Tuesday, January 14, 2014

too-early preview: offense

Why am I veering right back to football?  Gluttony for punishment, I can only assume.  As with last year, we'll take an eight-months-out look at how the various units shape up.  Unlike last year, I'm not going to bother incorporating too much overanalysis into the previous season.  I already told you: F's all around, except for the bright spots I mentioned earlier.  But what can we expect in 2014?


Another position battle, one is forced to assume.  There's a sizable contingent of folks who think David Watford should be given zero more chances to ever take a snap again; an opinion based on what I think is the overly haughty viewpoint that one has assessed Watford's abilities and found them not only lacking but totally incapable of improving.

Why, I wonder, should quarterbacks be exempt from ever improving year to year?  They're not, of course - they almost always improve year over year, just like every other position.  I mean, that's just intuitive.  Saying something like, "I've seen him all season and he'll never get better," is a manifestation of Fan Recency Bias - in other words, whatever just happened will always happen, particularly if it was bad.  People evaluate everything through that lens, so, especially the most spotlighted position on the field.

This is not to say that Watford was any good this past season.  He stunk to high heaven, with the exception of a few midseason games, where he merely played inefficiently.  The coaches should give him a chance to re-earn the job in the offseason, as much as anyone, but give him no incumbency bonus whatsoever either.

Mike London is nothing if not loyal, so Watford will probably be in the conversation in the spring.  Greyson Lambert as well.  Corwin Cutler comes in with enough hype that it's hard to imagine he won't at least get a long look, but he won't be around til the fall.  Matt Johns and Brendan Marshall seem likely to be career backups, but it's early in their careers and nobody should be writing them off.

However, all that said, I don't pretend to know anything anymore about Mike London's quarterback decision-making, as it doesn't often make any sense.  His mismanagement of this position is why he's in this pickle as it is.  We can talk all we want, but only one thing is sure: the identity of the guy under center next September is a total mystery from here.


Everybody returns, unless for some reason the coaches decide to non-invite Khalek Shepherd.  Unlikely but a remote possibility.  I'm not worried about the production of the running backs except to the extent that the offensive line can't block.  Kevin Parks hit that 1,000-yard mark this year.  If Taquan Mizzell's role expands, Parks probably won't repeat the feat, but I don't see Shepherd or Kye Morgan unseating Parks, who did a very nice job of entrenching himself.  At least someone played well enough to do that.

With Shepherd, Morgan, Mizzell, and hopefully Daniel Hamm too, whose running I liked quite a bit even though it was only VMI, there should be enough depth to both move LaChaston Smith to linebacker and redshirt Jordan Ellis.  Perhaps Richmond will give us enough of a fight where London won't be tempted to dig down to Ellis in the depth chart, because playing Smith in garbage time against VMI ranks as the stupidest non-redshirt decision of the year.

At fullback, Billy Skrobacz graduates, so as of now the coaches have only Connor Wingo-Reeves and Vincent Croce to turn to; they may add another possibility from the ranks of walk-ons, defensive ends, or wherever.


Here, UVA loses Tim Smith to graduation and E.J. Scott to Wake Forest; Scott finished his degree and transferred almost immediately, making him the first attrite of the offseason.  That makes Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell the greybeards of the unit, and, man, it's hard to believe that the excitement of signing them as a pair of potentially dynamic playmakers was so long ago.

Those two will open camp with a head start on everyone for playing time, but their grip on the position is anything but ironclad.  This is a deep unit (in terms of sheer numbers, not actual production) and there should be plenty of competition.  It starts with Keeon Johnson, who impressed at times as a true freshman and is most likely to push for playing time.  If I were laying down odds, Vegas-style, on who would be the leading wide receiver this coming year, Johnson would have the second-best after Jennings.

