August 29, 2014

Wahooze Booze -- The 2014 OL, DL, LBs, DBs, and Special Teams

You're tailgating.

Down goes the martini.  Then a bunch of beer.  You try to be funny and pull a "typical UVA tailgate" and sip at some wine.  To be funny.  Then you knock back a little vodka.

Next thing you know, you're watching that giant douchebag you've been playing cornhole with nail two in the pink and one in the stink to win the game, and you stumble back, a bit dizzy... drunk.

You look at your watch: 11:49 AM.  Of course, it's Virginia Football, and a 12:00 kickoff.  Shit, you have 11 minutes to chug down another beer, throw back three shots, and then pour a "walking beer" into an orange solo cup for the stroll from Fontaine to Scott Stadium.  Because you have to be completely obliterated drunk in order to enjoy 2014 Virginia Football.

This is me, looking at five position groups to cover in less than 48 hours prior to our first game of the season -- the debacle that will be the UCLA game.  So buckle up, Wahooze Nation.  We're about to rip through some content.

Don't puke.

Walkin' beer, breh.

The 2014 Offensive Line
God, I have so much to say about this shitshow, but so little time.  People love bulleted lists, right?  RIGHT!
  • I'm not going to pull any punches here, so if you're a pie-in-the-sky pollyanna rah-rah London sycophant type, you might want to skip this bulleted list, else risk serious butthurt.  (Try some Boudreaux's Butt Paste, homie.)
  • The depth chart for the UCLA game came out this week, and here is YOUR University of Virginia Fightin' Wahoos offensive line, from left to right: Michael Mooney (LT), Ryan Doull (LG), Ross Burbank (C), Conner Davis (RG), Eric Smith (RT).
  • Exactly one of those names I just mentioned does not elicit terror as a UVA fan considering the starting offensive line for the season opener.  One.  And that one is Eric Smith.

  • For all of Mike London's recruiting success, he has absolutely sucked at recruiting the OL.  If you're not overrecruiting the OL, then you are underrecruiting the OL.  Coach had to learn this fact the hard way, I guess.  Too bad Virginia is bombed back to the stone ages as a result of his learning curve.
  • On top of London's poor recruiting, we've also experienced terrible attrition on the line.  Hunter Steward, Tim Cwalina, and Kelby Johnson, we hardly knew ye.
  • On top of THAT, injuries in advance of the season opener have just outright decimated what was already a thin, shaky line.  George Adeosun, and especially Jay Whitmire and Sadiq Olanrewaju would have been factors on this offensive line.  Whitmire and Olanrewaju might be back this season... but by then it'll be too little, too late, without having time to gel with the unit (a critical component of OL play).
  • Take a look at the roster.  DE-turned-TE Jack English is now working at offensive tackle.  So is Chris Brathwaite, a defensive tackle his entire career at UVA prior to this point.  Sad.
  • Add it up, and you've got a unit that is perched precariously at the edge of a cliff.  No, that's not quite right.  This unit already fell off the cliff and is a smoldering smear of wreckage, smoking in a gulch.
  • Who the hell spells Connor with an E?
  • Not including walk-ons who earned scholarships or crazy-ass converts from other positions, I count 14 scholarship offensive linemen on the 2014 roster.  That, to me, is downright negligence when it comes to recruiting / roster planning.  By comparison, ACC co-member and defending national champion Florida State has 22 OL on scholarship.  4 or 5 OL in every single recruiting class is the only way to run a successful college football team.  We're averaging 2.8 OL in each class.
  • Our o-line is going to be bad in 2014.  It's going to be bad, and it's going to cripple the offense, lead to turnovers, and limit our time of possession, leaving the defense hanging out to dry.  In essence, a bad offensive line is going to doom Virginia Football during the 2014 season.
  • The alcohol metaphor for the 2014 offensive line is pretty simple, it's bumwine.  (Do yourself a favor and click that link.)  Bumwine will leave you pretty messed-up... scared, alone, sitting in a pile of your own feces and trying not to wretch.  Choke back the vomit and take another gulp.

