With the first preseason scrimmage of his head coaching career in the books, Virginia football coach Tony Elliott had plenty on his mind.
Brennan Armstrong is settling in. Jay Woolfolk is learning but is electric. Lavel Davis Jr. and Ben Smiley are making plays. Aidan Ryan is trending in the right direction. Jonathan Leech is growing with confidence after turning a corner. Jack Camper is steady.
Those types of observations marry with team-wide thoughts too. Elliott challenged guys to take pride in special teams so that facet can grow. There’s competition all over the field, particularly at running back, in the secondary, at kicker, and on the offensive line.
With each passing day, the Cavaliers learn something about their progress and players move in and out of the playing time hierarchy. For now, the installation heavy nature of preseason remains the task for at least another week before the team’s second scrimmage. In three short weeks, however, those snapshots become the precursor for the big picture when the Hoos kick off the season against Richmond on Saturday, Sept. 3.
Until then, the first scrimmage demanded the attention and the Virginia offense seized the moment with energy and tempo at Scott Stadium.
“It was kind of the tale of two different groups,” Elliott said. “All throughout camp so far, defense has had the energy and kind of set the tempo. Today, offense came out and set the tempo, which kind of surprised me because we’re still banged up on the offensive line and didn’t have all of our top guys going so that was a positive on the offensive side. Also a positive, too, I get to challenge the defense a little bit more about setting the tempo.”
Some of the quick advantage Saturday likely could be attributed to what Elliott described as Armstrong’s comfort level. With a veteran group of Virginia receivers also on board, that side of the ball can fall back on the trust they have in the starting quarterback and that can have a calming effect when live action arrives.
Armstrong played sparingly in the scrimmage (two series), but he led a touchdown drive on the very first series of the day with Charlie Patterson, John Paul Flores, Ty Furnish, Jestus Johnson III, and Leech making up his line (Logan Taylor and Noah Josey were both held out for the scrimmage and the coaches continue to be cautious with Derek Devine’s workload). He capped it off with a scoring carry of his own. Before that, the offense blended some runs, including a longer gain from Mike Hollins, and some passes, including a completion to Billy Kemp IV, who is no longer in a limited jersey status, to move the ball downfield.
Having a veteran quarterback that’s a program record holder just settles things down even though its a new scheme.
“It’s huge because everybody looks to him and the work that he’s put in and just how comfortable he’s become in the system,” Elliott said. “He’s learning to manage the game. I’m out there. I was proud of him adjusting some protection calls [in the scrimmage] and when a quarterback’s adjusting protection calls, you can tell he’s feeling really comfortable with the system because that means he’s not thinking about what the play concept is, now he’s able to focus on the defense and know per the play concept where he’s vulnerable and get his offensive line and backs all on the same page. So it’s huge....
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