Miles Gooch, Adrian Gamble, Canaan Severin, and Kyle Dockins all go into a big mixing bowl to see who'll come out as a reasonable option.  I'd lean toward Gamble and Severin - Dockins looks to have a lowish ceiling and Gooch has probably already hit his.  And then, of course, the wild card: Jamil Kamara, only recently added to the recruiting class.  Kamara has the talent and potential to upset the hierarchy, but we'll see just by how much.  Zack Jones will probably redshirt, and Andre Levrone will emerge from a redshirt cocoon to be another wild-card contender for at least a few snaps early on.


The coaches may look to bolster the depth here by plucking from another position, or simply by considering incoming freshman Evan Butts a candidate to hit the field early.  Of course, Jake McGee will continue to be around as a pass-catching option, but his blocking still is anything but elite.  Zach Swanson looks like a more all-around tight end, though it's a pity the coaches wasted time running him at fullback and he's only a secondary pass-catching option at best.  There's still a need for a guy like Butts for depth, because Rob Burns is too awkwardly built to be a truly effective blocker and Mario Nixon is an unknown, having been injured all this season.


Uh.  Hmm.  Yeesh.  OK, let's see: Luke Bowanko and Morgan Moses graduate, which is bad news, especially in Bowanko's case because he can no longer be used as a crutch at center.  Bowanko could play anywhere on the interior, but ended up at center more often than not because nobody else proved capable of handling the job.  Ross Burbank and Jackson Matteo will once again be given the chance to win it, and barring something unforeseen it'll have to be one of them this time.

Guard looks fairly well set - not in stone, but maybe in pencil, with Jay Whitmire and Conner Davis relatively likely to stick.  Cody Wallace will be in the picture too, but he's never been able to hold down a position when given one, and like Shepherd is a remote possibility for a non-invite.  (Certainly not at all likely given the depth issues, though.)

At tackle, things are more wide open.  Eric Smith probably earned himself a spot with his play last year, which, when a true freshman is seizing an opportunity like that, is a good sign for the future.  Whether that's at right or left tackle remains to be seen.  The favorite for the other tackle spot may be Sadiq Olanrewaju.

Depth will be an issue.  UVA will have three upperclassmen, total, on scholarship on the O-line, and too few linemen in total.  It won't help if George Adeosun's injury that he dealt with all last season is career-ending, as has been hinted.  We know nothing about what we can get out of guys like Sean Karl, Michael Mooney, Ryan Doull, Jack McDonald, but we're going to have to find out because most will be on the two-deep somewhere.  There'll be competition from incoming freshmen Will Richardson (assuming his commitment sticks), Steven Moss, and Jacob Fieler, the latter of whom will be at spring practice, but the best-case scenario probably does not involve any of them overtaking the more veteran players.  Most likely: one of them probably will.

In any case, this equivalent post last year was hard on the O-line for its play in 2012 and pessimistic about 2013.  Nothing happened this year to make me think I was wrong in my pessimism, nor change that outlook for next year.  There may be some improvement in places - Smith and Whitmire look like potential bright spots.  Davis has probably peaked, however; one tackle spot is a total unknown; and the two candidates at center (only the most important position) already failed once to lock down the job.  If one of Burbank or Matteo can leapfrog forward and really, I mean really, seize the job, the outlook will improve a lot, but the pace of their development - Burbank has been groomed for this for a while - is not encouraging.  I don't need to say that how the line shapes up will determine a lot - they and the quarterback will hold Mike London's job in their hands.


Defense is next week.  Watch as I harangue on the lack of depth on the line and over-depth in the secondary.

1 comment:

pezhoo said...

I agree, the OL is a huge concern. We couldn't get a yard when we needed one to save our lives and you look at the depth chart and cross off Bowanko and Moses and go, "oh-oh." Usually there is a guy or two you look at and say, "We'll be okay there, the other positions need to shape up but we'll be okay in those two spots." There isn't one spot I feel like that for next year. Which probably means it won't matter who plays QB and Parks will be getting hit behind the line of scrimmage a lot. Which is a shame, he deserves better. All that leads to a 3-9 season or some such bullsh*t and your countdown clock is right on target. What a mess, that will be the highlight of the season. God I hope the hoops team beats FSU Saturday.