The first three practices of fall camp are in the books for the Virginia football team. There isn’t much to say so far as little has been revealed about the starting positions on both sides of the ball, the depth chat for each position group, or the look of the UVA offense or defense. Both the players and the coaching staff are still trying to find their footing and get settled in as the team prepares for its first season under Tony Elliott.
Information is quite limited, as media were permitted to attend the first 30 minutes of practice on Wednesday and Friday and ask questions of select players and coaches following practice. But, we’re going to try our best to make meaningful observations based on what we’ve seen and heard from the team so far through week one:
In speaking with the team this week, the most reoccurring theme was the up-tempo nature of the practices. Players and coaches alike made a point to mention how quickly and efficiently the team moves through the various practice drills. It seems to be a point of emphasis for Tony Elliott to ensure the team gets in game condition early during fall camp. Especially on the first day of practice on Wednesday, a few players struggled with conditioning in the heat outside as temperatures were in the 90s this week in Charlottesville.
Elliott and the entire coaching staff sang the praises of strength and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman, who certainly put in a great deal of work with the team this summer getting them into shape. Tony Elliott specifically mentioned that the bodies on the team look much different physically now compared to the end of spring ball.
Wide receivers vs. defensive backs
As the Virginia defense as a whole tries to improve significantly from last season’s defense that ranked 121st in the country in total defense, the defensive backs unit in particular will need to make great strides in limiting big plays in the passing game. Fortunately, the defensive backs have the challenge and the opportunity of going up against one of the most talented receiving corps in all of college football every single day in practice. Being able to test his unit against such capable receivers in practice has to be helpful for first-year defensive backs coach and defensive passing game coordinator Curome Cox.
The battles between receivers and defensive backs have been quite intense through the first few days of practice. Matchups like Anthony Johnson guarding Dontayvion Wicks have already produced some highly physical plays. Fifth-year cornerback Darrius Bratton noted that “sometimes sparks fly” when the competition gets heated between the Virginia WRs and DBs.
The running back competition is wide open
Tony Elliott and Des Kitchings have made it very clear that establishing a reliable run game is a top priority for the UVA offense this season. Of course, the beneficiary of that objective is the Virginia running back room. Kitchings noted on Friday that the competition for the starting running back job is “wide open” and that it is likely that Virginia’s rushing attack will operate mostly “by committee” this season.
Junior Mike Hollins has the most live game experience in the position group, so he seems likely to get a lot of carries this season depending on how the rest of fall camp goes. Miami transfer Cody Brown has a great deal of potential as a former four-star recruit coming out of high school. Keytaon Thompson should receive a great deal of touches as well and the coaching staff seems excited for the return of Ronnie Walker Jr. from injury at some point this season.
Offensive line progressing steadily
Garett Tujague’s project of building the offensive line is coming along. We’re still a long way from being able to confidently predict the starting five and depth chart, but some names are beginning to stand out.
Dartmouth transfer John Paul Flores is a near-lock to start on the O-Line, given the fact that he has essentially played at every spot on the offensive line at some point in his career. Flores has been getting a lot of praise from Tujague and his teammates for his versatility. Senior tackles Jonathan Leech and Derek Devine are stepping up as leaders in that position group. Sophomore Noah Josey noted on Friday that the first years have impressed him so far, as they have adjusted 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 did not have enough healthy players on the roster to field two full offensive lines for the spring game back in April. With players returning from injury and the influx of first years and transfers this fall, the group can run drills effectively during practice. How the depth chart ultimately shakes out isn’t likely to be determined until close to gameday.
Hopefully, there will be more to learn about the Hoos in the next few weeks of fall practice as the beginning of the 2022 college football season grows near.
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