October 18, 2012

Better in 2013?

So this season, we're looking to try to rally from this cataclysmic five-loss skid.  I'm optimistic.  Not sure if that rally is one win, two, three, four, or maybe just improved play to the point where we won't have to spend the entire offseason wondering if we have the right coaching staff.

It starts with Wake. This Saturday, Virginia Football's 25,000 closest friends and family will be on hand to witness the beginning of The Great Turnaround of 2012.  Hopefully.

But at this point, at 2-5 and with hope dwindling, my attention is wandering toward the future.  Specifically, it is wandering toward 2013.  So here's a quick position-by-position look at how things project to next season, personnel-wise.

Looks like Phillip Sims will play out the stretch as our starting QB, with perhaps Mike Rocco coming in late as the "closer" in close games in which Sims struggles.  I can live with that.  But heading into 2013, I'm expecting a few things: 1) Mike Rocco ditches out on UVA for a chance to be the undisputed started for a D-1AA school.  2) Phillip Sims fails to do enough in 2012 to completely stitch up the starting job for 2013.  3) Thusly, there is a battle royale with Greyson Lambert (and David Watford?) for the right to start.  Ultimately, I think Sims wins that job and makes some pretty big improvements after being bloodied by experience this season.

Running Back
KP, Clifton Richardson, Khalek Shepherd.  All three are back.  But Kye Morgan also joins the fray as a redshirt freshman.  And of course, Smoke Mizzell will be in the hunt for playing time as a true freshman.  I think KP emerges as the clear workhorse, with Richardson taking the reins as the designated power back, Shep continuing his specialization as the 3rd down back and special teams maven, Morgan finding his time in mop-up duty, and Smoke redshirting.  That's right, I think our best recruit in the 2013 class will find his way into a redshirt.  He could help immediately on teams, but with such a crowded stable at RB, there's no need for him to play.  The headliner here is Kevin Parks.  I think he steps up as a real bellcow-style back, churning out yardage for an offense that figures to be better in just about every category other than pass pro.

KP: bellcow.
Zach Swanson is back as junior, and will hopefully have developed a bit more of a fullback's build.  He could be a weapon in the passing game, but we really need him to be an effective lead blocker.  The guy has some talent, so I am assuming improvement, albeit at a relatively low-impact position.

Tight End
Godbye Paul Freedman and Colter Phillips.  Hello Jake McGee after another offseason of physical development.  Assuming McGee gets bigger and stronger, and improves his in-line blocking, he could emerge as our best tight end since Big Money, and that's not even much of a stretch of the imagination.  Jeremiah Mathis is also back, ho-hum.  I think we can also expect to see a few others transition to the position, like probably redshirt freshman Kyle Dockins and incoming freshmen Max Valles and Jack English.  But no doubt about it, depth will be thin at this spot, and it will likely be an area of focus in the 2014 recruiting class.  I love McGee, but realistically we will miss the blocking provided by Phillips and especially Freedman.
Verdict: PUSH.

Hallelujah and amen.

Wide Receiver
This is an area I'm excited about.  Hopefully Tim Smith is healthy.  Can't really count on him, though -- he's proven himself to be super-fragile.  Darius Jennings will have another season of extensive playing time under his belt, and will hopefully be ready to ascend to true #1 status.  E.J. Scott is an awesome #2.  Dominique Terrell should be better, and more pure receiver-ish.  He probably has a stranglehold on the slot, though I still daydream of Canaan Severin's possession-style presence in that spot.   Speaking of Severin, he and Adrian Gamble should be ready to take big steps forward in 2013, after dabbling with some playing time as true freshmen in 2012.  That's already a lot of guys to incorporate into the mix, but athletic leaper Mario Nixon will be coming off of his redshirt season and incoming frosh Zack Jones, Andre Levrone, and Keeon Johnson could be ready to push for PT, though all three will likely redshirt.  It's a lot of bodies to juggle, but it's also an abundance of talent.  Honestly, I expect great improvement from the wideouts in 2013.

Offensive Tackle
I'm splitting the tackles out from the interior line positions because I fully expect our edge blockers to struggle a bit in 2013.  Oday Aboushi will be gone, and who knows what decision Morgan Moses will reach in regards to leaving early for the NFL?  I personally think the kid is nowhere near ready, but I felt the same way about Kevin Ogletree and he jumped.  So that's a wait-and-see kind of thing.  If Big Mo is back, the right side could be a strength (no way he kicks over to left tackle.)  Talented youngsters Jay Whitmire and Kelby Johnson wait in the wings, and I think both guys will end up being pretty good in the orange and blue.  One or both will start in 2013, and anytime you pass the torch at left tackle, it is unnerving.  Sean Karl, Mike Mooney, and incoming freshman Sadiq Olanrewaju could all factor into the battle for the two-deep at tackle.  Bottom line: Oday Aboushi represents the biggest single personnel loss from 2012 to 2013.

Interior Offensive Line
Things should be a bit more rosy on the inside.  Luke Bowanko is back at center, and though he has struggled at times in 2012, his experience should be an asset for the entire line next year.  Meanwhile, Conner Davis, Sean Cascarano, Cody Wallace, and Ross Burbank -- all are back, a year stronger and more experienced.  Ryan Doull comes off of his redshirt season.  Brad Henson and Jack McDonald arrive on Grounds as well-regarded recruits.  The numbers and depth on the inside are finally looking pretty good.  Not sure about backup center, but no doubt one or two of the younger guys will begin their apprenticeships under Bowanko, with Burbank already having had some work there in 2012.

