Virginia football revamps offensive depth chart heading into Ball State game


Virginia head coach Mike London during an NCAA college football game against Oregon, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Charlottesville, Va. Oregon defeated Virginia 59-10. (AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff) (Andrew Shurtleff/AP)
September 30, 2013

Moments after his offense was held to three points Saturday at Pittsburgh, Virginia football Coach Mike London intimated personnel changes would be on the way. On Monday, he followed through, unveiling a revamped depth chart ahead of his weekly news conference.

The Cavaliers will debut a new-look offensive line when they take on Ball State this weekend and London has opened up the competition at wide receiver, with nine players battling for playing time.

“It’s disappointing where we are,” London said Monday about his offense, which has scored just three touchdowns in three games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams and ranks 112th out of 123 FBS teams in total offense. “The facts and the statistics don’t lie.”

In the trenches, starting right tackle Jay Whitmire, a former All-Met from T.C. Williams, has been moved to right guard and freshman Eric Smith will assume Whitmire’s role at tackle. Sophomore Ross Burbank and redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo (Broad Run) will compete to be the team’s starting center this week in practice.

At Pittsburgh, Virginia watched defensive tackle Aaron Donald wreak havoc on right side of its offensive line. The Cavaliers were without their opening day starter at right guard, Conner Davis, because of a hamstring injury and London said he would not be available this weekend. Senior Sean Cascarano, a starting guard a year ago, has been ruled out for the season because of a serious hip injury.

Whitmire has never played guard during his career, but the coaching staff believes his weight (300 pounds) could help protect quarterback David Watford and open running lanes. The team will also change its protection plans to help Smith, a three-star recruit who played center on his high school basketball team a year ago.

“We wanted to shore up the interior part to give us more girth, more strength and allow some protection for David,” London said.

The issues along the offensive line were present a year ago, but the Cavaliers hoped a veteran receiving corps would be a boost with a new offensive scheme and a new starting signal-caller this year.

But senior Tim Smith, and juniors Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell have struggled through the first four games of the season. On Saturday at Pittsburgh, London said Virginia’s receivers had 10 drops.

So the latest depth chart was filled with the word “or” next to each wide receiver spot. Juniors Miles Gooch and E.J. Scott (Good Counsel), sophomores Adrian Gamble and Canaan Severin, redshirt freshman Kyle Dockins and freshman Keeon Johnson will all be given opportunities to earn playing time in practice this week.

Smith, Jennings and Terrell also remain in the mix.

“We’ve gotten to the point that we need to get production from that position, and it’s characterized by the depth chart,” London said. “There’s some taller guys that can go up and get the ball. We need some guys that can get that done.”

Part of the reason the program’s bigger receivers hadn’t found a role yet on offense was due to their slow learning curve with a new scheme, but London indicated that shouldn’t be an issue going forward.

He sounded most encouraged about Johnson, a 6-foot-3 Kannapolis, N.C., native who had been on track to redshirt this season since he did not arrive on campus until the summer. London said strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus calls Johnson,“freakishly strong.”

“Keeon is one of those guys who you’ve seen make remarkable catches against our defense [in practice], and so now we’ve just accelerated his timetable,” London added.

Note: London announced place kicker Ian Frye was dealing with a hip-pointer injury heading into the Pittsburgh game and aggravated it when he kicked a 32-yard field goal late in the third quarter. Frye’s health, London noted, was a reason why the Cavaliers went for it on fourth down three times Saturday rather than settle for field goals. He is hopeful Frye will be available against Ball State.

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