September 26, 2012

The Leitao Trap

I hated Dave Leitao. I hated his attitude, I hated his stupid 14 button suits, I hated his court side behavior, and I hated the fact that I was embarrassed to have him as a representative of UVA, let alone the coach of the basketball team. He was a clown. And as one last 'screw you' to UVA on his way out the door Dave made a crucial mistake in the development in his players, one that I fear may be repeating itself on the football field.

Everybody remember this kid? Calvin Baker should not have been playing on the UVA team let alone starting in the majority of the games down the stretch that season. Neither should Tunji Soroye, or Mamadi Diane, or any other of Dave Leitao's failed experiments (looking at you Solomon Tat.) Did we have anyone better at the time? Not necessarily. But what we did have was potential. Freshmen wasting away on the bench included one Samuel Zeglinski and one Assane Sene. Two players who would later prove to be critical pieces in 2012's postseason run, prior to their injuries and general shittiness. And while playing in 2009 may not have made a whole lot of difference in their development as players, it would have done wonders for their confidence and our confidence that maybe that program had some light. And regardless, wouldn't it have made you feel better knowing that these kids were developing while watching them make mistakes rather than knowing that they are just shitty basketball players?

This is the same situation we are facing this year in football. This roster of upperclassmen is just mostly awful. There are some solid pieces left over, but for the most part no juniors or seniors on this team scare you. It's time to take a long hard look at getting some fresh blood in there to take the shine off and prepare them for playing on the big stage. Let's look at some of the targets for takedown, and the kids charging up the depth chart to chase them.

Target 1: Brent Urban
Pursued by Chris Brathwaite

Urban is a tall DT. Think Matt Conrath, but with less pure football talent. Being 6-7 is nice... for blocking field goals. Being that tall just isn't good for an interior lineman, especially in situations where you need leverage. Considering he is listed at only 280 pounds, and you have a long and light DT who can get stood up and moved by elite-level guards with relative ease. Enter Chris Brathwaite. Brathwaite is a young, stout, bull of a defensive tackle who could easily slide into a prominent role starting next to Will Hill. This is not suggesting that we get rid of Urban, but rather that we move him to a 3rd down rush specialist role, where we can use his height to our advantage by blocking passing lanes. Brathwaite played extremely well against TCU and with more experience can and probably will become a disruptive force on the defensive line. London seems to want to employ a heavy rotation on the defensive line moving forward to keep everyone fresh, and it's time to start that process.

Target 2: Jake Snyder
Pursued by Mike Moore

Snyder is a solid player, but he is never going to be anything more than that. On a defense devoid of play makers there is an option to sub in a potentially great DE -- Mike Moore.  He has that potential greatness. As a strong side defensive end, Moore is not only strong at the point of attack, but can also get after the quarterback. Paired with either Eli Harold or Billy Schautz on the weak side, Moore could bring some ferocity to the defensive line. Right now Moore sits 3rd on the depth chart behind Snyder and Ausar Walcott, but for the sake of his development, he should be getting more significant playing time. In the game against TCU, Moore showed he could be disruptive against a solid D1 unit.  Now it's time to get him on the field on a more regular basis.

Target 3: DreQuan Hoskey
Pursued by Maurice Canady

Canady should have had three picks in the TCU game. He's already beaten out Rijo Walker for the nickel corner spot and I don't think his rise is going to stop there. Canady is a big corner to go with small Tra Nicholson (who is in my opinion our best defensive player.) Cornerback is a position you need to learn by playing, and Canady has shown the instincts to be a great corner. He needs to jump DreQuan into the starting lineup, ASAP. That would give the Hoos two solid, and more importantly young, corners. Hoskey can shift right into the nickel slot and I think should be given a shot to return kicks. (He is the fastest kid on the team, by far.)

Target 4: Perry Jones
Pursued by Kevin Parks

Before you amass a mob to come burn me at the stake, hear me out.  This O-Line is incapable of opening up holes for a player with Jones' running style to exploit, yes? Jones projects at the next level as a 3rd down scatback, yes?  Then let's use him in that role now and start the grooming process. The way this line is playing we need a straight downhill runner that can break a play without a ton of help, and that player is Kevin Parks. That player is NOT Clifton Richardson, who needs to be redshirted for this season after fighting the early-season injury bug. Parks brings a tough downhill running style that complements the more elusive style of Jones very well. However, based on the ineptitude of the offensive line this season, KP's straightforward style needs to be the feature of the offense. Jones will still play an exceptionally important role in this offense, but not the role of feature back. Think Darren Sproles for PJ's new role, no one is going to say that's a bad thing.

