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This piece is a part of our 2018 football preview. To view other entries in the preview series, click here.

 

Kickoff is just a few days away, and we've spent the last few weeks telling you what we think about the upcoming season. This week, we're turning it over to you, answering your questions, addressing your concerns. We got some great questions from our Twitter followers, and our writers (Seattle Hoo, Robert, Karl Hess, and StLouHoo) are thrilled to jump into them.

 

Question 1: Wither the QB Goeth

Three questions about the QB position... think it's weighing heavily on everyone's minds? 

 

Robert: Not to put the season’s success on one man’s shoulders, but whether or not Bryce Perkins is the real deal will have a lot to do with Virginia’s record this year.  I don’t want to say it all rides on him, because the defensive line will need to step up, the offensive line will need to hold its own, etc. – football is a true team game.  That said, this offense is designed around and for Perkins, and the drop from him to Lindell Stone and Brennan Armstrong is significant.  Short-term, Stone would likely be the No. 2 guy if Perkins went down based on his year experience, camp performance, and the fact that the coaching staff would prefer to redshirt Armstrong.  Still, Armstrong is a better fit for the new offense than Stone, so if Perkins were to miss a significant amount of time, don’t be surprised if the coaching staff decides Armstrong is the guy. 

Regarding Perkins, he is the biggest unknown I can remember in my time around the program.  The coaches on both sides of the ball sing his praise, but neither the fans nor the media have had a chance to see him in even a scrimmage, much less live action.  I think we should expect a shifty, mobile quarterback with as much speed at the position as Virginia fans have seen don the orange and blue.  His arm strength and accuracy are both question marks, but initial indications are that both are good enough.  He is respected by his teammates and the coaching staff, and he’s in absolutely no danger of losing the starting job.  This is truly the season of Bryce Perkins.

Seattle: Robert answered this question fully and I have little to add.  I agree with his take that Perkins is the main key to the season, that we don't know what to expect, and that Lindell Stone is the likely #2 for all the reasons Robert gave.  The only divergence or perhaps clarification I would have is that "shifty" is not how I would describe what I expect his style to be.  I expect to see a more powerful running style.  It's a very small point.

 

Question 2: Curious about Cole

 

Karl Hess: Let's start with what we know. Blackman didn't make the two deep on the initial depth chart for the Richmond game but he did enough to earn a number. 

That sets a sort of a baseline for expectations. For me, that means a back end rotation piece on offense and probable special teams contributor this season. Blackman came to UVA with a rep as a good possession receiver with excellent hands. The Hoos were his dream school and his trainer, former UVA great Billy McMullen sold the program on Blackman's abilities. 

I'd expect Blackman to get a handful of plays each game early in the season as the WR rotation takes shape. What he needs to do is know his assignments, keep a clean sheet as far as penalties are concerned, catch the ball if it comes his way, and probably most importantly show up on film as a plus blocker on running plays.

StLouHoo: I was really excited about Cole at one point. He's a local 804 boy that was one of the first to commit to our 2016 class, June of 2014 (along with Joe Reed), and re-pledged to Bronco 18 months later. He has a nice combination of size and speed, and had some good spring buzz a year ago, but ultimately he's facing an uphill battle into the 2-deep after missing a year to a badly broken leg. He's behind the juniors Reed and Dubois, and sophomores Cross and Jana on the depth chart for those outside WR positions, so he's going to need to either really overachieve or to use someone else's injury to get a sustained opportunity to breakout. Karl makes a good point above about run blocking being an area he may be able to distinguish himself, but I'm just not seeing it given the entire missed year he's coming off of.

 

Question 3: Fan Turnout 

 

Karl Hess: I think those days are long gone save for possibly the rare event due to a marquee opponent visiting. In the time since Scott Stadium was routinely at or near capacity, the culture in America has changed in that people are much less likely to spend several hours traveling in order to sit as a captive audience in a stadium. The alternative uses of time and money are much too vast and accessible. Add in a generation of nothing but losing football and the genie is out of the bottle at UVA which never had a crazed, truly ingrained football culture.

The challenge for the athletic department at UVA is to enhance the real estate and fan experience inside the stadium in such a way that maximizes the attendance of those still open to dedicating an entire weekend day to watching a Wahoo football game in person. Realistically, that probably tops out around 45,000 to 50,000 people per game right now.

