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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.