Monday, August 17, 2009

preseason ACC Roundtable

As I mentioned earlier, the ACC Roundtable is back for its second season. Well, first-and-a-half. It's bigger-better-faster-more, with new blogs, an earlier start, and a general overall increased level of awesomeinity. The first one is hosted by TFSU blog Tomahawk Nation - they haven't posted the questions yet, but they have in fact asked them, so there they are below along with a set of my very own UVA-specific answers. Look for the roundup soon. Possibly as soon as tomorrow.

1. Will your team be better than last year, why or why not? Will it show in the record, why or why not?

I think I will be surprised if the answers to these questions aren't a unanimous yes, except for maybe from the reigning ACC champs. It's that time of year. Yes, we will be better, and it has everything to do with the offensive side of the ball. We have a new coordinator who is almost guaranteed to be an improvement because the old one couldn't have been much worse. We have two (semi-)new quarterbacks, practically a whole new set of receivers, a new playbook with a new system, and hopefully a new and improved Mikell Simpson to carry the ball.

But what's new isn't half of why I'm looking forward to seeing the offense. It has more to do with what's older, and more experienced: the offensive line. A new and inexperienced line is a surefire formula for underachieving; ours spent nearly all of last season learning to play together and gelling as a unit, and four of five starters return. There's the right mix of new blood and experience on this offense to really open some eyes this year.

2. The ACC has been racked hard by injuries in the off-season, which guys did your team lose and how will you replace them if you can? On the flip side, who are the newcomers expected to step up, if any? Also include academic casualties.

Oh God - this question is here just for the sake of jinxing things, I just know it. Hopefully the football gods are not listening right at this moment, but Virginia hasn't had any significant, season-ending health issues - yet. Transfers and academic losses include defensive ends Andrew Devlin (formerly a tight end) and Kevin Crawford, tight end Rod Wheeler, and safety Rico Bell. There's also two freshman offensive linemen who didn't make it to the fall: Cody Wallace and Morgan Moses.

None were expected to start this year, and several of those wouldn't even have been on the two-deep. The depth at defensive end took a major hit though, and there will be some true freshmen who have to step up. Will Hill, our lone early enrollee, will be one, and there will probably be others. Most of the above losses are losses for good - these aren't like Jameel Sewell who had to spend a year getting eligible. The exceptions are Wallace and Moses, the freshmen. Wallace is probably a longshot at best to return, but Moses will begin his prep school career shortly and Virginia fans will be following it closely because Moses is three-hundred-thirty-twelve pounds of major-league talent.

As far as newcomers go, as with any team there will be plenty of former backups moving into a starting role. But there are three freshmen expected to make a major impact. WR Tim Smith is a tremendous talent as well as a true freshman and will be on the field from Day 1. In the backfield, redshirt frosh Torrey Mack is expected to share the load at running back, and classmate Steve Greer is a projected starter at inside linebacker. If you had to name three UVA freshmen to watch out for, it's far and away those three.

3. Which existing player (or group of players) must step their game up in order for your team to over-achieve?

I'll take this to mean, which player was a regular last year and needs to improve his game? Imaginary players are well-known to be fatal to coaching careers, and anyway we have basically an entire linebacking corps that is new to the starting gig. But new starters always need to step it up. Two players come to mind. On defense, there's DE Matt Conrath. He showed a lot of promise last year as a freshman and played very well as freshmen go. But the brand-new linebacking corps needs help from both front and back if they're going to be successful. With Clint Sintim gone, we need a pass rush threat, and Conrath is the guy everyone's looking at to consistently provide it. The defensive line needs to be huge to take pressure off the linebackers, and it starts with Conrath.

On offense, Mikell Simpson had a terrific 2007 - just ask Maryland. But he was having a really awful 2008 until it was cut short by a broken collarbone. He's now in an offense tailor-made to his talents. He's always been at his best in space, and excels when he's the target of screen passes and such. The offense will get him the ball with room to run - he must take advantage.

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