Virginia Cavaliers are in line for big improvement

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Emergence of Matteo gives them lots of OL depth

The quarterback situation is as muddled as ever at Virginia. When they released their depth chart Monday, the Cavaliers had three signal callers rated even. Whether it is junior Phillip Sims, sophomore David Watford or freshman Greyson Lambert who eventually gets the call, the quarterback should be well-protected.

One of the positives this spring was the offensive line. The emergence of walk-on Jackson Matteo, listed as the first-team center, gives the Cavaliers unexpected depth. Matteo (6-foot-5, 290 pounds), a redshirt freshman next fall, has made a rare leap, progressing from preferred walk-on status to a starting job in less than a year.

"Jackson did a great job [with] off-the-field things as far as lifting, studying the position and on-the-field executing," Virginia coach Mike London said via teleconference. "He put himself in position to be evaluated as one of the guys that can go in the game and play significant reps for us."

Coming out of Broad Run, a perennial powerhouse program in Ashburn, Matteo originally accepted a scholarship to Temple but had a change of heart, believing he could play at a big-conference school. London said Matteo will be put on scholarship if he retains his starting job through preseason practice in August.

With the progression of Matteo, senior Luke Bowanko (Centreville), last year's starting center, will take over at left guard. Senior Sean Cascarano, a starter of all 12 games last year, and junior Conner Davis, a starter for 11 games, will vie for time at right guard, with Cascarano having the experience and flexibility to play multiple positions on the line.

"Infusing Jackson into the center position, it will make us more of a rugged and more tough, physical team," London said.

With Morgan Moses' decision to spurn the NFL Draft to fulfill his eligibility in Charlottesville and the development of sophomore Jay Whitmire (T.C. Williams), Virginia is well-stocked at tackle. The unit is taking the shape of the Cavaliers' offensive line in 2011, when five players started all 13 games and Virginia went 8-5 as London was named ACC coach of the year.

Following the graduation of two starters on the line, the Virginia offense suffered last fall. After averaging 4.2 yards per rush in 2011, the Cavaliers had a 3.7 mark last year. After yielding 16 sacks in 2011, Virginia gave up 25 last season as the team fell to 4-8.

The linemen will be blocking for what now seems a constant in Charlottesville -- a quarterback to be named later.

After the transfer of two-year starter Michael Rocco, Sims -- who split time with Rocco -- appeared the heir apparent. But the Alabama transfer struggled in the Cavaliers' spring game (8-for-18, 89 yards). Watford (5-for-10, 55 yards), who redshirted last year after failing a trial as a relief quarterback in 2011, did the same, while Lambert (21-for-36, 248 yards, two touchdowns) was the lone bright spot.

"Trust me, we are committed to having our quarterback named in the early part of August," London said. "In August we'll make a decision, and that will be it."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner