As the Virginia football team gets under way with preseason camp this August, there will be a bunch of position battles to watch out for on the UVA offense.
The offensive line must be entirely revamped this offseason, and center is the key spot to keep an eye on through training camp. Running back will be a focal point for the new coaching staff as well given that coach Tony Elliott has repeatedly noted his hope for a more balanced offense. The rotation of the wide receivers will also be interesting to see play out given the returning talent from last year at the top of the group. Obviously, Brennan Armstrong will be the starting quarterback, but the backup order is certainly not settled. Lastly, the tight end group is largely untested, but Grant Misch and Sackett Wood Jr. appear to have separated themselves from the pack for the time being.
With all that being said, let’s break down each of these position battles as we near the start of the preseason. The Hoos open practice on Wednesday, Aug. 3.
Figuring Out Center Key For Virginia
This offseason there was a mass exodus among the offensive linemen with the Cavaliers’ top six linemen from a year ago all departing the team either by transfer or pro football. The coaching staff seems to be settled on Logan Taylor (6’7”, 332) and Jonathan Leech (6’4”, 280), likely for the two tackle positions. At guard, the battle for the two starting spots likely has been narrowed down to a group of three in John Paul Flores (6’5”, 300), Derek Devine (6’6”, 286), and Noah Josey (6’5”, 323). The most interesting piece of the offensive line puzzle is at center with coach Tony Elliott not being as explicit about his staff’s preference at the position.
At the ACC Football Kickoff event in Charlotte last week, Elliott was asked how the offensive line would be put together. In his response, Elliott listed out many of the guys noted above before mentioning sophomore Jestus Johnson III (6’3”, 330) at center, albeit without specifically saying he will be the guy in week one. Three players are listed at the center position on the Virginia Sports website, but Johnson and fellow sophomore Ty Furnish (6’4”, 270) appear to be the two in contention. As Elliott concluded his response about the offensive line, he mentioned Furnish’s name in saying “we’ve got to create some more depth with Ty Furnish at center.”
Elliott was not explicit in the pecking order of Johnson, Furnish, and any others potentially competing for the starting role at center but it seems as if Johnson is the more likely candidate with Furnish immediately behind him. It seems unlikely that any other lineman on the roster has a shot barring injury given that Elliott only mentioned those two. The duo battled a bit at center during the spring.
In two years, Johnson has appeared in just one game, back in 2020 in a blowout win against Abilene Christian. Furnish made three appearances last season in two blowout wins against William & Mary and Duke as well as a loss on the road at Brigham Young. With neither having received much game experience, center will be a focal point for the coaching staff in the leadup to week one as they try to prepare Johnson or Furnish to take on the starting role.
Either player will factor into the depth equation, though. They took snaps at other spots on the line during the spring and right now, the offensive line needs depth everywhere. Offensive line coach Garrett Tujague said that a portion of the preseason will be focused on developing the players deeper on the depth chart in preparation for the long season ahead.
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