Thursday, February 6, 2014

signstravaganza 2014

Signing Day!  I admit, to me it's a little disappointing these days, and here's why: Seems to me that a few years ago, you could follow along most of the day - or at least through lunch and the early afternoon - as the recruiting services reported on incoming faxes.  I liked refreshing every 10-15 minutes or so.  It was a nice work distraction - nice enough that it seemed like it really ought to be a national holiday.  Now all the faxes are in by 9 AM, except the ones from the West Coast.  I don't know if all this is true, but this is how it seems to me.

Let's get started by closing out the recruiting board.  The three names in yellow all went elsewhere: Derrick Nnadi to FSU, Vincent Jackson to South Florida, and Ladarius Wiley to Vanderbilt.  None of these are surprises.  If I thought we were a serious threat to land any of them they'd have been in a color higher than yellow.

The proprieties dispensed with, let's talk roster management.  This is a class of 17 players when all's said and done.  18 are on the final version of the recruiting board, but Zack Jones doesn't look to have made it.  We've lost three to attrition so far - E.J. Scott, Adrian Gamble, and Pablo Alvarez.  89 is now the final scholarship count, meaning at least four more eventual departures.  (Quite likely more, since we were actively recruiting three or four more players at the end, and missed on all of them.)  London made a curious comment at his press conference, mentioning 17 graduating seniors after the 2014 season.  Curious because I count 20 scholarship rising seniors.

Clearly, London knows something we don't.  A shocking development.  I will, in the near future - this very post even - harshly criticize London's roster management as it relates to the various positions.  One thing London does very well, however, is manage the overall number.  It's a function of his being highly on top of his players' classroom exploits, or, occasionally (and much more occasionally under London than Groh) their lack thereof.  In general, his recruiting classes hit the target as well as you could expect.

There are features in this post that don't change every year, so let's get to them.  First, the positional analysis.

QUARTERBACK - Corwin Cutler

Cutler took a prep season at Fork Union, putting him back in the 2014 class after originally signing in 2013.  Knowing that they'd have him coming in this season, the coaches chose not to pursue any quarterbacks in this class; they made a few token offers and didn't work any of them especially hard.  That's fine. We'll have five, which is a good number.  You don't really need six.

RUNNING BACK - Jordan Ellis

There was also no need to overpursue at this position, and Ellis is by himself in this class.  That works for me.  Ellis adds a nice size element to the current stable of backs, which is mostly missing right now.  I like Ellis's chances to be a poor man's Kevin Parks, of sorts.  Maybe not even that poor.  He could be the thunder to someone's lightning - say, if Taquan Mizzell is a four-year player.

WIDE RECEIVER - Donovan Dowling, Jamil Kamara

A third straight properly-staffed position, I think.  We'll go in with 10 as of now.  Dowling, as profiled Monday, looks to me likely to fill a possession receiver niche, and should redshirt; Kamara, as more of a feature-potential guy, may not, and probably shouldn't, given our inability last season to find a consistent solution at this position.

TIGHT END - Evan Butts

UVA hasn't recruited a dedicated tight end since Zach Swanson, so Butts is a welcome addition.  I'd like to see him redshirt - I mean, that should be the default setting, really - but Rob Burns and Mario Nixon seem like such odd ducks at the position that it might be Butts's fate to play, if he arrives with enough size.

OFFENSIVE LINE - Steven Moss, Jacob Fieler

OK, so far I've been complimentary of the roster management.  That stops here.  (recordscratch.mp3) 

This is stupid.  Jacob Fieler's been told to prepare to be in the two-deep when he starts spring practice.  That's not because he's a superstar.  That's because we almost literally have no choice.  With George Adeosun probably still out, there are 11 scholarship O-linemen besides Fieler in spring camp.  That means just one injury we don't know about, or one guy who isn't panning out, and Fieler's there by default.  (Yes, I know Jackson Matteo exists, but filling out your two-deep with walk-ons is only further proof that you're fucking this up.)

