The first three practices of fall camp are in the Virginia Football Team’s book. There isn’t much to say so far about the starting positions on either side of the ball, depth chats for each position group, or UVA offensive or defensive appearance, as little has been revealed. Both players and coaching staff are trying to find a footing and settle in as they prepare for their first season.
Information is very limited as the media were allowed to attend the first 30 minutes of practice on Wednesdays and Fridays and question selected players and coaches after practice. However, I will do my best to make meaningful observations based on what I have seen and heard from the team so far.
When I spoke with the team this week, the most recurring theme was the uptempo nature of practice. Players and coaches alike made a point of mentioning how quickly and efficiently teams progressed through various practice drills. It seems to be emphasizing that Especially on Wednesday’s first day of practice, with temperatures in his 90s in Charlottesville this week, several players struggled to condition in the heat outside.
Elliott and the entire coaching staff praised strength and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman. Tony Elliot specifically stated that the team’s bodies look significantly different physically compared to the end of Springball.
Wide Receiver vs. Defensive Back
Virginia’s defense as a whole is looking to improve significantly from last season’s defense, which ranked 121st in the nation in total defensive power, so the defensive backs unit, in particular, has been forced to move to limit big plays in the pass game. We need to make great strides. Luckily, the defensive back has the challenge and opportunity to face one of the most talented receivers in all of college football on his team in daily practice. Being able to test his unit against such a capable receiver in action should help first-year defensive back coach and defensive passing game coordinator Curome Cox.
During the first few days of practice, the battle between receivers and defensive backs was very intense. Matchups like Anthony Johnson guarding Dontayvion Wicks have already produced some very physical plays. “Sometimes there are sparks,” he said, when the competition heats up.
The running back competition is wide open
Tony Elliott and Death Kitchings have made it clear that establishing a solid running game is a top priority for the UVA offense this season. Of course, the beneficiary of that end is the Virginia running back in his room. Kitchings noted on Friday that the competition for starting running back jobs is “wide open,” and Virginia’s rushing offense this season is likely to be driven primarily “by the committee.”
Junior Mike Hollins has the most live game experience in the position group, so he’s likely to pick up a lot of carries this season depending on how the rest of fall camp goes. Moving to Miami, Cody Brown has great potential as a former four-star recruit out of high school. Ketaon-Thompson should get plenty of touches as well, and the coaching staff seems excited about Lonnie Walker Jr.’s return from injury at some point this season.
Steadily advancing offensive line
Garett Tujague’s project to build an offensive line is underway. We still have a long way to go before we can confidently predict starting fives and depth charts, but a few names are starting to stand out.
Dartmouth-transferred John Paul Flores is all but certain to start on the O-line, given the fact that he’s basically played everywhere on the offensive line at some point in his career. Flores is admired by Tujag and his teammates for his versatility. His tackles Jonathan Leach and Derek Devine are seniors stepping up to that position as leaders of his group. Sophomore Noah his Josie said Friday that his first few years impressed him.
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Most importantly, Tujague is happy to have more corpses in Autumn Camp. The Cavaliers didn’t have enough healthy players on their roster to put two full offensive lines in place for a spring game in April. The influx of transfers allows the group to perform drills effectively during practice. How the depth chart will ultimately change may not be determined until closer to match day.
Hopefully, we’ll learn more about the foos in the coming weeks of fall practices as we near the start of the 2022 college football season.
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