Defensive End
This is where things start to get fun.  We lose Billy Schautz, but a strong argument can be made that we never really had him to begin with, given how little he's been able to play due to injury.  We also lose Ausar Walcott, who has filled in admirably while making a modest impact.  Jake Snyder is back for his senior season in 2013, but I'm not so sure he has a lock on a starting job.  The reason?  The kids will be coming on strong.  You already know about Eli Harold, who will be making his 1st-to-2nd year leap, and emerging as a playmaker as a sophomore.  Mike Moore should also push really hard for extensive snaps.  Courtnye Wynn will be in the mix, as well.  Diamonte Bailey and Stephen Lawe could get lost in the wash, and either seems to me like potential victims of attrition as they are clearly leapfrogged in the pecking order by younger, better players.  The wildcard here is Trent Corney, who is a real physical marvel.  If he develops as a pass rusher, look out.  He, along with the Eli Harold / Mike Moore combo has me excited about the future of the pass rush, and that future starts in 2013.

Eli Harold brings some star power to the table.

Defensive Tackle
Everyone but Will Hill and Buddy Ruff are back, which includes Brent Urban (who could also slip back outside to end), Justin Renfrow, Chris Brathwaite, Vincent Croce, David Dean, and Marco Jones.  This has been a major focus of Mike London's recruiting since he arrived at UVA, and I think we'll start reaping the rewards of that labor in 2013.  The exciting thing is that possibly the two most talented DTs - Tyrell Chavis and Donta Wilkins - arrive as true freshmen.  I don't expect either to play in 2013, but it still represents a rising tide that will raise all boats.  In this group, I'm especially excited about Brathwaite, whose angry, aggressive playing style could set a tone for the entire defense.  (I think we'll actually see that come to bear here in 2012, as Brath earns more and more PT down the stretch.)  Losing Hill is a bit of a blow, but he hasn't distinguished himself at all this season.  In other words, it won't be too difficult to find an upgrade over what he's been giving us.

Outside Linebacker
LaRoy Reynolds is gone, to be replaced by either D.J. Hill or Demeitre Brim, both of whom have shown flashes of brilliance in 2012.  At Sam, Henry Coley returns (though he might need to move back inside to the Mike), as does Daquan Romero.  Mark Hall will be a redshirt freshman in 2013, and a lot of people close to the program think that he'll make a rapid ascension into the two-deep rotation at outside linebacker.  Meanwhile, we have been recruiting the linebacker position HARD in the 2013 class, and any of the true freshman trio of Micah Kiser, Zach Bradshaw, or LaChaston Smith could push for playing time.  Roy is a big loss, but you have to like the talent we have bubbling up at outside linebacker, with four of these guys already seeing nice amounts of burn in 2012.
Verdict: PUSH.

Middle Linebacker
Steve Greer is gone, and with him goes piles upon piles of tackles.  However, Greer has never been a sideline-to-sideline playmaker, but his probable replacement - Kwontie Moore - has that potential.  It's always rough to transition from one player to the next at Mike, as it's one of those "quarterback of the defense" type of positions, so I expect some growing pains early.  If Coley moves over to start, we end up with the same issue we had with Greer -- limited athleticism.  Either way, this will be a bit of a drop-off from Greer, though Moore's upside mitigates the loss a bit.

Starters Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps return, with the experience they gained in 2012 serving as a huge potential boon to their play in 2013.  Rijo Walker and Anthony Cooper both return as primary backups.  And ├╝ber-recruit Malcolm Cook arrives to wreck shop.  The 2013 safety unit is basically the same as it is in 2012, with the addition of a season's worth of experience, another offseason of development, and the presence of Cook.  Massive upgrades are expected.

Get used to this face.  Malcolm Cook could be an immediate star at safety.

Just like with the safeties, everyone returns.  Tra Nicholson, in his third year of extensive action. Drequan Hoskey and Maurice Canady, after a season of hard-earned experience.  C.J. Moore,  Kelvin Rainey, and Divante Walker, after a redshirt season to prepare.  And Tim Harris, Kirk Garner, and Hipolito Corporan, ready to push for action as true freshmen.  The best part about this position group is that we'll go from basically three players in the rotation to at least six, but probably seven or eight.  That's a massive and rapid influx of depth to a position that is dangerously thin in 2012.

Everyone is back.  Figures that we should see some improvement.

Special Teams
Increased depth at wide receiver, linebacker, and defensive back means increased numbers on the coverage and return units.  This is where a few of the true freshmen will play, and this is where we'll see the biggest by-product of improved talent and depth across the entire roster.  Khalek Shepherd might face a major challenge from Smoke Mizzell to be the featured return specialist.

So there you have it.  Fifteen position groups, eleven of which figure to be improved.  Issues could arise in pass protection and perimeter run blocking, and up the middle of the front seven on defense, but these are relatively small concerns compared to the uncertainty we've faced heading into each of the last three seasons.  Considering the fact that we could have as many as 10 returning starters on offense (if you consider KP a starter) and 7 returning starters on defense, 2013 could set up to be a year of vast improvement over the season that preceded it.


  1. I'll give the staff this, if Malcolm Cook is as good as he sounds like he is, they are great at going and finding kids who are incredibly under the radar(Canady is another perfect example). The fact that they are from Richmond which is allegedly Tech territory is even better.

    Did we bump Corney off fullback? I like Swanson but that kid looks like a stud and a half at that position.