August 10, 2016

Football: Quick Position-by-Position Breakdown

I've had a chance to consume and digest all of the awesome reports from the three camp sessions open to the media, dumped the info into the Wahooze smoothie machine, puréed gently, and poured them into this glass for you to chug.  Down the hatch!


QUARTERBACK

Officially, it's still a race between Matt Johns (Sr.), Connor Brewer (Sr.), and ECU transfer Kurt Benkert (Jr.).  Officially, it's a race.  But I'm not buying that shit, not for a second.  Benkert trumps all of the physical attributes of Johns and Brewer; size, arm strength, mobility, all of it.  Plus his release is more quick and compact.  PLUS, he has another season of eligibility after this one.  I just have a hard time seeing anyone other than Benkert trot out there to begin the game against Richmond, no matter what intangibles Johns/Brewer can bring to the table.

Benkert's my guy.


Or, as I said on the message board...

I absolutely LOVE Matt Johns' determination and grit. I love that he out-dueled that 6-foot tube of cookie dough, Greyson Lambert. I love that he survived the shit show of the Mike London coaching regime, and helped guide the team through the transition. I think Johns is a fine leader, and I'm proud to say that he's going to be graduating from my alma mater after representing my football team for five seasons. I'll always think of him fondly (just like I think about Marc Verica).

That said, Johns' physical limitations are such that approximately HALF of the offensive playbook has to be thrown out if he ends up being the starting QB over Benkert in 2016. Johns can get the ball deep, but it looks like he has to reach back and summon all of his strength to get it downfield. Benkert? A mere flick of the wrist and the ball is 35 yards downfield. Benkert can throw deeper on the move than Johns can throw after dropping back and setting his feet, this is no exaggeration. Benkert opens up a realistic chance for Virginia to have a deep passing game in 2016, to attack defenses downfield and open up the running game and underneath stuff. Meanwhile, while Johns is an underrated runner who can make it happen with his feet from time to time, Benkert has legitimate speed (and the requisite ball skills, to boot). So all of the read option stuff that has already been said to be a huge component of the new offense is present in spades with Benkert, but probably not with Johns.

If we were trying to run a pro-style offense, or even a West Coast style passing attack (though Benkert's release seems much quicker and more compact than Johns', as well), then Johns might be a legit candidate who might be able to out-duel Benkert with pure moxie, want-to, and chutzpah. But we're trying to run an up-tempo spread offense with a deep passing game and heavy read-option elements. I just don't see how Johns can possibly beat out Benkert to be the quarterback in that system, even if he does bring more rah-rah to the table.

I'm not the one making the decision (thank god for that, right?), but if I were, Benkert would ALREADY be getting the lion's share of first team reps. Johns has proven again and again that he will be ready whenever he's called upon, which is the perfect quality for a #2 QB to possess. There is nobility in being the best damn backup you can possibly be. I want Johns on the sideline, in the headset, with the clipboard, helping keep guys together and on the same page, helping to keep Benkert focused and organized and well-informed and ready. I want Benkert on the field, which allows for Virginia to run the entire offense Anae wants to install.

Bottom line: If Johns is the QB in 2016, we won't see Anae's offense until 2017, and I don't want to delay that transition any longer after having to wait through TWO agonizing lame duck seasons of Steve Fairchild.

I'm ready for Benkert.






RUNNING BACK

It's the Smoke Mizzell (Sr.) show in 2016, but with a liberal peppering of open field dynamism from Olamide Zaccheaus (So.) and between-the-tackles power from Albert Reid (Sr.).  Smoke's not a grinder, so expect to see him working mostly as a satellite back (best in space), where he'll have a chance to repeat his record-setting receiving performance (75-721-4) from a year ago while building on his so-so rushing performance (163-723-4).  {4.1 yards per carry isn't terrible, but for a back like this, it should be closer to 5-plus ypc, assuming appropriate usage.}  Meanwhile, if you want a darkhorse in the backfield, Jordan Ellis (So.) is your guy.  He's been shining in camp in the "big back" role.  Oh, and former walk-on  Daniel Hamm (Jr.) is still around to capture hearts and minds.  Add it up, and RB is probably the best position group on the team.  (The coaching staff has already said as much.)  My expectation is that this group of backs sets the tone for the offense, and delivers Mizzell to the NFL as a late round prospect.


WIDE RECEIVER

Who else is ready to see lots and lots of 3- and 4-wide?

