regained it quickly.
"When he lost weight before, it was kind of one of those, you know, liquid diets, put on a rubber suit and run around and lose 10 pounds. 'Hey coach, I lost it,'?" London said. "This one has kind of been the process [since] the spring."
In his three seasons in Charlottesville, Aboushi, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. , has had no such dips in performance. He is a preseason All-ACC choice, projected to go as high as the second round in the NFL Draft.
"[Aboushi] is one of the toughest, grittiest, rugged guys that I've known," London said. "He's another in a long line of offensive tackles that have done well here."