The first three practices of fall camp are on the books for the Virginia football team. There’s not much to say though as little has been revealed about the starting positions on either side of the ball, the in-depth discussion for each group of positions or the appearance of attacking or UVA defense. The players and coaching staff are still trying to find their footing and settle in as the team prepares for its first season under Tony Elliott.
The information is quite limited, as the media were allowed to attend the first 30 minutes of training on Wednesday and Friday and to ask questions of some players and coaches after training. But, we’ll do our best to make meaningful observations based on what we’ve seen and heard from the team so far in week one:
Speaking with the team this week, the most recurring theme was the fast-paced nature of the workouts. Players and coaches were keen to mention how quickly and efficiently the team moves through the various training drills. It looks like Tony Elliott is focusing on making sure the team gets in playing condition early during fall camp. Especially on the first day of practice Wednesday, a few players struggled to condition in the outdoor heat 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 has certainly done a lot of work with the team this summer to get them into shape. Tony Elliott specifically mentioned that the bodies of the team are physically very different now compared to when Spring Ball ended.
Wide Receivers vs. Defensive Backs
As Virginia’s defense as a whole tries to improve significantly from last season’s defense which ranked 121st in the nation in total defense, the defensive back unit in particular will have to make big moves. progress to limit big plays in the passing game. Fortunately, defensive backs have the challenge and the opportunity to face one of the most talented receiving corps in all of college football every day in practice. Being able to test his unit against such capable receivers in practice must come in handy for first-year defensive backs coach and defensive passing play coordinator Curome Cox.
The battles between receivers and defensive backs were quite intense during the first days of practice. Matches like Anthony Johnson guarding Dontayvion Wicks have produced some very physical plays before. Fifth-year cornerback Darrius Bratton noted that “sometimes sparks fly” when competition heats up between the Virginia WRs and DBs.
Running back competition is wide open
Tony Elliott and Des Kitchings have made it clear that establishing a reliable running game is a top priority for the UVA offense this season. Of course, the beneficiary of this goal is Virginia’s backroom. Kitchings noted Friday that the competition for the starting running back position is “wide open” and that it’s likely Virginia’s rushing offense will be mostly “by committee” this season.
Junior Mike Hollins has the most live play experience in the positional group, so he looks likely to get plenty of runs this season depending on how the rest of fall camp goes. Transferring to Miami, Cody Brown has a lot of potential as a former four-star freshman out of high school. Keytaon Thompson is also expected to receive plenty of touches and the coaching staff seem delighted with Ronnie Walker Jr.’s return from injury at some point this season.
Constantly advancing offensive line
Garett Tujague’s plan to build the offensive line is moving forward. We’re still a long way from being able to confidently predict the top five and depth chart, but some names are starting to stand out.
Dartmouth’s transfer John Paul Flores is a near-lockdown to start on the O line, given he’s basically played every spot on the offensive line at some point in his career. Flores received a lot of praise from Tujague and his teammates for his versatility. Senior tackles Jonathan Leech and Derek Devine become leaders in this group of positions. Sophomore Noah Josey noted Friday that the first years have impressed him so far, as they have adapted quickly and are already making strong contributions in practice.
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More importantly, Tujague is just happy to have more body at fall camp. The Cavaliers didn’t have enough healthy players on the roster to field two full offensive lines for the spring game in April. With players returning from injury and the influx of freshmen and transfers this fall, the group can execute drills effectively during training. How the depth chart ultimately breaks down likely won’t be determined until 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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