With few Virginia position battles left to be decided by game week, Monday’s depth chart revealing wasn’t thought to offer many surprises.
So when star junior Jake McGee was listed as the third tight end, it gave reporters an easy opening question for UVa head coach Mike London during a press conference held at John Paul Jones Arena in advance of Saturday’s opener with BYU.
“I wouldn’t put too much into that,” London said. “ ... Trust me, Jake will play and play a lot. He’s one of our best players.”
London attributed the McGee move-down to the multiple formations each of his tight ends — Zach Swanson and Rob Burns, included — will be put in on certain plays.
McGee did, however, miss portions of preseason camp with a shoulder stinger.
“It’s been progressively getting better and better,” London said. “Jake has participated in the last three, four practices with full pads. His development continues to keep getting stronger, and as I said before, he’ll play. He’ll play in the game because he has a skill set that we definitely need.”
In 2012, those skills were on display on the receiving side — 28 catches, 374 yards, five touchdowns — but didn’t appear much from the blocking angle.
After an August with new position coach Tom O’Brien, how much has McGee improved in that category?
“We’ve got to require our tight ends to block and I think Jake will get better at that,” London said. “I think Zach and Rob Burns have done nice jobs when they’ve gone in, when their numbers have been called. But we’ll expect all three of those guys to help us.”
Burbank wins center battle
Redshirt sophomore Ross Burbank beat out redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo to start at center, ending the most intriguing position competition of camp.
Burbank appeared in all 12 games last season, getting the majority of his reps at right guard.
Now, he’s the first-team center where he’ll first match up with Eathyn Manumaleuna, BYU’s 6-foot-2, 305-pound nose tackle in the Cougars’ 3-4 defense.
Burbank will be in charge of the line calls — still with the assistance of veteran guard Luke Bowanko.
“I feel real comfortable making the calls,” Burbank said. “It’s great to have a guy like Luke right next to you, who’s been there and has played a lot of football games.
“Even when I was a first-year, learning from guys like him and Anthony Mihota, when he was here, I feel like we jell pretty well.
“I feel comfortable making the calls up-front.”
Matteo entered camp as the No. 1 center, but missed time due to an “upper body, torso” injury.
“He can make the line calls and protection calls,” London said of Burbank, a 6-foot-4, 290-pounder. “His knowledge of the game has increased.
“Ross has been a very pleasant surprise for us and has put himself in a position to be a starting center for a college football team.”
Freshmen in the mix
Six true freshmen — left tackle Sadiq Olanrewaju, right tackle Eric Smith, fullback Connor Wingo-Reeves, defensive tackle Donte Wilkins, strong-side linebacker Zack Bradshaw, cornerback Tim Harris — are listed second on the depth chart. Running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is third behind Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd.
How many rookies will lose the redshirt?
“There’s about seven freshmen that I think have put themselves in position to play in terms of depth or in terms of skill level,” London said. “We’ll try to get them as much time as needed to bring them along.
“It’s a long season, but at the same time we all know that things happen to players and you’re always an injury away from being the next guy in.”
Darius Jennings and Shepherd are listed 1-2 as kick returners. Mizzell is third. ... Dominique Terrell is first at punt returner. ... Bowanko, defensive end Jake Snyder and safety Rijo Walker, three-eighths of this year’s senior class, have been elected captains.