99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Virginia football season kicks off in fewer than 90 days.
Evan Butts finds room to run during practice. ~ Kris Wright

When you look at the Virginia football roster for position by position breakdowns, some spots carry a lot of names and others not as many. That’s not unusual. Something caught my eye looking at the current 2018 roster that I thought would be a good fit for the “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series, though.

No. 85 – The Tight End Swan Song?

For a number of years early in Al Groh’s tenure, Virginia became sort of a Tight End U destination. Heath Miller, Tom Santi, John Phillips, Jonathan Stupar, and Patrick Estes are among those that got a shot in the NFL. Other names in recent years have included Colter Phillips, Joe Torchia, Paul Freedman, Zachary Swanson, and Jake McGee.

A quick glance at the roster now, however, shows that the 2018 season could be a farewell to the tight end position at UVA for now. The Cavaliers list just two tight ends on the current 2018 roster (Osiris Crutchfield moved back to the defensive line unit during the spring, but subsequently got injured and is expected to miss the season). A round of applause for Evan Butts and Tanner Cowley!

Butts enters his senior season and is expected to be a featured piece of the offense. In 2017, he caught 32 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a reliable route runner and knows how to find open spots in the defense. He also positions himself well to box out potential defenders to make those close-quarters catches. For his career, Butts has tallied 55 catches for 494 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also shown to be a willing blocker on the edge.

UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall mentioned Butts along with Olamide Zaccheaus and Joe Reed as players they’d like to get potentially involved in the offense at times this coming season.

Cowley, meanwhile, enters his redshirt junior season with the Hoos. Cowley started eight games last season and has 21 total appearances during his first two seasons. He’s not a frequent target in the passing game, however, with just two catches for 16 yards at this point in his career. For the most part, Cowley has been tasked with work as a lead blocker for running plays or quick-hitters in the passing game.

It’s possible that Cowley could be invited back for a fifth season of eligibility after the 2018 season.

What if Butts and Cowley both finish their careers in 2018, though? Or even if Cowley gets one last year in 2019? It looks like that will be farewell to the tight end position. The incoming freshman class doesn’t list anyone as a tight end recruit. Bobby Haskins played that spot at Fairfield Prep, but moved to tackle at the Hun School last fall. He enrolled at UVA in January and worked on the offensive line as expected.

Looking at the current 2019 commitments, there are no tight end recruits in that group either. By and large, Virginia appears to be recruiting a combination of tall-rangy receivers and speedy slot-type receivers for the offense moving forward. That will put pressure on players in the mold of someone like Joe Reed or Hasise Dubois to block on the edge in the future. That’s not uncommon in college football these days with the spread option looks that have gained popularity and that’s the type of offense Mendenhall and company prefer.

If 2018 does prove to be the dodo year for tight ends at Virginia, fans that love the seam route, the quarterback bootleg with a big crossing target, and the quick-hitting sit-down catch at the chains from the position will have to rely on their memories of Big Money and company instead. If you’re one of those fans in the meantime, make sure to cheer extra loud for Butts and Cowley this season.

So far, the “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has looked Jordan Mack, Jordan Ellis, and more. The previous articles are below. Click away.

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2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Kris-

    Great instincts you are displaying leading up to our first game. There were years at BYU when they had future NFL type tight ends (Dennis Pitta) and others where they had none. I believe that when they go with a dual threat QB, they want more speed on the field to make it tougher on the defense.

    Walt

    1. There appears to be a concerted effort to recruit speed for offense it looks like to me.

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