Thursday, January 6, 2011

too-late review, too-early preview: offense

Despite the ugly finish to the football season, enough time has passed to make me think it's a good idea to give self-flagellation one more try. So this week and next, I'll offer up a final obituary on the offense and defense and a way-too-early look at what next year holds.

This can't be done without a recruiting board update, and a depth-chart look too. So the depth chart is updated for your review - the notable change is Zane Parr's curious decision to bolt for the NFL draft. More about that next week when the defense gets its turn.

The recruiting board sees two very interesting changes:

- Darius Redman drops from orange to decommitted maroon.

- Added QB Gary Nova to green. Did I say he was the kind of guy there probably wouldn't be room for in the class? Whoops.

Redman becomes the class's second decommit after Matt Bailey way back when, and he's off to the Hokies for official now. (Redman denied most of what's in that report but it's since turned out to be more or less spot the hell on.) By most accounts it's an amicable parting; as I said earlier I have to believe the coaches played a role in decommitting him. We lose a tight end who had a decent chance to get on the field as a second tight end, but there are plenty of tight ends on the roster and a player or two already in the class who could be a tight end if necessary (Thompson Brown, for example); the trade-off is a much more talented pick-up in an area of greater need.

This explains why the coaches are able to recruit five or six player for what looks like two spots. Now it's three, and we're surely not done hearing about prep candidates.

An added bonus, by the way, of Redman's switch to VT is that if you ever hear a Hokie tell you the reason they failed to land Dominique Terrell was because of concern about his SAT scores, you can laugh in their ugly face.


Now, time to go position by position......


This year....

Marc Verica's play as the unquestioned starting quarterback drew complaints from all corners of the fanbase and constant calls to replace him with a freshman. This means that his play was.....not that damn bad, actually. Verica evened out his touchdowns and interceptions, throwing 14 of each, and almost 2800 yards. His passer rating landed him 84th out of starting quarterbacks in the nation, which isn't amazing. But it was better than:

- Jeremiah Masoli of Ole Miss
- Robert Bolden of Penn State, whose desire to transfer caused the obvious questions about whether his destination might possibly be UVA
- Kyle Parker of Clemson
- Jacory Harris of Miami
- John Brantley of Florida
- Garrett Gilbert of Texas
- two formerly highly-heralded players in B.J. Daniels of South Florida and Dwight Dasher of Middle Tennessee

So there's something to be said for slapping the next person who says "it can't be worse."

Verica's limitations are many, but during certain games he was able to thrive when offensive coordinator Bill Lazor called the right plays to get him into a rhythm. All in all, I'm willing to call it a successful year for Verica - he played better than a lot of bowl-bound quarterbacks and could have been one himself given a defense.

Next year....

We start all over again in a situation reminiscent of 2006. I went into the year thinking "we have three quarterbacks who could start, they can't possibly all suck." They all sucked, and the job fell to Jameel Sewell. So there's hope even for true freshman David Watford to snag the job in 2011.

That's not ideal, though. The team is better off if one of Ross Metheny, Mike Rocco, or Michael Strauss can put a clamp on the job. The sooner the better, though I hold little hope that it can be settled in spring camp. I refuse to handicap the race at this point. Sometimes you read that Strauss has made huge strides, sometimes you read that Rocco held the edge over Metheny on the season.....whatever. Nothing Rocco or Metheny did in their limited playing time separated themselves from each other as viewed from the bleachers, so we'll have to leave it to the coaches on this one. Somebody will be named a starting quarterback on September 3, and if the same guy finishes the Tech game some three months later, you'll know the season went reasonably well.


This year....

Oh, that's why we were so damn excited. Keith Payne either spent three and a half years being treated like ostrich shit by Al Groh and being shoehorned into an offense that had no idea how to take advantage of his skill set, or spent three and a half years thinking he was a 240-pound scatback and acting like a spoiled doo-doo head. Depends on who you listen to. After quitting the team in 2009, he had a change of heart when Mike London was hired, wanted back on, asked how high when London said jump, and bulldozed his way to the ACC scoring lead with 14 touchdowns. He'd have become UVA's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004 had he not split carries with Perry Jones, and yes, he'll be the football nomination for Cavalier of the Year in June.

