I'm so sorry to depress you like this in the middle of spring sports. (Though if you've been following baseball, it'd be hard to be much more depressing than that.) But we do still play football and with spring practice over, it's a good time to look in on the action.
First, a quick review of the attrition since the end of last season:
- David Watford transferred to Hampton.
- Eli Harold and Max Valles left for the NFL.
- Darius Lee is no longer on the roster.
- George Adeosun and Mario Nixon received medical scholarships.
- Dominique Terrell was granted his release last week.
We're probably not done. Some names don't appear on the post-spring depth chart because they spent the spring sessions on the sidelines with some kind of injury (in fact, enough such players that you start to wonder about things) but in other cases....Terrell was conspicuously left off before his recent departure, and the end of the semester sometimes means others too.
I've updated the long-stagnant depth chart on this site to represent the post-spring situation. It includes brand-new tight end transfer Charlie Hopkins, formerly of Stanford. Hopkins's arrival makes it 84 scholarships, for now.
The official depth chart is the really interesting read, though. Here's how to interpret the info within:
-- Matt Johns is listed #1 at quarterback, without an "or". Before Steve Fairchild's comments in Jeff White's column the other day, my opinion was that this means Johns is the starter in fall practice and the very likely starter against UCLA, but in no way should you make any wagers on who'll be the starter in November. Or if we even have a proper starter. What Fairchild said only strengthens that impression. The cliff notes is that it's a continuation of this staff's maddening refusal to commit to a quarterback except in such instances as when it's to the detriment of the team.
-- The staff must really like UNC transfer-in T.J. Thorpe. Thorpe is the only scholarship player listed on his side of the field at receiver. Three scholarships each appear at the other two receiver positions. That could be exciting, because Thorpe has always been a guy with burning speed but who hasn't put it all together just yet. If he does, he could be a one-year wonder.
Most of the rest of the WR lineup isn't a huge surprise. Doni Dowling is missing because he's hurt bad enough to miss the upcoming season, too, which sucks, but we have more depth than we need and plenty of candidates to make an impact.
-- A new RB coach in Chris Beatty could mean a fresh start for Daniel Hamm. Granted, Hamm's big game was against hapless VMI, but his running in that game was still eye-opening. Since then, nada. Beatty seems to appreciate what Hamm brings - he's separated from the top line on the depth chart only by the dreaded "or", and on that note Hamm also has his scholarship, putting him on a more equal footing with the competition.
-- On the flip side, I really wish LaChaston Smith had been the linebacker that all the recruiting gurus had him pegged as. We badly need the competition at linebacker this year, and Smith has been leapfrogged by redshirt freshman Jordan Ellis on the pecking order.
-- The depth chart has a note on it: "Some players not listed due to medical status during spring." I suppose this means Dowling, but there's a few O-linemen to talk about too. Sadiq Olanrewaju isn't there, and neither is Jay Whitmire. I think it's fair to assume Dave Borbely, as a new coach to this outfit, isn't going to put someone on the depth chart if he hasn't seen them enough.
That said, everyone associated with UVA has burbled optimistically about Whitmire's return to playing status. He did no such thing this spring. He needs to actually play in a full game before I believe the optimism here. Maybe two full games, since Demetrious Nicholson got in a game last year.
-- I really wish we would stick with a center the same way we need to stick with a quarterback. Ross Burbank is back at right guard and Jackson Matteo at center. But I kinda get it considering they have a "five best guys" philosophy and so many are hurt. Sean Karl seems to be the next option at right guard, so putting Burbank there is OK by me since I still have bad memories of Karl's multiple matador performances on punt protection.
-- Likewise, the fact that Jake Fieler, a redshirt freshman, is ahead of Eric Smith on the depth chart would be awfully worrisome if it wasn't injury-related. You'd have to wonder about Smith's development. Oh, hell, it's worrisome anyway, but for different reasons.
-- The whole damn linebacker corps is getting replaced. And the truth is, a LOT of eggs are in the starters' baskets. Mark Hall, Micah Kiser, and Zach Bradshaw headline the list, and none of them have much experience because Valles, Coley, and Romero were so damn good. Behind them is nobody who's played any linebacker at all. Malcolm Cook slides down from safety; it's freshmen at the other two spots. Prediction: a freshman is starting by the end of the season. Too much competition to bet otherwise.
-- Last year the depth chart said 4-3, but the usual package was more a 3-3-5 nickel with Valles - a linebacker at times in name only - playing from the ground often. That was because Valles turned out to be a major-league athlete. Hall is not that athlete. Does this mean back to a more traditional 4-3 most of the time? I think it depends on what Bradshaw can do in coverage on slot receivers. There's a plethora of cornerbacks pushing to get on the field - Tim Harris, Maurice Canady, and Demetrious Nicholson are all quality players and it's hard to imagine we don't see heavy use of all three. The defensive ends might be tougher to take off the field than the linebackers, too. The most likely look could be more of a 4-2-5 this year, because heavy use of the nickel is so often a necessity against today's offenses.
On the offensive side, the coaches have been talking about being more of a power running team than in the past. Ostensibly this is because they like the play of fullbacks Vincent Croce and Connor Wingo-Reeves. And sure, they probably do. I have a hard time believing in this transformation. There've also been noises about four-receiver sets and spread elements. That's, like, two opposite ends of the spectrum. I don't think you can be both Wisconsin and Oregon. If you have two quarterbacks you don't have any - and the same goes double for offensive identities.
Power running is a mindset. Bo Schembechler's philosophy was that if his guys were more motivated, and bigger and stronger and better at scrumming it up, he'd win. It worked because that was before everyone had a million-dollar weight room and before Under Armour commercials convinced every college player they were DIZRESPECTED WARRIORZ. It still works for teams like Wisconsin and Iowa because they commit to doing it and recruit for it. We don't have boulder-sized offensive linemen, we just have offensive linemen, and if they're being asked to blow a hole open one play and finesse-block the next, I don't see how this works.
The last big news was the cancellation of the Stanford series and immediate replacement with Indiana. Basically this is the front office doing exactly what I said couldn't and shouldn't be done. Shouldn't, because I figure we look like assholes for reneging on agreements. So now, maybe we do, maybe we don't. "Scheduling conflicts" was the reason, but Stanford has no replacement, so it's probably not their scheduling conflict. At any rate, the schedule-for-success crowd has their win, and I'm not really bugging out because the 2017 schedule looks fine with Boise State, IU, and UConn and the 2018 schedule is nowhere near finished.