Target 5: Morgan Moses
Pursued by Jay Whitmire

I am sufficiently off the Morgan Moses at tackle bandwagon. I think he is a great offensive lineman, but he can't stop anyone speed rushing him off the edge. Morgan needs to kick over to left guard and play Branden Albert to Oday Aboushi's Eugene Monroe. That makes that side of the line immediately dominant and frees up Jay Whitmire to get some playing time at right tackle, before he takes over next season on the blind side. This move allows us to exploit the pulling ability of Moses as well as use his girth to beef up the interior line, which has been abysmal this season. Whitmire has tons of potential and on a sidenote should have good footwork for the edge blocking role. (He played center on Northern Virginia basketball powerhouse TC Williams.)

Target 6: Tim Smith, Dom Terrell
Pursued by EJ Scott, Canaan Severin

It is soon going to be a huge problem getting balls to all of our weapons at wide receiver. I'll let everyone revel in how good that feels. However, when certain weapons are outperforming others, we need to loosen up on jumping players on the depth chart and let the hot hands play. Skill and ability should decide when you play, not age or experience. Dominique Terrell, with the exception of a few nice plays last game, has shown awful hands this season, to the point where some are calling him a bust at the wide receiver spot. Tim Smith, on the other hand, can never seem to stay healthy. Discounting the two terrible drops that could partially be contributed to Mike Rocco's inability to consistently throw the damn ball to the right spot, Darius Jennings is the only player I have seen that I would be upset if they got rotated out. E.J. Scott has looked really good through four games and Canaan Severin's size and leaping ability presents a matchup nightmare in the slot against a nickel corner or a linebacker. We need to establish an ability to spread out touches so that all of our players are happy, especially since we are about to be inundated with talent at the receiver position in the next few recruiting classes. It's time to shit or get off the pot. Diamonds are only made with pressure. Insert whatever other coachspeak you want here.

Target 7: Mike Rocco
Pursued by Phillip Sims

I have saved the best for last. This is the truest comparison to the Calvin Baker analogy I can find. Sure the offensive line is terrible and the receivers are not catching balls, but there is no excitement in this offense. Sims knows the playbook by now, otherwise I'm not sure he should be attending UVA. He needs reps. He needs a week of preparation as the starter.  And with him in the game you have some kick to this offense. Would you rather see a pick thrown on a dying duck from Mike Rocco, or on Phillip Sims laser just missing threading the needle on a 50 yard 9-route? I'll take the Sims play all day, because we'll know as he gets better he will start hitting those, and it shows a capacity to make big plays with his arm. And you know it'll scare the shit out of the defenses we play, seeing that downfield ability. Sims provides this offense with a threat we haven't had in a very long time. I don't know about you but I have had enough Jameel Sewell, Marc Verica, and Mike Rocco throwing checkdowns. Ramp up the offense and put the Howitzer in the game.

These changes being made will show that Mike London is focused on the future. I understand people think that this team should be good right now, but let's face it, it's only London's 5th full season as a head coach. His recruits are true sophomores or younger. But look at who is good. I'll argue all day that Tra Nicholson is our best defensive player. Ant Harris looks like a cruise missile at strong safety, and Darius Jennings and E.J. Scott already look like our best receivers. London has an influx of talent waiting in the wings, he's just trying to win with what is left of the Groh players. It's time for Coach London to infuse some excitement into this program and get the young players out on the field. Show me a defensive front with Harold, Moore, Brathwaite and Croce on it. Let me see Phillip Sims throw a bomb to Darius Jennings. Let me watch Canaan Severin and Jake McGee become matchup nightmares on the goal line. But most of all, just give me some damn hope that all of this is getting better. I'm fine taking the lumps and growing pains, just show us that potential, and don't try to win at the expense of fan excitement.


  1. Fantastic article, Mike. Really nails down the personnel dilemmas the team has across the board. Our recent play would seem to give London the leeway to make a lot of these moves. But will he?

    The 2012 season is a defining one for London's coaching cred.

  2. Grteat stuff, Mike. And I agree with just about everything. One point: Making ALL of these changes all at once could be too much change for the team to handle. So you have to choose one or two, let things gel, then move to the next one or two. My priority list would be:

    1 - Sims over Rocco

    2 - Canady over Hoskey

    3 - Scott over Smith

    4 - KP over PJ

    5 - Mo to guard, Whitmire to RT

    The rest I think you can simulate via rotation. Just get that rotation churning and get these kids on the field. I don't care if they start.