The fun thing is, I think we're kinda sorta secretly loaded at the wide receiver position.  Light on experience and demonstrated performance (can't seem to shake some of these Al Groh-isms), but heavy on upside and ability... especially in an up-tempo offense that endeavors to spread the field horizontally wile stretching the field vertically.

The receivers you need to know about:

  • Doni Dowling (Jr.) -- He's fought injury in the past and enters camp banged up, but if he can stay healthy he's our #1, go-to, do-it-all wideout.  Expect big things in 2016.  If he can stay healthy.  (Did I mention that he needs to stay healthy?)
  • David Eldridge (So.) -- He's been the star of early camp, making tough downfield catches and making the cubes look good when they chuck it deep.  I don't really know what "it" is, but whatever "it" is, Eldridge has got "it."
  • Olamide Zaccheaus (So.) -- Listed his with the backs, but I also have to list him with the receivers, because that's where he'll line up most often.  Oz is what he is --- an explosive, dynamic playmaker in the slot.
  • Andre Levrone (Jr.) -- Taller dude (6-3), long strider, big catch radius, fantastic hands.  He flashed some ability two years ago, but has been hampered by injuries ever since.  Sure enough, he rolled his ankle on day three of camp and is missing some time.  I think Levrone has pretty good potential in the short-to-intermediate passing game, working the middle of the field.  And in the red zone?  Fuggetabout it.
  • Warren Craft (RS Fr.) -- He's still too new to football to be called anything but raw, but he brings an incredibly intriguing size/speed ratio to the table, at 6-2 with sub-4.5 wheels.  He's also athletic, a good leaper, and has been consistently high-pointing balls early in camp.  There are a lot of mouths to feed in front of him, but there's good reason I'm projecting him to be our go-to guy in 2018 and 2019.  Getting a taste of action this season will only help serve to dump gasoline on that lit candle.
  • Keeon Johnson (Sr.) -- Literally zero buzz on Keeon from the spring or early in camp, so I'm connecting the dots to declare him as "just a guy."  Hope I'm wrong and he's able to step up this season, especially if Dowling and Levrone continue being fragile.
  • Tanner Cowley (RS Fr.) -- One of the pleasant surprises of camp so far.  He's a converted tight end who is big but has soft hands.  I like the idea of him in the slot, blowing up linebackers while blocking for the read-option.
Meanwhile, the true freshmen who could play:
  • Hasise Dubois -- Big body, athletic.
  • Cole Blackman -- Great hands, big catch radius, should be a slot specialist.
  • Aidan Howard -- Tall!
  • Joe Reed -- Deep speed.



TIGHT END

Probably not a big part of the offense, but we know we've got a talent in Evan Butts (So.), while there's considerable camp buzz on Richard Burney (RS Fr.), a grizzly bear with soft hands.


OFFENSIVE LINE

Starters, from left to right:
  • LT) Jack English (Jr.) -- I was impressed with him when he played in '15.  So, so, soooo glad he seems to be beating out Mike Mooney at left tackle.
  • LG) Sean Karl (Sr.) -- Here's a big fat 'meh.'  I've never been impressed.
  • C) Jackson Matteo (Sr.) -- He's gone from walk-on to one of the ACC's best.
  • RG) Jack McDonald (Jr.) -- It sucks that we only have three guards on the roster, but I actually think JMD might actually be pretty good.
  • RT) Eric Smith (Sr.) -- He's always been good, and now it's his time to really shine as a senior.  Go out there and earn NFL consideration, young man!
After the starters, we have two leading "swing guys" who'll rotate into games:
  • OT Michael Mooney (Sr.) -- I'm not a fan.
  • T/G Jake Fieler (So.) -- I am a fan.  In fact, I think he'd start over Karl if we didn't need a guy who could come off the bench and spell anyone on the line.  Fieler's a starter in 2017, though.
And then, some enigmas.  Injuries on the OL are inevitable, but it'd probably be a bad thing if any of these guys have to play:
  • R.J. Proctor (RS Fr.) -- He's developing, but still needs another year in order to be ready for action.
  • OG Steven Moss (So.) -- He's still got three seasons ahead of him, but at this point the former 4-star recruit has to be considered a bust.
  • OT Ryan Bischoff (RS Fr.) -- You never hear about this dude, good or bad.

In toto, the o-line scares the shit out of me.  Pray for the good health of our five starters and Fieler, because if anything can threaten to completely short-circuit Bronco's first season, it's the offensive line.  (And things get even worse next season.  Fuck you, Mike London.)


