50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: Seizing The Opportunity

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Graduate transfer Terrell Chatman is aiming for his final year of college football to be by far his best. As Virginia football looks to replace its top receiver from last year, the opportunity is certainly there for Chatman and many others.

Virginia football wide receiver Terrell Jana mentioned “opportunity” when discussing the absence of Olamide Zaccheaus in the Virginia football program.

“It’s opportunity,” Jana said. “It’s a huge gap in the offense.”

The 6’0”, 190-pound junior isn’t the only Cavalier looking to take advantage of an opportunity. Although the Hoos return proven, talented players across the board, there certainly are areas of need. Who might be ready to step up in those roles? Let’s examine this in this latest “50 Thoughts” feature.

32 – Seizing The Opportunity

Quarterback Bryce Perkins arrived at Virginia in January of 2018, knowing he had a golden opportunity to be the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback. He took control early, working his way to starter status in the spring and holding on to the job into the fall, when he then led the Cavaliers to an 8-5 campaign and a postseason bowl championship.

This year’s Virginia team has needs/opportunities where players can emerge and make major contributions, starting or otherwise.

Need: Primary Ballcarrier Alongside Bryce Perkins

Jordan Ellis led Virginia in rushes (215 in 2017, 215 in 2018) and rushing yards (836 in 2017, 1,026 in 2018) each of the past two seasons. Perkins, who rushed for 923 yards last season, won’t be able to carry the rushing load all by himself.

Junior PK Kier, sophomore Wayne Taulapapa and true freshman Mike Hollins are the prime candidates to assume Ellis’ role. While it’s plausible that Virginia will have to utilize a committee approach, these three players are in competition to become the primary running back.

The 6’0”, 235-pound Kier has had 32 carries for 112 yards in his two seasons in Charlottesville. A concussion sidelined him in the spring; however, he’s back and seemingly healthy in preseason camp. Meanwhile, Taulapapa, who signed with UVA in 2016 but enrolled last summer following a 2-year mission, emerged in Kier’s absence in the spring. The 5’9”, 210-pound Hawaiian native had a good showing in the Spring Game, displaying tough and decisive running.

Hollins, who has been discussed frequently on this site and by the Virginia coaches, blends balance, strength and speed in his 5’9”, 200-pound frame. Coach Mendenhall has expressed that the Louisiana native looks physically ready to contribute as a true freshman.

Need: More Playmaking At Wide Receiver Alongside Dubois, Reed

Jana seems poised to take his game to another level, just as he has done from a leadership perspective. Virginia, though, has other talented wide receiver options who could help replace the massive production Olamide Zaccheaus provided as a senior last season.

Sophomore Tavares Kelly received valuable experience last season, and like Reed he could contribute as a receiver and a runner within the offense. Sophomore Billy Kemp falls into this category as well.

A new name who is acclimating himself well to UVA is graduate transfer Terrell Chatman, a 6’3” senior who was teammates with Perkins at Arizona State. Chatman has impressed his teammates in the short time he has been on Grounds, as evidenced by the fact that he took part in the first round of jersey selection last Sunday. This is Chatman’s final chance for a big-time season on the college level. He has had a quiet collegiate career up to this point, but perhaps a change of scenery is just what he needed.

Another graduate transfer, Dejon Brissett, is one to watch if he can get back to 100% health. He showed at the University of Richmond that he is plenty capable of being a trustworthy playmaker. UVA also boasts talented second and first-year players. Again, there are a lot of candidates to step up at wide receiver, and the competition involved should be helpful in helping the offense overcome the loss of Zaccheaus.

Need: Replacing Honorable Mention All-ACC Tight End Evan Butts

Tanner Cowley, who played in all 26 games the past two seasons, gives Virginia a strong starter at the tight end position. In addition to his quality blocking, the 6’4”, 240-pound senior has shown the ability to make plays as a receiver when called upon. He has six catches for 84 yards the past two seasons, including four receptions for 68 yards (a long of 40) in 2018. Certainly not the production Virginia had with Evan Butts, who had 48 receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns his final two seasons in Charlottesville, but Cowley has shown promise as a receiver and will have more opportunities this year.