    I am really excited to see Severin in the slot. That will be a boon to the short passing game. Size, good hands, leaping ability. That's a lot different from Terrell's gamebreaking speed but lack of pure receiving ability.

  3. Unreal that these people agree with you. You are just wrong. I'm not saying I personally would have the answers, but I certainly know that our coaches know more about who is ready to play than you. While your Leitao example is actually decent (though Diane proved he could be a good player at times - Dave just killed his confidence), it doesn't apply.

    Specifically... Tim Smith and Dom Terrell... both will be back next year. Smith has been hurt but should still be option 1 or 2. Dom obviously has talent (he won Rock Weir award as the most improved player during spring ball) so we just need to be patient, which is what we'd have to be anyways by playing Scott and Severin more (also, what have you SEEN from Severin? Yes he's big, but so is are plenty of receivers that don't ever play - Bobby Smith is a good example of that, a 6'5'' JR that has never seen the field).

    Finally, this sentence shows why you can't be taken seriously: "...and don't try to win at the expense of fan excitement". I hope our coaches have ONE goal in mind at this point in a 2-2 season - WIN. Keep winning. And like last year, maybe we'll get to 8 wins. Who knows? It damn sure is not time to start playing all the young guys on the team at the expense of other (often also young) players. Let the coaches do what they are paid to do.

    Also just two more b/c i can't resist - Hoskey has not played poorly, just b/c he wasn't a big time recruit doesn't mean he's not solid at CB. Canady has and will play plenty, b/c we play lots of teams that spread the field. so we're good there. And Croce is about 6th or so on the DT depth chart? Why would he jump people like David Dean? B/c you thought he'd be good coming out of high school?

    1. Hey man thanks for reading. Kendall's right more of an article to vent some frustration than anything else. The point about excitement was not to say we should pull guys that are playing well, but that it's easier to watch a kid you think will be good with some season play and get beat than a kid that's already had his time to develop play poorly.

      Hoskey and Canady were pretty much equal all fall practice. I got to go to most of them thanks to my job so I did get to see that. It's not saying DreQuan is bad, more that Canady has been playing well.

      Terrell to me looks like he might be worthy of being jumped regardless. He didn't even bother chasing the defender that picked off a pass intended for him this weekend, and Tim Smith is hurt yet again. The point I was trying to make with the receivers is that we have the talent to be quicker on the draw with these guys now and can ride the hot hand.

      But again it's just the frustration coming out. And it's nice to at least have some depth.

  4. Ben,

    First of all, THANK YOU for reading and for adding your comments.

    Second, I agree with what you're saying. However, I don't think Mike's post was anything more than spitballing out of frustration from the last two losses and wanting to see the exciting young talent on the field. Losses to LT and Duke (certainly possible), would make these ideas come into focus a bit more. If we're losing, might as well lose while getting the young guys some playing time and experience, right? I think that was Mike's point.

    If the upperclassmen can take us back to a bowl game, by all means you stick with them. But if not... Isn't it a fan's right to call for a change?

  5. I agree about moving Moses to guard. He has way too many DEs run right past him to the QB. If he's not careful he will be the next Kwame Harris in the NFL.

    Canady in place of Hoskey is a possibility as well.

    OTOH, Tim Smith is by far our best WR.

    The others... well, you must avoid the Groh-trap, where he throws a bunch of freshmen on the field, wasting redshirts and crushing the confidence of the upperclassmen. The thing about upperclassmen is, sometimes they really blossom in that 4th or 5th year into decent players.

    Basically, play the best players regardless of year. And don't panic and throw in freshmen out of desperation (see 2009).

    1. That's a good point with Groh, however I would say that there are two main differences, first and foremost being that these guys are significantly better than the '09 kids were. I also think we have the luxury at being able to rotate at some of these positions and to get the young guys some more PT. The point of the article was not to say replace the older guys, but rather that these are the positions that have young players who are hungry and in my opinion able to come in and play some meaningful snaps. The trap for me is to not play these guys simply because they are young and you feel the older players give you a better chance to win because they are older. You can get these young guys into the rotation and if they look better then they stick. My point was to up the rotation to see what we've got so far.

      Thanks for reading guys!