Jones acquitted himself well also, managing to stay healthy and showing a deceptive ability to not get tackled despite being the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Jones was also third on the team in receptions. Raynard Horne ran well in relief of the top tandem. Max Milien flashed a little Jason Snelling ability at fullback, but wasn't used as a ballcarrier or receiver as heavily as Snelling was.

All in all, a productive year, exceeding expectations. Partly that's due to the offensive line also exceeding expectations, but Payne ran with a purpose this year and deserves special mention for his roaring comeback.

Next year....

Payne and Horne graduate, and the possibility exists that there won't be room for backup fullback Terrence Fells-Danzer, either. Jones will need a new backfield partner, because he's just that damn small and will never be a 30-carry-a-game running back. That job will see some competition in spring and fall. Torrey Mack hasn't quite lived up to his billing and is in danger of being passed up - this will really be his last chance to show something - and he should be pushed hard by K.P. Parks and Khalek Shepherd. Particularly Parks, who's uncannily similar to Mike Hart: short, built like a bowling ball, not real fast. Parks has exciting potential. If Clifton Richardson doesn't have to prep, he too could enter the mix right away.

At fullback, Max Milien will almost certainly be brought back for a fifth year, and if TFD is not, Ryan Cobb will inherit the backup role.


This year....

For the first time in UVA history, two wide receivers cracked 700 receiving yards, and Kris Burd was three feet away from making it 800. Dontrelle Inman (the back-from-the-dead stories just keep piling up on offense) helped everyone forget that Tim Smith took an injury-related redshirt year by going for 815 yards himself.

The receivers definitely made it easy on Verica this year. Inman, Burd, and Matt Snyder racked up catches and yards like no group of receivers have in UVA history. There've been better individual receivers, but never all at once. These three were good enough on their own that few other receivers on the roster saw the field. Jared Green got a few catches in relief and Ray Keys caught a couple garbage-time balls; that was about it.

Next year....

Inman graduates, but the replacement cupboard is deep. Tim Smith will hopefully be healthy enough to have a breakout year alongside Burd, and Snyder should return and continue to be a quality possession receiver. I half-expect Green not to be brought back, but there are freshmen waiting in the wings. Bobby Smith is a huge oak tree of a receiver and could be used in the end zone; E.J. Scott should at least be a reliable fourth receiver in relief of the starters. Kevin Royal's skill set screams "possession guy" and so he'll probably have to wait til Snyder graduates for his turn. But any of these three could surprise.

And let's not forget the recruiting class. At extreme risk of counting my freshmen before they hatch, at least one of Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings should definitely be at UVA; both are possible. Adrian Gamble is likely to redshirt, but Jennings is enough of a talent that he would have a chance to force his way onto the field immediately. Terrell would bring a totally new dimension - I envision him being used the way the Detroit Lions use Stefan Logan: on end-arounds, as a running back, as a target for WR screens, and in the slot. Barring a spate of injuries and some bad surprises on the recruiting trail, there will be plenty of help to ease the new quarterback into his job.


This year....

Colter Phillips almost didn't play the season because of the well-publicized death of his father in an Alaska plane crash. It's a good thing for Hoo fans he did. Phillips led the team's tight ends in catches, and while the offense didn't exactly see a return of the Heath Miller-esque featured tight end that was so popular in the Groh era, they played a big role. Joe Torchia's injury troubles opened the door for Phillips and Paul Freedman, and they performed well. Admirably, though not spectacularly. Jeremiah Mathis was a late addition to the TE corps when it was further decimated by injury, and he caught a touchdown and liked it so well that he just might stick there.

Next year....

