It's almost time for that little midoffseason oasis of fun known as Virginia football spring practice. When we get to ridiculously overanalyze the ability of players to take on tackling dummies and fret about whether that long touchdown bomb means good things for the offense or bad things for the defense.
First, an update on the depth chart. The following players (not including graduated seniors) are no longer listed. Also given: the impact of their departure.
-- DT Chris Brathwaite. Impact: Huge. Even as a reserve, Brathwaite was the most disruptive defensive lineman we had, and led the team in TFL. With Will Hill graduating, Brathwaite was on the cusp of fulfilling the irrationally high expectations I had for him. Seriously, I'd been talking this guy up for two or three years. In his initial recruit post I specifically said I was chugging the Kool-Aid. (I also called him a linebacker because that's what Al Groh recruited him to do.) Brathwaite had good high school grades at a tough private school in NYC, and as I recall the articles, had to be up at 6 AM to catch the train there every day. So I had a pretty good bit of confidence that he could handle the rigors of college athletics. And then poof, he's gone. Frustrating.
-- TE Jeremiah Mathis. Impact: Medium-low. Mathis is "indefinitely suspended" and didn't appear on the rosters they handed out to the media this week. Mainly he was used as an occasional red zone target, but if no Mathis means more Jake McGee in the red zone, I think we can deal.
-- OT Kelby Johnson. Impact: Medium-high. Johnson is in the same boat as Mathis, status-wise. I'm not counting on either. Johnson would've been in a prominent competition with Jay Whitmire for the starting right tackle position and probably had a small upper hand. Now the position defaults to Whitmire, and depth will have to come from someone who redshirted last year.
-- DE Courtnye Wynn. Impact: Low. Wynn is off the team for "conduct detrimental to the team and/or one's self." Whatever that's code for. Drugs, maybe, I dunno. Wynn redshirted last year, so unlike the above three, we have no onfield performance to go on. Our need for some pass rush at DE is well-known, and it's possible Wynn could've provided some. That said, he was at least fourth on the pecking order and was probably in competition with Trent Corney for that spot too. Wynn had a lot of potential but it would've been a little while before we saw it realized, probably not til 2014 or '15.
-- S Kameron Mack. Impact: Practically none. Mack left the team before last year but Mike London left the door open for his return, which looks like it's not happening. There's sufficient depth at safety to cover his loss, and CBs that can be moved if necessary.
-- WR Bobby Smith. Impact: I hate to be this way, but probably positive. Smith had literally zero impact on the program in four years and was evidently not asked back for a fifth year, which was something I was assuming would happen. He is the only non-invitee of potential fifth-year seniors.
In case you're wondering, that roster attrition has us down to 86 scholarships promised out. That's one over the limit, but that will be taken care of when we learn exactly who all the prep schoolers will be, and we already kind of know of one anyway. One other point: you see how small the senior class is, with just nine scholarship players. Behind them are 23 juniors, which means that starting next year with the 2015 recruiting class, we'll no longer be recruiting under the umbrella of the coaching transition attrition. In other words 2015 gonna be a massive class. Let's hope there isn't another round of transition attrition to follow soon.
A few position shifts are in order as well: Zach Swanson moves to TE from FB and Vincent Croce to FB from DT. Also Mario Nixon from WR to TE. These moves are very likely to increase the playing time of the involved players, perhaps vastly. The TE position looks nicely shored up, and Croce has a chance to be the guy that we're also hoping Connor Wingo-Reeves can be.
Now for the look at things by position:
London revealed that Matt Johns has mono and won't participate, which is a really, really unfortunate time for that to happen; it's not farfetched to think that it closes the window on his chances to start. There's still the fall, of course, in which he could very well be brilliant. For now, though, the quarterback derby is once again on in full force with a three-horse race in front of us this spring. Phillip Sims and David Watford have on-field experience, but they'll be working in a semi-new system, nullifying some of the advantage they have over Greyson Lambert. I don't think either Sims or Watford have done anything on the field to earn them a leg up, and a new OC will want to make his own decisions anyway. Let the battle royale (sigh) begin. Yet again.