Seattle: Let's fill the stadium on Saturday.  Bronco was right: play good football and win games, and people will find it a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Would you come to the stadium to watch this?

The offense Mendenhall and Anae want to run can be exciting and fun to watch when they have their kind of players. Bryce Perkins pulling the trigger, OZ and Joe Reed and company in the patterns? The potential is there.

 

Question 4: Making Special Teams Special Again 

 

Karl Hess: It certainly can't hurt. I'm of the opinion that Coach Brumfield probably has a small impact on the kicking aspects of special teams play. The punters and kickers either have the talent and individual work ethic to improve year over year or they don't. 

Where Coach Brumfield stands to make the biggest impact is on the return and coverage schemes. The kick return operation is already pretty solid with Joe Reed an all conference level kick returner. 

It feels like it's been ages since the Hoos were a constant threat in the punt return game, however. Recently, simply fielding the punt without incident has been the goal. Anything else is a bonus, especially since it feels like opponents' punt coverage teams are waiting to make a tackle as soon as our returner makes the catch.

I'm looking for lots of improvement in the blocking schemes and execution in the return game. Likewise, I'm looking for lots of improvement in schemes and execution in the Hoos' coverage units with a dedicated, experienced special teams coach in the saddle.

Even small, incremental improvements in field position can pay big dividends throughout the course of a game and that's what I'm looking for this season.

StLouHoo: It'll have some impact. Given our poor kicking game in recent years, it's encouraging to see that Brumfield had a freshman all-American who went 19/22 last year. If he does nothing other than fix our place-kicking, then it's a major win. That could easily be the difference in a game or two.

But ultimately, I think the true potential of having a dedicated Special Teams coach will rest upon how much time Bronco decides to devote to special teams practice. Brumfield can work 1-on-1 with the long snapper, the kickers and punters, but special teams are units. 11 players on a kick off, a punt team, a return. Blockers and gunners executing lane assignments and protection schemes. Even with a great kicker or a naturally gifted returner, there are 9 or 10 non-specialists on the field on any special teams play who also play integral roles in the play's success, and for them to be successful as a unit, Bronco needs to turn Brumfield loose on them all for significant portions of practice. If Bronco does, then Ricky is going to be an awesome tool, putting his vision into place and helping us win that third phase. But if instead the coaches only make ST practice a minor event, then Brumfield will be wasted. Unfortunately, we fans don't know how that time is being spent, so we're left hoping that Bronco is giving Brumfield the time he needs.

 

Question 5: Coming out of Hiding 

 

Robert: Among the teams currently in the bottom half of the ACC, I think Virginia has the most upside.  That’s a product of a competent coaching staff, growing depth, and true difference makers (see Olamide Zaccheaus and Juan Thornhill, in particular).  Still, while having Bryce Perkins as Virginia’s first true duel threat quarterback in over a decade is exciting, it remains to be seen how effective he will be at the FBS level.  Likewise, all of that talent in the secondary won’t matter if Virginia can’t at least limit opponents’ ground attacks. 

All of that is to say I think we’ll have a good feel for that answer after week two when Virginia travels to Bloomington for a night contest against Indiana.  That will be a true battle of relatively evenly-matched teams where Bronco Mendenhall and UVa can make a statement and avenge a loss from last season.  That should provide a good barometer of how the new-look offense and revamped defense will look the rest of the season.  That’s a game where a lot of the unknowns should become knowns.  So as of now, I wouldn’t necessarily get your hopes up, but there’s reason for optimism, albeit cautiously. 

Seattle: Come on, don't be afraid of getting excited.  Roughly half the games on the schedule are 50-50s, and only two are beyond a reasonable thought of winning.  The Hoos have exciting playmakers on both sides of the ball, and a new offense that should allow for more consistent ability to move the ball despite a developing offensive line.  Those 50-50 games could turn on a moment of brilliance from OZ, the new QB Perkins, NFL prospect Juan Thornhill, or several other players.  Win total should be in the neighborhood of last season with a real shot at a second consecutive bowl game.