There are no proven performers behind Cowley. 6’5”, 245-pound junior Christian Baumgardner and 6’4”, 250-pound redshirt freshman Grant Misch are the leading contenders to play significant roles. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a bigger receiver – 6’3”, 220-pound Dorien Goddard comes to mind – be called upon to assume some tight end responsibilities.

Need: Dominating the Line of Scrimmage

At the start of preseason camp, Coach Mendenhall said: “For us to take another step forward as a program we have to be able to take over the interiors.”

Of the two lines, the offense is the bigger concern as the regular season approaches. The Cavaliers must replace departed starters Jake Fieler and Marcus Applefield as well as key rotational player/starter R.J. Proctor. Junior Alex Gellerstedt, a graduate transfer from Penn State, was expected to make a significant impact right away before suffering an ACL tear this offseason. He is out for 2019.

Versatile junior Dillon Reinkensmeyer, who has been a mainstay of Virginia’s offensive line the past two seasons, headlines UVA’s 2019 offensive line. He could wind up at center, guard or tackle, depending on how others perform in the coming months, but expect him to be out there as a starter somewhere. Sophomore Ryan Nelson returns at left tackle after starting all 13 games for the Hoos in 2018, and junior Chris Glaser has started in nine games the previous two seasons including seven at left guard last season.

Sophomore tackle Bobby Haskins, sophomore tackle Ryan Swoboda, sophomore center/guard Victor Oluwatimi, sophomore guard Gerrik Vollmer and sophomore center/guard Tyler Fannin are the known candidates pushing for bigger roles. Additionally, redshirt freshman guard Joe Bissinger enjoyed a great offseason, earning a spot on the “Dirty Dozen” – the top performers in strength and conditioning heading into fall camp. From a player perspective, there certainly is opportunity. For the program’s sake, Virginia needs the offensive line to take a step forward as Mendenhall indicated above.

Virginia returns all three starters from last season’s defensive line and has experienced depth to boot; however, that hasn’t stopped true freshman Jowon Briggs from taking advantage of his opportunity and working his way to the first team. The competition here appears intense and, if healthy, this defensive line group could be fun to watch.

Need: Replacing Chris Peace at Outside Linebacker

Virginia boasts a terrific rotation on the inside with senior Jordan Mack and juniors Zane Zandier and Rob Snyder. On the outside, junior Charles Snowden assumes one spot and is primed for a big-time year. Opposite Snowden last season was senior leader Chris Peace, who is now with the San Diego Chargers.

Replacing Peace will not be easy, but the top contenders right now appear to be speedy sophomore Noah Taylor and junior Matt Gahm. Gahm had a good showing in a reserve role last season and Taylor, who played last season but saw much more time on special teams than defense, has had a terrific offseason. Both should play a lot and have the chance to show off their talents. True freshmen D’Sean Perry, Nick Jackson and Hunter Stewart are candidates to add depth, with Perry a likely outside linebacker and Jackson and Stewart having potential at any of the linebacker positions.

Need: Defensive Back Depth

Virginia boasts a strong starting defensive backfield in safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson and cornerbacks Bryce Hall and Darrius Bratton. Depth is needed, of course, so who is up to the task? Juniors De’Vante Cross (S or CB), Nick Grant (CB or S) and Chris Moore (S or LB hybrid) are the likely ones.

Moore has impressed before and received praise from Mendenhall prior to last season before an injury sidelined him for all of 2018. Grant has yet to produce a lot in limited action on defense, but he has had a great offseason, earning the “Dirty Dozen” honor along with Moore. Now certainly would be a great time for Grant to make his mark. Cross was moved to defensive back last season and has stayed there. He has the athletic ability to play either defensive back position. All three of these players have a great opportunity to take their games to another level in 2019. Redshirt freshman Jaylon Baker also appears to have made some headway this preseason.

Need: Punter

Lester Coleman turned in two strong seasons in 2017 and 2018. Junior Brian Delaney seems up for the challenge of handling field goals, punts and kickoffs for the Cavaliers. I believe he can do it. However, junior Nash Griffin is also pushing hard for the starting punter job.

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
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