Pictured left to right: Michael Mooney, Ryan Doull,
Ross Burbank, Conner Davis, Eric Smith

The 2014 Defensive Line
We know we have a potentially transcendent talent in Eli Harold, who still needs to learn how to bring it on every snap in order to ascend to his rightful superstar status.  Eli's been bulking up, so he should be better against the run, which is good news.  In the past, the easy gameplan was to run right at him.  We also have a 5-star wunderkind at DT in Andrew Brown.  David Dean played very well in 2013, and is back, another offseason better.  Mike Moore is another guy with a ton of potential, who should have great success playing off of the other three guys.  The depth chart is a little bit shaky, but overall I really like what we have on our DL this season.  It could be a difference-making type of unit, especially when matched up against poor offensive lines -- think Richmond, Kent State, and Pitt.  Wahooze Booze: tequila.  Tastes awesome, screws you up sideways.

Bring it on every snap, Eli.  Be our best player.

The 2014 Linebackers
I happen to think that Henry Coley is the best player on the team, or at least tied with Kevin Parks and Ant Harris for that distinction.  Coley is a cerebral, tough, effective, efficient monster in the middle of our defense.  (Read THIS article.)  Da Da Romero is no slouch, either.  Those two should have a field day cleaning up whatever scraps the d-line leaves on the table.  My anxiety with the linebackers rests in two key spots: 1) Max Valles at Sam, and 2) the depth behind the starting three.  Valles is a plus-plus athlete and a great pass rusher, there is no argument there.  However, how is he in coverage?  That was a rhetorical question, to which we all know the answer.  So the pass rush / blitz better get to the QB, or smart offensive coordinators will run iso plays against Valles in space, and chew us up.  Of course, we can pull a safety up to help him out... and leave ourselves exposed to the deep bomb in play action.  It's a problem.  So go get your sacks, Max Valles, and let's all hope those sacks compensate for what we're giving up in coverage in order to put you on the field.  [Editor's Note: We'll be playing a lot of nickel this season, leaving Coley and Romero on the field as the only linebackers; Valles probably has a role as a situational rush end in those nickel looks.]  I love Valles' upside as a player, but he's got some skills to iron out before he's a full-time linebacker.  As for the depth at the position...  Well, the D is going to be on the field A LOT, so that means the backups are going to have to play.  Mark Hall, Micah Kiser, D.J. Hill, and Zach Bradshaw are talented, but untested.  We'll see how well they swim in the deep end of the pool, I guess.  Wahooze Booze: Fireball!  The new hotness.  Tastes so good at first... but then... heartburn...

Bad cop.

The 2014 Safeties
If you're like me, you're predicting much doom and gloom for this season, but are still looking forward to seeing a few of these guys in action.  Kevin Parks.  Eli Harold.  Henry Coley.  Rounding out that top five is no doubt All-American strong safety Anthony Harris and 5-star ├╝ber-recruit Quin Blanding.  Those two figure to be our starting safeties in 2014, and if Blanding plays to his potential, it might be the best duo we've had since Poindexter and Ellsworth.  So yeah, I like our safeties.  I like them a lot.  Even the guys off the bench - Wil Wahee, Kelvin Rainey, and walk-on David Marrs - carry certain sex appeal.  I don't know how Jon Tenuta likes to deploy his safeties, but this is a unit ready to make a big impact in 2014.  One note I'd like to add here, though -- Blanding is a true freshman, and free safety is a bad place to be fielding that much inexperience.  Expect him to make a lot of 'wow' plays this season, but to also cede a lot of 'ouch' plays just from making the natural mistakes of youth.  Anyway, I'm still excited to see Blanding, and we know Ant's a stud.  So rock on, safeties.  Wahooze Booze: Hennessy.  Top shelf, bitch.

Damn right.

The 2014 Cornerbacks
Tra Nicholson can't get or stay healthy, so we're going to war with better-than-anyone-thinks Maurice Canady, soft-safety-turned-potentially-good-corner Brandon Phelps, wonder-walk-on DreQuan Hoskey, and super-talented Tim Harris.  This group has all the tools to be very good, and Canady already is very, very good.  I'm comfortable with these guys, if not confident in a difference-making campaign from them, sans Nicholson.  Wahooze Booze: gin.  Nothing fancy, but really great when mixed into the right cocktail.

I don't know if Mo Canady has star potential, but I'm not betting against him.
He's the exact sort of big (6-2, 190) corner that excels in Jon Tenuta's system.