 

Question 6: Breakout Players  

 

Karl Hess: On offense, it feels like PK Kier is going to be that player. With Jordan Ellis a senior, it's time to get his understudy and assumed replacement some meaningful action on the field. Ellis, while a hard worker and grinder, will probably be at his best later into the season with a workload that keeps his legs fresh and without a ton of miles. Enter Kier who has a reputation as a strong, one cut runner that's built like a bowling ball. If that description is accurate and if the interior of the OL holds together, then Kier will open enough eyes during the season that he'll enter 2019 with considerable buzz.

There aren't as many spots open on defense as there are on offense, so the options aren't as numerous. Thinking some time about this answer keeps me circling back to Joey Blount. Blount logged some snaps on defense last year usually as an in game injury replacement or in blowout situations but he made his biggest mark on special teams. He did log one start at corner on the road at Pitt last season.

With a highly competitive group of talented defensive backs on the roster, most of whom returned from last season while adding Tim Harris and Myles Robinson back to the mix, it's going to be difficult for a newcomer to crack the rotation. Blount started behind the eight ball after breaking his collar bone in spring football, but Coach Bronco Mendenhall has praised Blount's work in camp noting that he and returning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Brenton Nelson are in a heated battle for a starting position. That alone gives a hint of Blount's ability and grasp of the defense. Given the amount of snaps nickel and sub packages are on the field these days with spread and passing offenses so plentiful, Blount is going to find his way on the field a lot. And he's going to get noticed for his ability to make plays for this defense.

StLouHoo: Offense is a hard one because, aside from Perkins, most of the starters either featured heavily last year or don't project to break out much this year (and counting transfer OT Applefield feels like cheating). I think there's a real opportunity for Hasise Dubois to be in for a mini-breakout this year. With Andre Levrone and Doni Dowling gone, there's a need for a big outside receiver to step up and be a bit of a safety valve for Perkins this year, a solid downfield "go up and get the ball" kind of target. He wasn't invisible last year, 16 catches for a touchdown over 12 games (5 starts), but he certainly lived in the shadow of Oz, Dowling, and Levrone. I obviously expect us to throw less this year than last we did last season, and Oz, Joe Reed, and Evan Butts could continue to command a lot of targets, but I'm envisioning Dubois earning himself his improved share of the targets this year as well.

Defense has a lot of new faces to choose from, but I'm going to go with DE Richard Burney. The converted TE looked lost last year when pressed into emergency action at the end of the season, but he's earned great reviews for his work over the spring and early summer. A concussion held him out of a lot of August workouts, but he's back atop the 2-deep for the Richmond game, and he's got a lot of great physical tools to work with. The RS Junior may not make a lot of flashy plays this year, instead being an assignment guy that enables linebackers to ultimately collect the stats, but I'm projecting him to be an unsung leader on the defense, a dirty work guy that we ultimately rely a lot on, especially with so many new faces elsewhere on the D-Line.

 

Question 7: Ground and Pound 

 

Robert: I think it improves, and realistically, it’ll have to improve for Virginia to be successful this season. 

Let’s start with the first part.  The offensive line – while still not where it needs to be – is trending upwards in terms of talent and depth, so a stronger push at the line of scrimmage is likely.  That alone should give more reason for hope.  Likewise, with Bryce Perkins presumably becoming a runner than can stretch the field horizontally (aided by pitches and sweeps to Zaccheaus, Lamont Atkins, Joe Reed, etc.), that should also force the defense to spread out and open more inside lanes.

Regarding the second part, Virginia’s offense will run through the ground attack.  I’m not yet sold on Perkins’ arm talent or accuracy – and it’s certainly not to the level of Benkert’s – so while the inside ground attack must improve in general, it also must improve enough that it can bring the passing game along with it.  Perkins might need receivers to be wide open on the RPOs, and linebackers playing closer to the line of scrimmage due to the fear of a ground attack would greatly help that cause.  If the play-action game is a real threat, the offense as a whole will reap the benefits.

Seattle: Robert once again covered this topic well.  The offensive line should be a little better and the quarterback Perkins should make defensive coordinators more aware of the threat to the edges, thinning out the defenses in the middle.  Jordan Ellis is a capable runner whose skill of keeping his feet moving is well-suited to slashing into gaps created by pursuit.  While it should be a bit better, this offense is not built around running between the tackles.  Getting wide and going over the top are the objectives.

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2018 Preview