Let me repeat: A true freshman is in the two-deep because we have no other choice.  The only other option is that the coaches like Fieler more than one or two guys they already have, which is equally ridiculous - you're telling me that a guy who's never been to a single one of your practices is better than the guys you've been developing?  This is understandable in the case of a five-star player.  Fieler had better be a five-star player disguised as a guy nobody ever heard of.

In the fall, there'll be 14 players on scholarship, assuming no attrition, injuries, and such - which is a stupid thing to assume.  We can't even go three deep at offensive line.  And the coaches saw fit to sign two linemen.**  Do you know how many linemen you'd have if you did that every year?  Ten - if you redshirted everyone, which is the opposite of what we do.

This is astoundingly shitty.  Fieler and Moss are good-looking players with potential.  But this is about quantity, not quality.  We have quality, which doesn't excuse the lack of quantity.  The fact remains that London looked at what can only be considered a ridiculously thin lineup and was content to let it get thinner.  Impossible to put it any other way: when it comes to the offensive line, which is the foundation of your offense, London is utterly fucking up the program.

**Will Richardson's decommitment is not a defense.


The program-screwing doesn't stop on the offensive side.  OK, getting Chris Brathwaite back helps the situation.  It's a good thing, because otherwise we'd be going into this season with five DTs - again, unable to go three deep.  Now we can, if just barely.

On the plus side, Andrew Brown is something else.  The #1 DT in the country to most services, Brown is the kind of recruit that is usually out of UVA's reach.  Fast, powerful, whatever your ideal adjective combination, Brown is it.  He'll play from day 1, of course.  He might play a little DE.  He's got a head start on college as an early enrollee and is likely to quickly blow past most of the depth chart.  And hopefully will blow past opposing OGs just as quickly.

DEFENSIVE END - Michael Biesemier, Darrious Carter, Cory Jones

From a numbers perspective, I can calm down a bit when it comes to defensive end, as we'll carry nine into the season.  Maybe eight or even seven as I'd keep an eye on the positional status of Jack English and the offer status of Stephen Lawe - as in, whether Lawe gets invited back for a fifth year.  It may not happen.

Seven would be thin, but not crushingly so, at least.  The problem is that this class is full of fliers.  You're not looking at very much here - they're all two-stars on two of the four services and none were in high demand.  London flipped all three of these guys very late in the process from commitments to other programs - JMU, Temple, and Toledo, respectively.  It probably speaks to another instance of positional neglect - surely you ought to have a defensive end committed before December when the ones in your program now are so unproven.

The main attraction for these guys so far is body type, which is different than, say, Andrew Brown, who interests people when he actually moves.  Jones is the exception, but he could not be rawer, having picked up football literally last year.  Individually I'd have no problem with any of these pickups, if we had some proven in-demand talent to add as well.  Absolutely, take a flier here and there on someone you think might be a high-reward type.  When that's what your whole class at the position is comprised of, it's a problem.

LINEBACKER - Caanan Brown, J.J. Jackson, Chris Peace

To a large extent, that story continues here, although in Jackson's case, the lack of demand is heavily affected by his early commitment.  Rather than go after proven commodities, the staff chose to sign mold-fitting athletes, all of whom bring to mind Max Valles.  Valles's listing as a "linebacker" is slightly laughable, as, by playing him, the staff chose to sacrifice a great deal of traditional linebacker attributes in exchange for a third defensive end on the field.

So on the one hand, perhaps I'm overblowing the concerns about defensive end depth.  Peace and Jackson in particular could grow into actual, real defensive ends.  On the other hand, the staff offered exactly three players considered by Rivals to be middle linebackers.  Essentially what they've done is take London's philosophy of scooping up lots of athletes without positions, who might be cornerbacks, safeties, receivers, even tight ends or defensive ends depending on their size, and extended that strategy to linebacker as well.  These guys, if linebacker is the right word, will need a lot of coaching up, although you have to wonder if Jon Tenuta will get time to see his vision come to fruition.

