Wednesday, January 4, 2012

too-late review, too-early preview: the offense 2011-2012

Well, it's not really "late," exactly, because the bowl game was less than a week ago.  But this is the title I gave this post last year, so let's use it again this year, just for giggles.  Consider this something of a season wrap, in a somewhat objective sense.  Time to go down the position chart and evaluate the play of each unit, starting with....


This year....

....kinda sucked until Mike London scrapped the QB platoon.  After a couple games, not many people liked that idea, and the only disagreement was whether it should be Mike Rocco or David Watford who actually gets the snaps.  The answer was Rocco, and he proved everyone right about that platoon thing almost immediately by directing a win on the road at Miami.

Rocco's passer rating, pre-Miami, was 113.1; post-Miami (inclusive), it was 141.  Give Rocco the former rating for the whole season, and he'd be the 100th-best passer in the country; 141 would be good enough for 36th.  This is as a sophomore, mind you.  Rocco's play impressed a lot of neutral observers in the Peach Bowl, and really, that was a very good game but it wasn't even heads and shoulders above some of his others.  (It came against a better defense than, say, Maryland, though.)

Next year....

UVA will enter the 2012 season with the kind of certainty at quarterback that we haven't seen in years.  There's no reason to think there will be any kind of competition in camp this year.  Rocco is The Man.  The only question is the pecking order among the backups, and I think there will be a reasonably interesting race again, with Watford, Ross Metheny, and freshman Greyson Lambert taking reps in camp in an effort to see who comes in should the worst happen to Rocco.  Lambert is officially enrolled at the University, the third straight year a quarterback has enrolled early, so his development might be the most eagerly anticipated aspect of the spring.  (He's also the only early enrollee, so don't get your hopes up for more.)  Still, he and Matt Johns will hopefully redshirt.


This year....

The dual-starter platoon worked much better at tailback, with Perry Jones and Kevin Parks working as the clearcut load-carriers.  Jones totaled 915 yards despite sharing the ball, the most since Alvin Pearman's 1,080 in 2004.  If the workload were a five-way pie, Jones and Parks got two slices each and Clifton Richardson got the other, and he was just as productive as the other two as the third-string guy.

Max Milien was more of an H-back than a true fullback, since his role was mostly pass-catching, at which he was a good change of pace.  But when it comes to pass-catching, none of the backs could touch Perry Jones, who lined up as a receiver at times and happened to have the longest reception of the season. 

Next year....

I don't see much changing, except that Milien is graduating.  Zach Swanson is the up-and-coming (and only) fullback on the roster, so expect him to be suddenly very visible.  As a converted tight end, he should be as much as, if not more of, a pass-catching threat than Milien was.  As for the tailbacks, Jones's role will certainly not be shrinking, and Richardson's might be expanding.  If anything, Richardson might get a few of Parks's carries, but that shouldn't be a long-term problem since Jones is graduating after next season.

But you have to be really excited over what Jones can bring to the table as a senior.  Already a captain as a junior, his football knowledge and leadership are way up there.  It might actually be healthy for the offense if he scaled back his receptions some (because it might mean the wide receivers are performing better) but I think we'll all be on 1,000-yard-watch next year to see if Jones can crack the four-digit barrier.  The other really exciting possibility is what Clifton Richardson might do with a year under his belt.  Jones might make it to 1,000 yards next year, but Richardson eventually will.  He's that good.


This year....

If you're like me, you'll be surprised to hear this: Kris Burd had more receiving yards than any UVA pass-catcher of any kind since Billy McMullen in 2001.  That includes every year of Heath Miller's career, all of Kevin Ogletree's, and some of McMullen's as well.  This is an odd stat, or it feels like one since I spent all year thinking "why aren't the receivers more productive?"

But the stats don't lie: Burd had a great season.  No doubt about it.  They're solid proof against my preseason assertion that Burd would need a #1 guy lining up on the other side in order to reach his potential.

I still think it would've been nice to have someone besides just Burd as a really good, dependable wideout option.  Matt Snyder's broken foot did not help in that regard.  But he had the dropsies a couple of times this year, and Tim Smith was kind of inconsistent.  And the tight ends were almost nonexistent in the passing game.  Colter Phillips only had three catches, Paul Freedman eleven, and Jeremiah Mathis six.  They were hardly ever thrown to outside the red zone.

It's probably fair to say that the offense didn't quite reach its full potential, thanks to the lack of an array of passcatchers.  This is what we hope we'll get by stockpiling guys like Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell, but it was always unfair to expect they would jump directly into that role and catch 50 passes.

Next year....

This will be the position group with the most uncertainty.  Burd's UVA career is over, and the productivity of the unit will depend on whether anyone can fill his shoes.  Snyder also will not be back, depriving UVA of a dependable possession receiver.  People will be looking at Tim Smith first and foremost, and the Wondertwins, Jennings and Terrell, are likely to have every opportunity as well.

But you need more than three receivers, so that means we'll see some guys on the field who we haven't seen much of at all.  Bobby Smith?  E.J. Scott?  Miles Gooch?  Kevin Royal?  I think this will be the most intriguing camp battle - not only between Tim Smith and the wondertwins to see who is Rocco's primary option, but to see who is going to emerge on the second level.