I think the main thing to watch for is, how much can Clifton Richardson, Khalek Shepherd, and Kye Morgan establish themselves before Smoke shows up in the fall? This is their chance - particularly Richardson's - to strut their stuff and give the staff a reason to carve out a role for them in the fall before Taquan Mizzell arrives and starts bogarting carries. Kevin Parks is better-established and shouldn't have to worry as much, but it's not like he can slack off.
As for fullback, it'll be Vincent Croce's debut at the position, with only walk-ons otherwise populating the job. Billy Skrobacz has some time on the field, but nobody else.
A pecking order has been well-established here, so there shouldn't be much drama, except for what new opinions Steve Fairchild brings. Tim Smith and Darius Jennings are your top two, with the next rung manned by Dominique Terrell and E.J. Scott. Nothing in that last sentence should've surprised you. The main shuffle will be in the row below that, with Miles Gooch, Adrian Gamble, and Canaan Severin - different styles of player, mostly - look to carve out their roles. Jamall Brown and Kyle Dockins are coming off redshirt years, and probably won't figure into the 2013 plans much, but they can start building some equity for the future.
A real position shuffle here, as it's one of the few that had more than one graduating senior, believe it or not. Paul Freedman and Colter Phillips have moved on. Jake McGee returns as the lone player with real TE experience. Zach Swanson has bulked up nicely to 255 pounds and is probably the top blocking-TE option. Maybe the only one. It'll be interesting to see his pass-catching skills now that he's back at his natural position. Rob Burns could show up in some red-zone action, as he's tall as hell. (6'7", for the curious.) I don't think Mario Nixon will be major factor until he fattens up; he's listed at 215 pounds at the moment.
Caveat before I start: the roster handed out by the school has some different positions than what I have on the depth chart. For example: Sean Cascarano at OT instead of OG, Sean Karl at OG instead of OT, Ross Burbank at OG instead of C. I've decided not to have a hair trigger on moving these guys; I suspect some of it is the coaches looking to try some guys out at different spots and not necessarily making that a permanent thing. We'll see how things go as time goes on.
That said, at least one of those is a little troubling. I was sort of hoping Burbank would get a long look at center so that Luke Bowanko could go back to a more natural position at guard. It's not the worst thing in the world, though, to not be changing centers every year. Anyway, the O-line in general will be a little thin in camp, with a grand total of four scholarship offensive tackles, among other things. One of the things I'll be most interested in is, who will be the third tackle? Are they really moving Cascarano? Or can we get some good snaps out of Michael Mooney? That sort of thing.
DE is pretty well set, with Jake Snyder as a well-established player and Eli Harold and Michael Moore looking like very strong candidates for the next two rotation spots. Trent Corney is a wild card here. We'll be looking for some refined technique out of him, and hoping he can bring some pass rush to the table.
DT is much more fluid, especially without Brathwaite. Brent Urban is a starter, but the coaches will be looking at Justin Renfrow and David Dean to find out how the rotation shakes out after that. Marco Jones unfortunately won't be on the field, or else he'd be a candidate to try and nose his way into the conversation. We know basically nothing about Andre Miles-Redmond, and since he's essentially the fourth DT right now, this spring should bring some answers.
There ought to be some major battles here. More so than at any position but quarterback. Henry Coley is likely to be on the field in some capacity, and it looks like he may move to the middle and battle it out with Kwontie Moore. Coley is now the msot versatile 'backer on the team. If so, Daquan Romero and Demeitre Brim will have an interesting duel on the strong side, with Romero getting a little head start. Then you have D.J. Hill and probably Mark Hall on the weak side; Hill has a major experience advantage, of course, and played well in some limited time last year. One other thing to watch: how soon early-enrollee LaChaston Smith makes the move to linebacker after the start at RB he was promised.
This, on the other hand, should be mostly drama-free. The starters are well-established. There's a lot of competition at the bottom end of the cornerback depth chart, with four freshmen having redshirted last year. What happens there could determine some of next year's attrition; whoever ends up at the bottom is going to be there permanently.
Schedule for the spring includes no trips around the state like they've done in years past. Either it's because of London's reasoning - that they don't want distractions while they install new offenses and defenses - or they just want to stay and play in their new toy which is ready to go. That indoor facility looks nice, and pleasingly UVAish. I wish I could say the same for some of the new buildings near the E-school.
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