At the beginning of the “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series, I pointed out that there is not a daily plan for all 99 days. This entry is a great example of that. When news that UVA picked up an immediately eligible defensive line transfer broke Wednesday, it became clear that this one had to focus on the Cassius Peat news.
If you’re looking for previous series articles, the list is here but scroll down to read about Peat too:
- No. 99 – The importance of a fast start
- No. 98 – The impact of early-ending careers
- No. 97 – Jordan Mack’s role
- No. 96 – Welcome Back
- No. 95 – Han Solo Says
No. 94 – Smart Addition
At the end of spring practice, two things held true for the Virginia defensive line. One, the depth numbers sat in code red territory and that made it the top question for the Hoos going into 2018. Two, the coaches remained on the hunt for reinforcements. Both of those things got some positive news Wednesday when news surfaced that Cassius Peat planned to transfer to UVA. He has two years of eligibility remaining and he can play this fall.
Peat began his college journey at Michigan State, but left school and briefly played JUCO at Scottsdale Community College last fall. Read more about that in Chris Horne’s initial report here. Certainly, there are some concerns with reports of possible academic issues at MSU and with the long layoff from consistently playing competitive football. Peat, however, kept working toward possibly re-enrolling at Michigan State and then in January reportedly planned to walk on at Arizona State this upcoming season. In other words, Power 5 teams have maintained interest and it appears that he has cleared any academic hurdles with admissions at Virginia.
Even if you categorize taking Peat as a calculated risk, it’s a wise one for Bronco Mendenhall and the 2018 roster. (Plus, it’s another example of effective big picture planning by Mendenhall.) As noted coming out of spring practices, the Cavaliers’ depth chart on the defensive line could fairly be called perilous. Just four linemen – Eli Hanback, Mandy Alonso, Richard Burney, and Tommy Christ – picked up a lot of reps in the spring. The Hoos did flip Osiris Crutchfield over from offense, but he injured his knee and is expected to miss the season. Isaac Buell also missed the spring with an injury. Ryan Bischoff, listed on the roster as an offensive lineman, may have gotten a look this spring too.
UVA already had lined up one graduate transfer to address some of the depth with Ohio State’s Dylan Thompson joining the program. Plus, the incoming recruiting class included three defensive linemen in Samson Reed, Jordan Redmond, and Aaron Faumui. All told, that’s a total of nine or 10 players (pending Bischoff’s spot) healthy and available for the D-Line. That’s a decent number, but it’s short on experience. Only Hanback has shown the ability to consistently hold his own week to week for an entire season, though Alonso came on strong late last fall as a true freshman.
Long story short: between health and injury concerns and the lack of experience, this is a unit that needed another competitive body on the roster after multiple players were lost from last season. That’s where Peat fits in. At 6’3” and 275 pounds, Peat enters the picture as an older player that’s been through Power 5 football practices. He’s got enough talent to land on the MSU depth chart one offseason and his brother plays for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. Peat carried a 3-star rating out of high school. There’s a lot of potential there.
If Peat works his way into the conversation for playing time, it could help the defense. Yes, there’s the possibility of covering for some defensive line depth with more packages featuring linebacker and defensive back personnel. That approach, however, can be vulnerable against run heavy opponents and sometimes on early downs. Having another big body as an option leaves different possibilities on the table for Mendenhall. To me, it’s similar to the last defensive lineman to transfer from Arizona in Jack Powers. While an injury cost him the final year of his career in 2017, Powers played in all 12 games with two starts in 2016. (He stayed at UVA and got another degree after graduating from ASU in 2016 by the way.)
Let’s look at it from a potential depth chart standpoint to get a grasp on how Peat might fit. Keep in mind that the line parts are often interchangable in this scheme. If the Virginia depth chart panned out in this way early next season, it would provide a seven-man rotation while also buying time for Reed and Faumui, two of the true freshmen, as well as Buell as he works back from injury. Plus, it’s another body in place in case of injury since Christ, Thompson, Burney, and Buell all have injury history.
- DE – Mandy Alonso, Cassius Peat
- DT – Eli Hanback, Tommy Christ, Jordan Redmond
- DE – Richard Burney, Dylan Thompson