This year....

We had remarkable good luck and good health.  The same five guys started every game at the same position.  You could argue that that's the #1 reason we won eight games.  The effect that that has on success can't be understated.  Just a terrific year for the whole unit.  You can't say more than that.

I might also add that Matt Fortin stepped in as long-snapper in replacement of Danny Aiken, and the long-snapping was not a problem, not even once.  Fortin is a redshirt freshman, so I think we're set for the next three years.

Next year....

Two of those starters must be replaced.  We'll need a new center after Anthony Mihota had a surprisingly excellent year (and a good thing too after our backup center got himself booted.)  And Austin Pasztor graduates after being a four-year starter, an exceedingly rare breed among offensive linemen.

So if wide receiver is the position group with the most uncertainty, center is the position with the most.  Cody Wallace is the heir apparent, and let's hope he's a good one, because if you don't have a good center, you don't have a good running game.  A new left guard will be required, too.  Currently, Matt Mihalik is listed as the backup there while Conner Davis is listed as the backup right guard, but I think we'll see a camp battle between the two; or else, Morgan Moses will slide inside and Sean Cascarano will play tackle.  Either is a likely possibility.  I think London's philosophy is to get the best five guys on the field, so however that can be accomplished is what they'll do.

Fortunately, we won't have to deal with the tacklepocalypse that there was potential for, as both Oday Aboushi and Moses will be back.

You'll notice that not once in here did I mention any true freshmen, except at quarterback where I figure they'll both redshirt anyway.  That is progress.  If there's a place for a true freshman to contribute, it's most likely at receiver; you may see someone like Canaan Severin find his way onto the field.  But the truth is, as we stand here in January, there's very little room for a freshman.  That's as it should be.  In part, it's a reflection that pretty much all our (current) verbal commits of a high-star variety are on defense, but it also means we no longer have a program that's badly in need of a talent infusion.  At least on this side of the ball.


Anonymous said...

On paper, the offense should be good next year, while the defense is rebuilding a bit.

I'd like to see them throw to the TE's a bit more - there were times when Rocco seemed to skip over the checkdown to the TE and opt for the RB, which, considering Perry's hands, is understandable. Part of it is that Phillips/Freedman aren't exactly seam stretchers. Mathis is the one that has that level of potential.

There is a need for a bigger or more physical WR to step up. Tim Smith showed flashes as a vertical guy, while Jennings/Terrell are what they are - shifty, speedy guys. It's possible Royal/Smith/Gooch could be a guy to step up (still intrigued by the positive reports on Gooch from camp, and wonder if another year may make him ready), but I could see Severin perhaps get a shot from the get-go.

I've got a tough time seeing them slide Moses inside. They've never minded the bigger, longer guards, so I could see Cascarano get looked at inside, but the bulk of Davis looks nice if he's ready.

All of this pales to the defensive questions, though, particularly at DE and DB.

Brendan said...

Moses is a good tackle, and his footwork has clearly improved. I get the sense he secretly prefers tackle as it's a better path to the NFL. But I still think his talents are best used at guard, where he can simply be a mauler and start moving guys backwards at will. I don't think we get a good sense of his brute strength at tackle, and I think he's got better straight-line athleticism than he does side-to-side.

Anonymous said...

Well, here's how I look at it.

First off, I think Moses stock for the NFL has always been at tackle. He's too talented for teams to not take a look there first. I think his stock is pretty much what I thought it was pre-season, a possible 1st round pick when he comes out. The big question for him is whether or not NFL teams buy his potential to play LT, because RT's tend not to go as high (outside of the rare Levi Brown/Mike Williams case case). Actually, that might be our best chance to bring Moses back for a senior year, with the promise that he'd shift to LT (next year's OT class could be fairly loaded).

Actually, Levi Brown might be a decent comp for Morgan now that I think about it. I think the general sentiment was that the weight loss at the start helped him, and I think folks will watch to see if he can maintain that size.

As for UVA, it's quite simple for me. Aboushi will take most of the reps at LT. Assuming C is addressed (Wallace/Burbank or some surprise), is it better to have Morgan at RT and Cascarano/Davis/Mihalik at G, or is it better to have Cascarano or maybe Kelby Johnson at RT with Moses at G. For me, the former is clearly better than the latter. I always prefer a veteran on the edges over a youngster if I have a chance, and physically, Moses ability at tackle is arguably better than anyone else that could step in.

Anonymous said...

on a tangent, I'm going to be curious what Minnifield runs in his workouts. Surprisingly, one of the knocks people had on him entering the season was that they questioned his speed, but Chase chasing down Bert Reed showed he had plenty of it. It's a deep CB year, but a Chris Cook like time could perhaps push him forward and solidify a late first spot, as dumb as 40 times are (although with DB's, it's a bit more important than other positions).

Also going to be curious what weight Conrath goes to workouts at. If he shows up around 290-295 without significant loss of athleticism, I think that will help his cause a bit as teams may ponder him more seriously as a good 5-tech option.

Also hope Cam Johnson slims down a bit. His best pro position will be as a 3-4 rush backer, and he doesn't need to be in the 270's to do that.