Thoughts Following Two Rounds Of Virginia Football Jersey Selections

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Virginia football running back Mike Hollins earned the opportunity to pick his jersey number in the first wave of picks, a sign of the respect he has from his teammates heading into 2021. Is the Louisiana native ready to claim a major role? ~ Photo Courtesy Jim Daves/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

While discussing running back Mike Hollins’ return to the program, Virginia football Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae discussed the significance of being in the first wave of jersey selection, a distinction the third year from Louisiana earned this Fall Camp.

“Mike Hollins, man, what a breath of fresh air,” Anae said. “He provides a really, really good skillset for the offense. I think that jersey selection is something that’s earned. It’s not given. To have Mike in that is a statement that he’s put in work, that he’s come in with a mindset, and he’s contributing. That’s what that says.”

Being among the first in jersey selection is not an exact predictor of how the depth chart will look next week. It does provide an idea of which players have earned the respect of their teammates this offseason, perhaps foreshadowing who could emerge to play significant roles during the season.

After today, Virginia football has gone through two rounds of jersey selection. Here is the rundown of those Hoos with numbers.

Jersey Numbers, By Position

Quarterback – Brennan Armstrong (#5), Iraken Armstead (#11), Jay Woolfolk (#16), Jacob Rodriguez (#98)

Running Back – Mike Hollins (#7), Wayne Taulapapa (#21), Devin Darrington (#26), Ronnie Walker Jr. (#32)

Wide Receiver – Ra’Shaun Henry (#2), Dontayvion Wicks (#3), Billy Kemp IV (#4), Demick Starling (#17), Hayden Mitchell (#18), Lavel Davis Jr. (#81)

Tight End – Jelani Woods (#0), Sackett Wood Jr. (#44), Grant Misch (#85)

Utility – Keytaon Thompson (#99)

Offensive Line – Joe Bissinger (#52), Ryan Nelson (#54), Olusegun Oluwatimi (#55), Derek Devine (#67), Chris Glaser (#69), Bobby Haskins (#70), Ryan Swoboda (#72), Noah Josey (#77),

Defensive Line – Ben Smiley III (#10), Su Agunloye (#19), Jahmeer Carter (#90), Mandy Alonso (#91), Aaron Faumui (#94), Adeeb Atariwa (#95),

Linebacker – Elliott Brown (#4), Nick Jackson (#6), Noah Taylor (#7), Hunter Stewart (#13), Josh Ahern (#28), James Jackson (#30), Mike Green (#31), West Weeks (#33), T.C. Harrison (#47),

Cornerback – Nick Grant (#1), Anthony Johnson (#3), Darrius Bratton (#8), Perris Jones (#15), Elijah Gaines (#22), Fentrell Cypress II (#23)

Safety – De’Vante Cross (#2), Chayce Chalmers (#5), Coen King (#9), Antonio Clary (#14), Jonas Sanker (#20), Joey Blount (#29)

Special Teams – Jacob Finn, Punter (#16)

Thoughts After Two Rounds Of Jersey Selection

Joe Bissinger, Offensive Guard, Jersey Selection First Round

Then redshirt sophomore Joe Bissinger started at left guard in Virginia’s final three contests of 2020, following a season-ending injury to starter Dillon Reinkensmeyer in Week 7. Prior to that point, Bissinger had been a consistent part of the offensive line rotation, building upon a redshirt freshman campaign in which he played in 11 of 14 games. Based on his offseason performance, Bissinger appears intent on making his spot in the starting lineup permanent.

The 6’4”, 320-pound Texan was one of 13 Cavaliers – four of whom are offensive lineman – to win the Dirty Dozen Award*, given to the team’s highest rated players at the end of the summer strength and conditioning. Bissinger was then chosen by teammates to take part in the first round of jersey selections. Both of these things are good signs as the redshirt junior looks to take his game to the next level.

*(Virginia Athletics Director of News Content Jeff White reported, “At the end of the summer, players are tested in the bench press, squat, clean, vertical jump, broad jump, pro agility drill, shuttle and 225, (Director of Football Development and Performance Shawn) Griswold said. In a typical year, the Dirty Dozen consists of four players from each of three position groups: skill (running backs, wideouts, quarterbacks, defensive backs), big skill (linebackers, tight ends, punters, kickers), and big (linemen).”)

Fentrell Cypress II, Defensive Back, Jersey Selection First Round

We haven’t seen much of 5’11”, 180-pound defensive back Fentrell Cypress II in his first two seasons, as he has appeared in just three games in total in his first two years in Charlottesville. The redshirt sophomore has impressed teammates with his playmaking ability, though.

“Fentrell Cypress, he’s had a couple injuries in and out there, but every time he’s in he’s making plays,” Nick Grant said in September of 2020.

