The Virginia football team opens its season on Saturday night with a road trip to Pittsburgh. That’s a rematch of last season’s de facto ACC Coastal Division title game that saw the Panthers win in Charlottesville and eventually head to the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
With the new season’s first game now just days away, the first depth chart of the season came out Monday. The “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series is back to take a closer look.
11 – Depth Chart Breakdown
The season’s first depth chart revealed no real surprises if you’ve been following the Hoos through preseason camp. The biggest surprise then may have been the number of ‘or’ listings at positions known to be up for grabs, an indication that some of the hotly contested spots remain a close competition. Let’s go position by position for some depth chart thoughts.
Quarterback – No guesses or surprises here. Bryce Perkins, Brennan Armstrong, Lindell Stone in that order is what was expected. Perkins was announced as one of the team’s captains Monday as well. That too was not surprising.
Running back – The busiest ‘or’ spot on the entire depth chart lists six different players as possibilities to play the two back positions. At speed back, Wayne Taulapapa, PK Kier, and Lamont Atkins share the top line. At big back, Jamari Peacock, Chris Sharp, and Mike Hollins are split by the ‘or’ designation. UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall has said throughout camp that no one had clearly separated themselves in the battle to try to become the featured running back so that’s reflected here. Taulapapa had been credited as the most consistent in the group so he’s listed first and that’s likely who fans will see on the field first Saturday. Others will play too, Mendenhall said.
“[The depth chart] just really reflects uncertainty,” Mendenhall said. “So Wayne Taulapapa is at this point listed as one, and any OR after that you could basically take in sequence if I was forced and my feet were held to the fire. Wayne is the most trustworthy and the most versatile to this point and has had the most production to this point. Others will be capable and will play and the production might shift in the game to where we’re wondering how did that just happen. It’s very difficult to replicate a game in fall camp.To this point, what we have listed there is factual, it’s fair, and it’s where we stand.”
Receiver – No real surprises at the receiver spots. Terrell Jana has been praised as one of the big gainers throughout the offseason, while transfer Terrell Chatman quickly proved himself early in camp. Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed are the leading returning receivers so their spots as starters make sense, while Chuck Davis as a No. 2 receiver may have been a little bit of an eye catcher but he did finish last season listed on the weekly depth chart as well. At the H spot previously held by Olamide Zaccheaus, Tavares Kelly and Billy Kemp share an ‘or’ on the depth chart. The two sophomores both have been expected to play and were prepped for bigger roles with early playing time last season as true freshmen. (Dejon Brissett, another grad transfer, is not on the depth chart as he entered camp injured but he is expected to be available and in action for the opener.)
Tight end – Senior Tanner Cowley listed ahead of redshirt freshman Grant Misch, who switched over from defense, is what was expected.
Left tackle – Ryan Nelson started all 13 games last season at left tackle, while Bobby Haskins got some playing time at the tackle spots as a true freshman. That gives this position some stability.
Left guard – Chris Glaser has been projected as the starter here so that was expected. Redshirt freshman Joe Bissinger did not see any action last season, but is listed ahead of many young players competing on the line.
Center – Olusegun Oluwatimi and Tyler Fannin competed for the starting job in the middle, but the competition had trended toward Oluwatimi. Neither player has seen college action yet and both sophomores are capable of playing a guard spot too. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this position continue to play out during the season or for Fannin to rotate in at guard if Oluwatimi locks in the top spot.
Right guard – Dillon Reinkensmeyer can play any position on the line and could see time at any spot on the line if it means getting the best five on the field in some other order. He’s the most experienced player in the group. True freshman Ja’Quay Hubbard arrived in Charlottesville with a lot of size at 6’5” and 335 pounds so he’s physically ready to go and should see some time in situations this season. He was expected to be in the mix.
Right tackle – Sophomore Ryan Swoboda emerged during camp as the likely starter here and it played out that way for the first depth chart. Derek Devine is the listed back-up as a redshirt freshman and he had gotten a little chatter late last season so that makes sense.
Cornerback – Bryce Hall could be in NFL training camp so him being a starter was a lock; he was also named a captain. Heskin Smith had been mentioned as a possible starter opposite of Hall so seeing him on the two deep followed a strong preseason. On the other side, Nick Grant emerged as a leading candidate to start after a strong offseason and his case only improved when Darrius Bratton was lost for the season. Jaylon Baker moved up the chart when injuries set in elsewhere, but he was working his way into the conversation anyway. “Nick is a relentless worker. Just simply wouldn’t relinquish the spot,” Mendenhall said.
Safety – Brenton Nelson and Joey Blount figured to be the starters with Chris Moore and De’Vante Cross providing depth. Moore is coming back from an injury that cost him the whole season a year ago, while Cross is finally settled into one position after bouncing around before. Nelson started 25 times in the last 26 games and was the 2017 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year so he’s been on the starting line for a while. Blount notched five starts last season and played a big role throughout the year so he was a likely starter as well. Durability will be the key question for this position so all of the listed players are expected to play.