DEFENSIVE BACK - Jeffery Farrar, Darious Latimore, Quin Blanding

Blanding, like Andrew Brown, is a talent and a half.  With Brandon Phelps's hold on the free safety job being rather tenuous, and a lot of safeties on the roster that we're just never going to use, Blanding steps in with a clear path to the two-deep and a shot at starting by season's end.  He won't get the head start of spring enrollment, but he's got all the tools all the same.  I harp on the oversigning of defensive backs, but Blanding is exempt.

In a way, though, watching a lot of recruiting targets go elsewhere - like Daiquan Lawrence and Ladarius Wiley - saved London from himself.  At cornerback, we can now go five deep.  10 cornerbacks for two positions, not including the need for a nickel back.  We can't go three deep at O-line, but London wanted to go damn near six deep at corner?  Farrar and Latimore look like good players in a vacuum, but given the numbers on the roster we probably could have survived without taking even one cornerback this year.  That London wanted three or four (and was content with two offensive linemen) is stunningly awful judgment.


But not for lack of trying.  UVA briefly held the commitment of Gary Wunderlich until Ole Miss flipped him, and just this week offered the other UA all-star, Adam Centers, who chose Wake Forest instead.


Like Festivus, Signstravaganza has its made-up traditions, and these are lists.  To wit:

Top five stories of the year:

1. Jamil Kamara's recruitment.  Kamara strung it out until December, though at least one poster on TheSabre claims he's been all UVA since the summer and just enjoyed leaving everyone in suspense.  Nevertheless, it tied a bow on a saga that's lasted years, since Kamara has been on the radar since his freshman year.

2. Jordan Ellis's productivity.  Ellis put to rest a lot of doubt by coming out of the gates like gangbusters and piling up both yards and touchdowns.  He broke a school record for touchdowns in a game and let the record stand a whole week before breaking it again.

3. The Derrick Nnadi saga.  Nnadi needed all season to make up his mind and was back and forth seemingly every day.  I started him in green on the recruiting board, moved him up to blue, back down to green, down to yellow, down to red, and then back up to yellow.  He didn't respond well to being pushed in any one direction, or pulled for that matter, and since recruiting is all about pushing and pulling, it wasn't a terribly predictable path that he followed.

4. The Thoroughbreds.  Why is UVA getting five-star recruits during two-win seasons?  VT fans will tell you it's because their coaches are "steering" them.  What they mean by that is that it's totally unfair that someone whose job it is to give guidance and coaching to a high schooler should offer any guidance or coaching, if said guidance doesn't move them in the right direction.  The definition of "steering" is "suggesting the wrong school."  The truth is that the VT coaching staff has managed to piss off a lot of the wrong people in Tidewater and UVA is reaping the benefits of that plus their desire to keep playing together after leaving high school.

5. Offensive line, or lack thereof.  At least, I think it's a story.

Five most likely to play as true freshmen:

1. Andrew Brown
2. Quin Blanding
3. Jamil Kamara
4. Jacob Fieler
5. Steven Moss

I mean, the first three are no-brainers.  They're playing.  We'd be crazy not to, particularly, I think, in the cases of Brown and Kamara.  The other two are offensive linemen and therefore the beneficiaries of the lack of a depth chart.  Another name that might slide in here: Corwin Cutler, whose chance to win the quarterback job is legitimate.

Five I'm most excited about:

1. Andrew Brown
2. Jamil Kamara
3. Quin Blanding
4. Jordan Ellis
5. Corwin Cutler

For Kamara and Cutler, it's because they represent a chance to fix huge problem spots.  Ellis is there because I'm absurdly biased toward running backs, my favorite position on the field, and his productivity should excite.  And, I mean, you can't not have the five-stars, right?  Brown especially - if he's all he's cracked up to be, I gotta tell you there's very little more exciting to me on defense than a terrorizing defensive tackle roaring up the middle to assault a hapless quarterback.

