On the eve of the start of Virginia’s spring practice sessions, here are five position groups (other than the quarterbacks, which we addressed earlier this morning) worth keeping track of in the coming weeks:
Offensive linemen: Coach Mike London said his team’s two main issues heading into spring workouts were its depth at offensive line and cornerback. That depth issue stems in part from injuries and in part from suspensions. Virginia’s offensive line, when healthy, appears to be one of the Cavaliers’ strengths heading into the 2011 season. But right now it’s not healthy. Offensive tackle Landon Bradley (knee, hand) will miss all of the spring while recovering from multiple offseason surgeries, and offensive lineman Morgan Moses will miss the next 1-2 weeks while recovering from mononucleosis. Reserve guard Aaron Van Kuiken continues to suffer from a wrist injury that likely will end his playing career. Also, reserve center Mike Price continues to serve an indefinite suspension for his alleged role in a Jan. 30 physical altercation near James Madison University that involved two other Cavaliers. Look for rising redshirt freshman Cody Wallace to see extended opportunities at center behind starter Anthony Mihota. Rising junior Matt Mihalik and rising sophomore Sean Cascarano will take on bigger roles at tackle, while rising sophomores Luke Bowanko and Billy Cuffee – who is returning to the team after missing the past year for academic reasons – will do the same at guard.
Cornerbacks: The other position London mentioned as being concerned with due to a lack of bodies is cornerback, where the Cavaliers bid farewell to seniors Ras-I Dowling and Mike Price and – for the time being, at least – rising junior Devin Wallace, who also was involved in the JMU incident and is suspended indefinitely. Rising senior Chase Minnifield anchors the group, but several players, including rising sophomore Rijo Walker and rising redshirt freshman Drequan Hoskey, will be afforded significant opportunities to climb the depth chart. Defensive coordinator Jim Reid said Monday that safeties Dom Joseph and Rodney McLeod also may see time at cornerback this spring due to a lack of depth at the position. Virginia will receive an influx of highly-touted freshmen cornerbacks (Demetrius Nicholson, Brandon Phelps) in the fall.
Tailbacks: Rising junior Perry Jones, who finished second on the team in rushing (646 yards) and third in receptions (31) is back. Other than him, Virginia doesn’t have much in the way of experience at this position. Short-yardage extraordinaire Keith Payne has moved on (graduation), as have reserves Raynard Horne (graduation) and Torrey Mack, who had academic issues. Rising redshirt freshman Kevin Parks will push Jones, the incumbent, for the top spot on the depth chart. London said Monday that even though the statures of Jones (5-foot-8, 185 lbs.) and Parks (5-foot-8, 195 lbs.) may be similar, the two backs offer distinct running styles. Jones is shifty and nearly always will find a way to get positive yards out of a run play. Parks is an explosive and powerful runner, “a little stouter in the lower body,” as London put it. London said starting fullback Max Milien also will see reps at tailback this spring in short-yardage situations. It appears the coaching staff wants to see whether Milien can fill the role at which Payne proved highly effective last fall.
Linebackers: There’s been some shuffling throughout the linebacking corps heading into spring practice. Rising junior LaRoy Reynolds has moved to weak-side linebacker after playing most of last season at the strong-side linebacker spot. Reynolds led the team with 66 tackles – including seven for a loss – in 2010. Daquan Romero, who enrolled at Virginia in January after finishing his high school career at Phoebus, will start out behind Reynolds on the depth chart. Rising junior Steve Greer, who finished second on the team in tackles (59) despite starting just one game last season, will start out atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. He’ll be backed up by rising redshirt freshman Henry Coley. Rising senior Aaron Taliaferro played at both middle and strong-side linebacker positions last season, and he will start out the spring atop the depth chart at the strong-side spot. Rising junior Tucker Windle will back up Taliaferro.
Wide receivers: With Kris Burd out for spring drills due to offseason foot surgery and Dontrelle Inman out of eligibility, the Cavaliers will be without their two top wideouts from 2010 during the next month of practices. Reserve Jared Green is no longer on the roster after he elected to transfer out of the program following the conclusion of last season. And rising redshirt sophomore Tim Smith will be limited as he works his way back from an ankle injury that caused him to sit out most of last fall. All that said, the next few weeks will offer rising redshirt sophomore Bobby Smith and rising redshirt freshmen E.J. Scott and Miles Gooch more opportunities to showcase their skills. Gooch spent last season as the scout team quarterback before electing to change positions heading into the spring. The wide receiver position will be bolstered in the fall by the additions of freshmen Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings.