The first three drills of fall camp are on the books for the Virginia Football team. There’s not much to say so far, as little has been revealed about starting positions on either side of the ball, deep chat for each group of positions, or what UVA’s offense or defense looks like. Both the players and coaching staff are still trying to settle in and settle in as the team prepares for its first season under Tony Elliott.
Information is fairly limited as the media were allowed to attend the first 30 minutes of practice on Wednesday and Friday and asked questions to selected players and coaches after practice. But we’ll do our best to provide meaningful observations based on what we’ve seen and heard from the team so far in the first week:
When I spoke to the team this week, the most recurring theme was the fast nature of the exercises. Players and coaches made a point of mentioning how quickly and efficiently the team moves through the various practice drills. Making sure the team gets into game shape early during fall camp seems to be a focus for Tony Elliott. Especially on the first day of practice on Wednesday, some players struggled in the heat outside with temperatures hovering in the 90’s in Charlottesville this week.
Elliott and the entire coaching staff commended strength and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman who has certainly put in a lot of work with the team this summer to get them in shape. Tony Elliott specifically mentioned that the bodies on the team physically look very different now than they did at the end of the bouncing ball.
Wide Receivers vs. Defensive Backs
With Virginia’s defense as a whole looking to improve significantly from last season’s defense, which ranked 121th in total defense nationally, the defensive backs unit in particular needs to make big strides in limiting big plays in the passing game. Luckily, defensemen have the challenge and opportunity to face off against one of the most talented receiving corps in all of college football in practice every day. Being able to put his unity to the test against such capable receivers in practice has to be helpful to Curome Cox, first-year defensive back coach and defensive passing coordinator.
The fights between receivers and defenders were quite intense in the first days of practice. Matchups like Anthony Johnson guarding Dontayvion Wicks have already produced some very physical games. Fifth-year cornerback Darrius Bratton noted that “sometimes sparks fly” when the competition between the Virginia WRs and DBs heats up.
The running back competition is wide open
Tony Elliott and Des Kitchings have made it very clear that establishing a reliable running game is a top priority for the UVA offense this season. The beneficiary of this goal, of course, is the Virginia running back room. Kitchings noted Friday that competition for the starting running back job is “open” and that it’s likely Virginia’s attack this season will be mostly “committee.”
Junior Mike Hollins has the most live game experience in the positional group, so it looks like he’s likely to get a lot of carries this season depending on how the rest of fall camp goes. Miami transfer Cody Brown has plenty of potential as a four-star former recruit dropping out of high school. Keytaon Thompson should also receive plenty of touches and the coaching staff appear excited for the return of Ronnie Walker Jr from injury sometime this season.
Offensive line progresses steadily
Garett Tujague’s offensive line building project is moving forward. We’re still a long way from being able to predict the starting five and deep charts with certainty, but some names are starting to stand out.
Dartmouth signing John Paul Flores is about to start on the O-Line given he has played essentially anywhere on the offensive line at some point in his career. Flores has received plenty of praise for his versatility from Tujague and his teammates. Senior tackles Jonathan Leech and Derek Devine rise as leaders in this position group. Sophomore Noah Josey noted on Friday that he has been impressed by the first years so far as they have adapted quickly and are already making solid contributions in practice.
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Most importantly, Tujague is just happy to have more bodies in fall camp. The Cavaliers didn’t have enough healthy players on their roster to field two full offensive lines for April’s spring game. With players returning from injury and the influx of first-graders and transfers this fall, the group can train effectively during practice. How the depth map ultimately develops will probably only be determined shortly before game day.
Hopefully there will be more to learn about the Hoos over the next few weeks of fall training as the start of the 2022 college football season nears.
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