NOSE TACKLE

This story has a beginning, a middle, and an end: Donte Wilkins, Donte Wilkins, and Donte Wilkins (Sr.).  He's going to be a beast in this new system.  Behind him, however, is nothing but sketch.  Andre Miles-Redmond (Sr.) and James Trucilla (RS Fr.) appear to be battling for second team reps.  I selfishly hope Trucilla wins that war, because I do care about the 2017 season.


DEFENSIVE END

Andrew Brown (Jr.) and Eli Hanback (RS Fr.) are running with the 1s, and playing very well.  Brown seems to be close to finally making good on his immense potential as a backfield disruptor, while Hanback is impressing the coaching staff with his old school battler type of skillset.  Behind those two are a bunch of guys trying to bubble up... Mark Hall (Sr.), Steven Wright (RS Fr.), Naji Abdullah (RS Fr.), and Arizona State transfer Jack Powers (Jr.) all bring good traits - and a crippling lack of experience - to the table.  Hanback is going to be learning on the job in 2016, but I'm excited about the prospect of him being a four-year starter for us.


INSIDE LINEBACKER

You already know about Micah Kiser (Jr.), as he's one of the best players on the team, and one of the best in the ACC at his position.  Zach Bradshaw (Sr.) is Kiser's fellow starter inside, and should be a nice fit there.  Youngsters C.J. Stalker (So.) and Jahvoni Simmons (RS Fr.) "pass the eyeball test" in reserve.  I look at ILB in the same light as RB; that being, a team strength.


OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Interesting race here, Cory Jones (So.) vs. Chris Peace (So.) for the starting nod as pass rush specialist.  Jones might have the edge... as a pass rusher.  Peace would have the edge when it comes to everything else required of the position.  Meanwhile, the buzziest player in camp is Malcolm Cook (Jr.).  Expect a breakout campaign from the converted safety, who just happens to be a perfect fit in Bronco's system.


SAFETY

Another team strength.  Quin Blanding (Jr.) is a warrior poet who is probably looking to go pro early.  Kelvin Rainey (Sr.) doesn't have the skillset in coverage to be a great complement to Blanding, so he might end up being the 'designated hitter' who comes off the bench.  That leaves a spot for converted cornerback Kirk Garner (Jr.) or try-hard worker Wil Wahee (Sr.).  Youngster Chris Sharp (RS Fr.) lurks in the shadows, with 'futureman' buzz.


CORNERBACK

Expect good things from Tim Harris (Sr.) and very good things from Juan Thornhill (So.).  Darious Latimore (So.) had to shake off a brief suspension to return to his likely spot as the third corner.  Meanwhile, Myles Jack (So.) and Kareem Gibson (RS Fr.) showed well in his absence.  We might have more functional depth here than previously anticipated.


I'm out of time!


4 comments:

  1. Great post!

    IMO, a comprehensive and balanced assessment of the positions covered. I think your discussion of the QB "quandary" is right on. All things considered, I guess a QB "quandary" is a step up for the Hoos - much better than the annual QB "controversies" we were forced to stomach with the previous coaching regime.

    I share your concern about the "O" line. My biggest reservation about this year's team is that injuries will decimate the offensive line and cripple our ability to perform up to our maximum potential. That would be a crying shame.

    Unfortunately, as thin as we are at that position, London's negative legacy could plague us for another TWO YEARS.

    That's a real bummer. Screw you Mike London!

    If we had a strong and deep offensive line I could get REALLY EXCITED about this year's team.

    Maybe we'll get lucky. But then again, good things don't happen very often for UVa Football, so the odds may not be in our favor.

    Time will tell. But I think Bronco and the new staff will deliver positive results, but it may take longer than many of us would like. UVa fans are starved to see (and support) a winning football team like we had during the George Welsh years.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the post, Kendall! We seem to have enough talent to make some things happen this season, as long as our lines hold up. Excited for this season to start!

    ReplyDelete
  3. The picture at OL in 2017 scares me even more than what we have now.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kendall you're blog is hilarious dude. Keep up the good work. I think Chris Peace is going to be a freak, as is Cory Jones--get ready for some SICK sack numbers. I love both players' raw, natural pass rushing ability.

    You should shoot me an e-mail at wadepeery23@gmail.com. Do you live in Charlottesville?

    ReplyDelete