The 2014 Special Teams
Voz is one of the best punters in the nation, and a damn fine backup kicker, to boot (pun intended!)  Ian Frye, all 6-foot-6 of him, is a pretty good kicker, with range beyond 50 yards.  New long-snapper Tyler Shirley is an unknown.  I'll be interested to see what a healthy Smoke Mizzell can add to kick and punt returns, while Darius Jennings (kickoffs) and Khalek Shepherd (punts) reprise old, ho-hum roles in the return game.  The coverage units should greatly benefit from two things: 1) Another season of coaching from a dedicated special teams coach (Larry Lewis) who knows what he's doing, and 2) The ongoing development of all the athletes London has recruited into the program.  We have 16 defensive backs and 13 linebackers on the roster, and that *should* translate into effective coverage units.  Matter of fact, when you add it all up, I think Special Teams could weirdly be an asset of the 2014 Hoos.  Look for it to win us a game we otherwise should not win this season (looking at you, UNC).  Wahooze Booze: rum.  When it's good, it's really, really guuuuuuuuuuuud.

It's the Voz!

Overview of the 2014 Virginia Cavaliers
Short and sweet: We have talent all over the roster.  With 22 seniors, we have experience.  But we have some glaring holes that are going to ultimately damn this team.  The offensive line is a disaster.  Both ends of a pass play are question marks -- will young Greyson Lambert step up, and are any of the receivers ready to make things easy for a young QB?  The backs will be running against stacked boxes, and I expect the offense to sputter along at best, and to hemorrhage turnovers and field position as a rule.  A potentially very good defense (albeit with some specific spots offenses can attack) and surprisingly effective special teams won't be enough to compensate for the offense, and with very little fan support and a non-existent home field advantage on top of a difficult schedule, Virginia will struggle to a 4-8 season.

The wins: 9/6 over Richmond (to put us at 1-1), 9/27 over Kent State (to put us at 2-3), 10/4 over Pitt (to put us at 3-3), and 10/25 over North Carolina (to put us at 4-4).  That .500 start through the first eight games will keep London safe for the balance of the season, but an 0-4 stretch to end the season will get him - and Jon Oliver (fingers crossed) - fired.

There are guys to root for and enjoy watching this season (KP, Eli Harold, Henry Coley, Da Da Romero, Ant Harris, Voz), and there are some things to see that could spell a faster turnaround under a new coach in 2015.  Aside from wins, I'm looking to see:

  • Greyson Lambert improving as the season grinds along, giving us reason to look forward to his junior and senior seasons at UVA.
  • Smoke Mizzell showing us that he has the ability to become UVA's best weapon in the backfield as an upperclassman.
  • Keeon Johnson taking over the #1, go-to wide receiver role.
  • The other young wideouts proving that we have certain upside at that position, allowing for a smooth transition to a spread-style offense under a new Xs-and-Os-oriented, offensive-minded head coach.
  • The o-line giving us some young guys other than Eric Smith to look forward to seeing develop.  Mooney, Doull, Olanrewaju, Tetlow, McDonald, and Karl all have a chance to see some playing time this season and show us that they belong.  It'll be an extreme trial by fire for these guys, so we'll see who is made of stern-enough stuff.
  • Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding playing to their potential as true freshmen.
  • The ongoing development of Max Valles.
  • The young linebackers showing us that there will be life after Coley and Romero.
  • Mo Canady, Tim Harris, and Divante Walker taking the proverbial 'next step' at cornerback.  (London has recruited so damn many DBs during his time here, it's time these units became real strengths of the team.)

So I'm as excited for the upcoming season as anyone can be, when they are hoping for losses that lead to a regime change at the end of the season.

Drink up, Wahooze Nation and Hoofans everywhere.  It might be a long three months, but at least we have basketball and a probable coaching search to look forward to!


  1. good stuff. love your thoughts on the oline. pull no punches indeed! it's refreshing to hear some honest discourse about the really bad job london done recruiting the oline.

  2. also. i like that you can be critical while also clearly pulling for the team. youre a true fan. not brainwashed. i will check this blog more often. good work.

  3. Thanks Anonymous!

    I'm going to be in extreme pain these next three months, but I won't be disingenuous and say 'I hope I'm wrong.' Because I don't hope I'm wrong. I want changes at the top. I don't think we'll be able to really progress as a program until we get those changes at the top. A 6- or 7-win season would only serve to delay the inevitable.