The first three practices of fall camp are in the books for the Virginia football team. There’s not much to say so far, as little has been revealed about the starting positions on both sides of the ball, the depth conversation for each position group, or the look of UVA’s offense or defense. Both 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.
Information is fairly limited as the media was allowed to attend the first 30 minutes of practice on Wednesday and Friday and to ask questions of select players and coaches after practice. But we’ll do our best to make some meaningful observations based on what we’ve seen and heard from the team so far in the first week:
Practice the pace
In talking to the team this week, the most recurring theme was the fast-paced nature of practices. Players and coaches have mentioned how quickly and efficiently the team moves through the various drills. Tony Elliott’s emphasis seems to be making sure the team gets into game condition early during fall camp. Especially on the first day of practice Wednesday, several players struggled with conditioning in the heat outside as temperatures hovered in the 90s this week in Charlottesville.
Elliott and the entire coaching staff praised 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 look a lot different physically now compared to the end of spring ball.
Wide receivers vs. defensive backs
As Virginia’s defense as a whole looks to improve greatly from last season’s defense, which ranked 121st in the country in total defense, the defensive backs in particular will need to make big strides in limiting big plays in the game with submissions. Fortunately, quarterbacks have the challenge and opportunity to go up against one of the most talented receiving corps in all of college football every day at practice. Being able to test his unit against such capable receivers in practice should be beneficial for first-year defensive backs coach and defensive pass coordinator Curome Cox.
The battles between receivers and quarterbacks were pretty intense during the first few days of practice. Matchups like Anthony Johnson guarding Dontayvion Wicks have already created some highly physical plays. Fifth corner Darius Bratton noted that “sometimes sparks fly” when the competition heats up between the Virginia WRs and DBs.
The running race is wide open
Tony Elliott and Des Kitchings have made it very clear that creating a reliable running game is a top priority for UVA’s offense this season. Of course, the benefit of this goal is Virginia’s back room. Kitchings noted Friday that the competition for the starting job is “wide open” and that Virginia’s rushing attack is likely to operate mostly “by committee” this season.
Junior Mike Hollins has the most live game experience at the position of the group, so he seems likely to get plenty of carries this season depending on how the rest of fall camp goes. Miami transfer Cody Brown has a lot of potential as a former four-star recruit coming out of high school. Keitaon Thompson should also get plenty of touches, and the coaching staff seems excited about Ronnie Walker Jr. returning from injury at some point this season.
The offensive line is making steady progress
Garett Tujague’s offensive line construction project is coming. We’re still a long way from being able to confidently predict the starting five and depth chart, but some names are starting to stand out.
Dartmouth transfer John Paul Flores is almost a locator to start on the O-Line given the fact that he has essentially played every spot on the offensive line at some point in his career. Flores gets a lot of praise from Tuyage and his teammates for his versatility. Seniors Jonathan Leach and Derek Devine are stepping up as leaders at that position. Sophomore Noah Josey noted 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 didn’t have enough healthy players on the roster to field two full offensive lines for April’s spring game. With players returning from injury and an influx of first-years and transfers this fall, the group can run drills efficiently during practice. How the depth chart will ultimately shake out probably won’t be determined until after game day.
Hopefully there will be more to learn about the Hoos in the next few weeks of fall practice as the start of the 2022 college football season approaches.
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