Phillips and Freedman were just sophomores, so they'll be around a while. London all but announced that Mathis would stay a tight end, but with Parr's early depature he might be needed back on the defense. So I consider that one still up in the air. Either way, Jake McGee and Zach Swanson will also battle to be the third tight end. Swanson should have an edge because he's a little bigger and is a natural tight end from high school, while McGee is a converted quarterback. I doubt we'll see a big production increase from this year, due to breaking in a new quarterback and the continued excellence of the receivers.


This year....

What looked like the worst unit on the team turned out to be a decently-performing unit. The interior was steady all year with center Anthony Mihota and left guard Austin Pasztor locking down their respective jobs, and B.J. Cabbell looking shaky only for a brief time at right guard. Landon Bradley's injuries caused some shuffling at the tackle positions, but when he was in he was greatly improved over his lost-looking performance from 2009. Oday Aboushi cemented a starting job, whether on the left or right, Morgan Moses proved impressively versatile, and Sean Cascarano began to nose his way into the rotation.

All in all, the play of the offensive line is what allowed the offensive resurgence to take place and Bill Lazor to look like a genius. They weren't a dominant group, but they proved that stability and a return to decent play could make the offense functional again. Better than functional.

Next year....

More stability, amazingly enough. Continuity you can use. Cabbell is the only starter lost to graduation, though Bradley's injury is a long-term one that might see rehab last through fall camp. In both cases, replacements will be in place. The best thing long-term will be to replace Cabbell with Moses, who has the necessary power and explosion to be a stellar drive-blocking guard and the athleticism to pull around. If Bradley isn't healthy, Aboushi and Cascarano will be able to step up at tackle, though a three-man rotation involving Bradley would be ideal.

Luke Bowanko should also be able to step into more playing time at guard, since backup Isaac Cain also departs, and the wraps will be taken off Conner Davis as well. The future is bright along this line.

One rarely-mentioned aspect of it will be the necessity of finding a new long-snapper, the process of which will begin immediately in spring camp. Bet you never even thought about the long snapping all season. That means it was perfect. Danny Aiken was the one player on the team whose value-to-hype ratio was the largest; cross your fingers that his replacement, whoever that is, plays as well.


Next week: same thing, but on defense and with a lot less sunshine and a lot more grumbling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're out of your mind. The offense was awful except when racking it up against D-2 competition which due to our "ease in the new coach" scheduling we had plenty of. The offense was respectable only vs the very, very bottom of the ACC. This was obvious!

As for measuring what the QB at 84th best, and the measuring it against Jacory Harris (whose coach got fired because of him), a frosh in Texas who got his coaches fired and some other guys who were the biggest busts ever is supposed to be progress??? What are you sniffing? By the way, Brantley the frosh, for all his sucking plays in the SEC not the ACC, so you might want to figure that in there too.

This offense needs to have someone at quarterback with wheels. Putting up Ross Metheny, Mike Rocco, or Michael Strauss is like cutting your own throat. They all are Verica clones without the experience. Rocco with his weak arm, and entire lack of athleticism was a waste of a scholie and just offered because of his father, apparently as a Christmas gift. Methany or Strauss should join him in the "bulking up to be a Tight End" olympics. The guy who finishes at the top should be the guy who is battling for second string for Miles Gooch or, if he is ahead of schedule, Watford.

The receivers are there. While Payne is a very rare talent that UVa can never be able to rely on getting there are solid running, catching and blocking half backs. The blocking (OL, TEs and FB) is coming along and will be solid though not dominant.

But it will take a QB who can make all the throws and pick up yards with his legs that will take the pressure off the line and allow for a consistent attack. Not only is that the name of the game in CFB now, especially for teams that can't out-recruit everyone in their path. (Virginia is lucky if it out-recruits everyone in the state.) A dual threat QB brought UVa its high point with Moore and a dual threat QB brought London his high point with Richmond. So why not continue that now?