Before Virginia’s game at Maryland on Oct. 20, sophomore Mikell Simpson had all but disappeared from the football field. There had been talk about Simpson being the Percy Harvin of the Cavaliers in a newly innovative hybrid role. There were even joking references to being a “secret agent” for the offense because the hybrid players weren’t on the season-opening depth chart.
Then poof. A re-appearing act for the ages.
After struggling with a couple of early season reverse runs out of a receiver slot and a big catch in the Duke win (setting up the sealing touchdown pass to Tom Santi ), Simpson essentially vanished. He was on the verge of becoming irrelevant to the 2007 season.
But Cedric Peerman got injured at Middle Tennessee State and Andrew Pearman tweaked his back in practice. Simpson moved back to running back the week before the Maryland contest. Simpson got his shot early in that game and he made the most of it. 119 rushing yards with 2 touchdowns. 152 receiving yards.
Since that outing, he’s become the Cavaliers’ feature back. He’s now second on the team in rushing with 226 yards. He’s also second in receiving with 295 yards while averaging 10.2 yards per reception. He’s tied for second in scoring with 30 points.
“I think they’re more concerned about me coming out of the backfield because every time we line up in the shotgun or anything, they’re always pointing ‘watching the flat or watch the wide route,'” Simpson said.
Last week against Wake Forest, Simpson scored his second game-winning touchdown of the season. He also carried the full running back load as the only player to get carries other than quarterback Jameel Sewell . But Simpson gained just 35 yards on the ground in all, a number offset by 77 yards receiving.
The Harrisburg, Pa., native knows that even tougher challenges are ahead with Miami and Virginia Tech.
“Defenses are getting harder every week,” he said. “I came into the Maryland game and nobody really had a scouting report on me as far as being in the backfield. Now they have a lot of footage on me.”
That means Simpson will need to put even more trust in Sewell and the offensive line. The quintet of Eugene Monroe , Branden Albert , Jordy Lipsey , Ian-Yates Cunningham , and Will Barker has come together to form a force up front. Simpson credits them routinely for making it easy to find holes. He says it’s easy for any back in the game to see how much they’ve improved since last season and just how good those players are at their jobs.
“Any back that’s put back there can see that. You can just sit back and watch their communication. They know what type of games the defense is running, they can identify the fronts so easily and it just makes the job a lot easier for the skill players all around,” Simpson said. “[On screens], there’s lots of green grass. They’re doing a good job of getting out there and cutting defenders and opening it up.”
In-Focus Video Highlights
WCAV (Channel 19 Charlottesville) provides in-focus video from Virginia’s 17-16 win over Wake Forest. WCAV focused one of their cameras exclusively on Mikell Simpson throughout the game. Interview with simpson within the video clips.
You will need to click the link below and then choose the proper link from the VIDEO page.
View Video Highlights
In-Focus Scouting Report
Mikell Simpson is a unique talent among UVa’s runningbacks, though he seems like a walking contradiction at times. Though one of the faster players on the team, for example, Simpson is more of a glider in terms of his running style – a key reason that he struggled to make the transition to wide receiver. Similarly, though Simpson is relatively slight in build compared to several other backs on the depth chart, he is a very effective runner between the hashes, where his running style and patience allows his blocks to develop and gives him the ability to change direction quickly in reaction to those blocks.
In the passing game, Simpson is somewhat of a mixed bag. As a blocker, for example, Simpson gets credit for being willing and for the fact that he has improved noticeably over the last couple of years, but he is average at best in terms of the quality of his blocks and his reads when he is trying to pick up the blitz. As a receiver, on the other hand, Simpson has plus hands, a pretty good feel for routes out of the backfield, and the ability to turn the play upfield once he has the ball in space. He is particularly effective on screens, where his gliding style again fits with the need to allow the play to develop in front of him. – JHoo
In-focus photos provided by Michael Ingalls. Click each thumbnail to open larger image. Images copyright © TheSabre.com.
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