Three sleepers:

1. Cory Jones
2. Donovan Dowling
3. Chris Peace

Inclusion on this list requires that you have a two-star rating from at least one service and that I like some aspect of your game.  Usually two-star players have ill-defined roles - Dowling, at least from my own perspective, is not likely to make any all-anything teams, but does have a strong likelihood of being able to fill a particular niche and do it very well.  Jones and Peace are just the opposite - they're high-ceiling fliers with athletic ability in need of harnessing.

Five highest-rated:

1 (tie). Andrew Brown (5 stars)
1 (tie). Quin Blanding (5 stars)
3 (tie). Jamil Kamara (4 stars)
3 (tie). Steven Moss (4 stars)
5 (tie). Corwin Cutler (3.25 stars)
5 (tie). Jeffery Farrar (3.25 stars)

Simple star averages.

Eat it, Shaney:

Jamil Kamara
Quin Blanding
Steven Moss
Andrew Brown

Eat it, Randy:

Quin Blanding
Steven Moss
Andrew Brown

Eat it, Larry:

Jamil Kamara
Quin Blanding
Steven Moss
Andrew Brown

Players offered by VT, Maryland, and UNC, respectively, that we won out on.  What a surprise that they're all the same players.  The number of losses to each of these schools numbers slightly more in each case, but without as much star power.

The ones that got away:

LB Connor Strachan (Boston College)
OL Brock Ruble (Florida State)
K Gary Wunderlich (Mississippi)
OL Bentley Spain (North Carolina)
OL Will Richardson (NC State)
OL Sam Mustipher (Notre Dame)
LB Troy Reeder (Penn State)
OL Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh)
WR Cameron Phillips (Virginia Tech)
LB Melvin Keihn (Virginia Tech)

My my, look at all the OLs.  This is the list of players whose going elsewhere hurts the most.  What's worse is all the players from pipeline schools.  Ruble and Phillips are from DeMatha.  Mustipher, Good Counsel.  Keihn, Gilman.  UVA's name is big in these places and London could not or would not get anywhere with them.  Bookser is both mystifying and infuriating - he had UVA in a top four for a long time, and eventually committed to Pitt in December.  He's from Pittsburgh, so a Pitt commitment isn't at all surprising - but the fact that he waited that long suggests he was more than open to leaving the state.  Why, then, despite the interest and the need for O-linemen, did we hear nothing about him after July?  There's no good reason I can think of.

In all, UVA did very poorly this year in the "DMV" area, and Baltimore too.  Very, very poorly.

Finally, presented here is the original board, saved from some 54 weeks ago:

Showing what an imprecise science this can be, last year when I showed off the original board, it had eventual commitments in all different colors.  This year we went 4-for-4 in blue and 0-for-everything else - including orange.

There's no offseason in recruiting, so the 2015 board will hopefully be up soon.  I sure hope the guy in charge of that gets his act together.  That class is likely to be an uphill battle along the lines of 2010.


Anonymous said...

Great breakdown. I always enjoy your blog.

I think next year is going to be really, really tough if the team is losing all season, as no kids will be willing to risk the turnover of the staff. Let's hope London's successful recruiting at many positions will leave the cupboard full for the next staff, so a winning season under a new coach results in a 2016 class that can make up for the possible lack of talent in 2015.

Anonymous said...

i've been following this stuff pretty closely since London took over, and the difference between the commits this year and your original forecast is pretty amazing. But I guess that's what happens when you completely shit the bed on the field. Of all the years to do so too. We have two national top 10 players doing work for us on the trail and we end up filling the class with a lot of unknown quantities. No disrespect to those kids, but not the way you want to fill out a class when you have two bell cows.

Only Virginia.