Cypress II played one game in 2020, making two tackles in 24 defensive snaps against Wake Forest. He graded out solidly in the brief stint according to Pro Football Focus, receiving a 76.2 mark for tackling and grades in the 60s for overall defense, rush defense and coverage. A pretty good performance. Unfortunately, he did not play again the rest of the season.

Virginia has a lot of experience in the defensive backfield, thanks to the return of four seniors and the addition of two graduate transfers. I think it’s important for some of the younger guys – Cypress II, Antonio Clary, Chayce Chalmers – to push for playing time and show that they will be ready to take on major roles. Cypress II, a player I’ve liked a lot since he signed with the Hoos, earning a pick in the first round of jersey selection is hopefully a sign that he could contribute this season.

In addition to Cypress II, Clary (first round), Chalmers (first round), Elijah Gaines (second round) and Jonas Sanker (second round) are other younger DBs (third year or less) who have earned their numbers.

Hollins and Faumui

Mike Hollins and defensive lineman Aaron Faumui opted out of last season because of the coronavirus. If they had any catching up to do as a result, it’s hard to notice. In fact, both players seem determined to play significant roles in 2021. Their teammates took notice, as both were able to take part in the first round of jersey selection.

Hollins and Wayne Taulapapa were the only two running backs to take part in the first round of jersey selection. Could that mean they are at the front of a tight running back race? Perhaps, although Devin Darrington and Ronnie Walker Jr. are right on their heels, earning jerseys in the second round. Darrington is part of the “Dirty Dozen” as well.

Meanwhile, Faumui, who figures to play a major role on the defense, wrote on Instagram that he is “back and hungrier than ever.” He is looking to pick up where he left off in 2019, when he not only played 236 more snaps than he did as a true freshman in 2018, but he increased his overall defense grade according to PFF from 57.8 to 73.3.

True Freshmen Headline Round Two

It’s apparent listening to the coaches that the first-year class has come ready to play. Seven true freshmen earned the right to pick their jerseys in round two, including quarterbacks Jay Woolfolk (#16) and Jacob Rodriguez (#98), offensive lineman Noah Josey (#77), linebackers James Jackson (#30), Mike Green (#31) and West Weeks (#33), and defensive back Jonas Sanker (#20).

Woolfolk and Rodriguez are vying to be Brennan Armstrong’s backup but are also learning other offensive positions according to Robert Anae. Coach Bronco Mendenhall named Noah Josey as a first year who was impressing him. Offensive Line Coach Garett Tujague raved about Josey’s mentality and work ethic, citing the freshman’s weight room improvement from white to orange. Mendenhall and Safeties Coach Shane Hunter praised Sanker’s camp performance, while Linebackers Coach Kelly Poppinga listed all three linebackers who have made jersey selections as showing flashes in camp.

If the true freshmen do not receive significant roles on offense or defense, fans likely will be able to find them on special teams. Special Teams Coordinator Ricky Brumfield discussed several true freshmen, three of whom have picked jerseys, who he says have helped give him a deep Special Teams unit.

“I would like to say this is probably the most depth I’ve had on special teams since I’ve been here, as far as a lot of young guys being able to come in and play right away,” Brumfield said. “Some of the guys that have stood out, younger guy-wise, is Jonas Sanker, Lex Long, West Weeks. Those guys have stood out as far as – James Jackson – as far as probably going to make some heavy contributions early on in the season on special teams. There’s other guys as well, but those guys right now on the top of my mind right now, just finishing watching film, of guys that have stood out that I plan on making a lot of big plays for us.”

More Thoughts

– Kudos to walk-on Perris Jones, who continues to pour his heart and soul into this program. The fourth year, a redshirt junior eligibility-wise, has a jersey and also earned a spot on the Dirty Dozen. He is listed as a cornerback after playing running back each of his first three seasons. Jones is also a candidate at kick returner.

– No surprise to see grad-transfers Anthony Johnson (#3) and Jelani Woods (#0) earn jersey picks in Round 1. Since arriving in Charlottesville, they have set themselves apart both on and off the field and are expected to have significant roles on the team this season – Woods as the starting tight end, and Johnson as either a starting cornerback or at least as a major part of the defensive back rotation somewhere.

Woods picked jersey #0, a jersey held by inside linebacker Zane Zandier in 2020. Asked why #0, Woods answered: “For that, I feel like, just coming here I wanted to make a statement that nobody can stop me. That’s why I picked zero, pretty much.”

Graduate transfer defensive back Josh Hayes has not yet earned a number. He has been sidelined with an injury, perhaps a factor into this. Coach Mendenhall expect Hayes to be ready for the start of the season.

– Grad-transfer punter Jacob Finn is the only special teams performer with a number. Coach Brumfield praised his strong camp performance, and it appears he is on his way to being UVA’s starting punter in 2021.

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