Linebacker – Jordan Mack has been a fixture of this position for three years running and he was named a captain too. Charles Snowden emerged as a defensive standout last season and is expected to take a leap this year. Those two starting spots were locked in. Elliott Brown listed behind Snowden fit the preseason reports, while freshman Nick Jackson pushed his way into the conversation behind Mack. He’s one to keep an eye on this season.
The other two starting spots have been in competition and that remains the case with an ‘or’ at both positions. Zane Zandier and Robert Snyder share the inside linebacker line after both played significant snaps last season. Both will play this season, though Zandier may have a leg up for now. The other outside linebacker spot has been a neck-and-neck battle between Noah Taylor and Matt Gahm. Taylor has been one of the big offseason gainers, jumping levels in the strength testing and making a lot of progress on the field too. He’s on top of the ‘or’ line with Gahm, who played in all 13 games last season. Expect both to play.
Defensive end – Richard Burney shares an ‘or’ line with Aaron Faumui on one side. Burney is coming back after missing the majority of last season, while Faumui gained a lot of experience last season as a true freshman. On the other side, Eli Hanback and Mandy Alonso share an ‘or’ line, which is a nod to the fact that they’re both starter quality. Hanback is a steady presence on the line that knows all the spots; he’s started all but two games the past three years so it’s likely he’ll be in the starting lineup again. Alonso came on strong last season before an injury cut his season short in the Pitt game late in the year. He too can play multiple spots.
Nose tackle – Star recruit Jowon Briggs quickly impressed everyone around him in the program during the preseason. Coaches and players alike raved about his strength and readiness from the get go. He’s more than likely going to be an impact player immediately. That gives the line some added depth and punch, particularly with a more prepared Jordan Redmond still available there as well. He’s down to 290 pounds from 320 a year ago.
The biggest takeaway on the D-Line, however, is that Mendenhall expects six players to see action and for a more steady rotation to be in place this season. A year ago, injuries and inexperience left that group thin enough to play a 2-4-5 formation frequently so the improved depth and capability is a big storyline for the team.
“I think you’ll see a minimum of six. And to play means they’ve earned the chance to play,” Mendenhall said. “We didn’t play many before because we didn’t have many to play. Right now it’s so close and there are so many that are comparable and there are slightly different strengths, and so we’ll see some more situational usage and different bodies coming in. Hopefully that allows us to be fresher, more physical, and play at a higher level up front than we have been able to do. This is new, and that’s something over our previous three years we haven’t been able to do.”
Punters/Kickers – Brian Delaney exited the spring as the leader at all three kicking spots as the placekicker, kickoff specialist, and punter. He’s still in the mix at all three spots and the clear starter at place kicker and kickoff specialist, two spots he held last season for the latter half of the year. He shares an ‘or’ designation with Nash Griffin at punter, but is on the second line there. Griffin, who received a scholarship this past weekend, likely will get an early chance to punt and things will be monitored from there. (Griffin remains the clear starter as the holder for kicks.)
Kick return – Joe Reed is the clear leader and starter here, while Perris Jones played in four games later in the year. That allowed him to keep his redshirt but get some experience at the spot.
Punt return – Chuck Davis and Tavares Kelly share an ‘or’ line in this spot. Both players returned punts last season as well and they’ll both likely get chances this year too.
Long snapper – Last but not least, the long snapper competition remains an ‘or’ situation between Lee Dudley and Enzo Anthony. Dudley redshirted last season, but dressed in all 13 games. That could give him a slight edge if the competition is even because at least he’s been through travel and warmups before, while Anthony is a true freshman.
50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
- 50 – Is Being Favored A Good Thing?
- 49 – What Is Bryce Hall’s Ceiling?
- 48 – What It Takes To Win The Coastal
- 47 – Will Tavares Kelly Have A Breakout Season?
- 46 – Defensive Line Reboot
- 45 – Secondary Contenders
- 44 – Stars & Sleepers
- 43 – One For All?
- 42 – Fan Interest Thermometer
- 41 – Workhorse Search
- 40 – More Points
- 39 – First Year Predictions
- 38 – Be Disruptive
- 37 – Ranking The 2019 Schedule
- 36 – Reducing Explosive Touchdowns
- 35 – Grant’s Growth
- 34 – Jana Making His Presence Known
- 33 – Beginning Believers
- 32 – Seizing The Opportunity
- 31 – Red Zone Offense Stalls Again
- 30 – Glaser Focused
- 29 – Secondary Depth Will Be Tested
- 28 – Red Zone Defense Drops But Gains
- 27 – A High Ceiling At Linebacker
- 26 – Will Briggs Make An Impact?
- 25 – Special Teams Headlines
- 24 – Jersey Selection Musings
- 23 – Penalties & Turnovers
- 22 – What Is Hasise Dubois’ Ceiling?
- 21 – The Comeback Kids
- 20 – Armstrong Provides Confidence At QB Beyond 2019
- 19 – Bronco The CEO
- 18 – Familiar Faces
- 17 – Earning Trust
- 16 – One Speed Reed
- 15 – Atkins Stays The Course
- 14 – Chris Sharp Helps Lead Hoos
- 13 – Third Down Comparison
- 12 – First-Year Class Meeting Expectations