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Virginia wide receivers keeping their message simple

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Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 10:26 pm, Thu Aug 7, 2014.

Keeon Johnson stood a few feet behind Marques Hagans and quietly leaned in on the conversation his position coach was having with three media members.

Day No. 3 of Virginia football camp was over, giving Johnson permission to dash off for one final meal before turning in for the night in his Cavalier Inn hotel room.

But food could wait. The student had to check up on the teacher first.

“We have things that we have to prove and every guy has to continue to show up every day, find a way to get better and do their job,” Hagans finally told the reporter trio.

With that, Johnson grinned, collected his helmet and pads and made his way out of the McCue Center practice area.

“Sorry,” Hagans later said with a chuckle, “they’re holding me accountable, too.”

If you’re looking for bold, bulletin board kind of sound from UVa players this season, don’t stick a microphone in front of a receiver’s face.

They’ve been trained to stick with some variation of one standard line.

Hey 6-foot-3, 210-pound Keeon Johnson, how much of an advantage is it to have size receivers in your group?

KJ: “It gives us a good advantage, but at the end of the day, we’re just out here working hard every day, finding a way to get better.”

Hey redshirt freshman Andre Levrone, you’re off to a good start this camp. How much different is this year than last year?

AL: “It was rough, but things have changed. I’ve matured a year, so I feel better. I’m just out here every day, doing my job, working hard every day, trying to get better.”

Hagans is the instigator of this strategy.

During a pre-camp meeting with his wideouts, UVa’s second-year receivers coach did some role playing.

“We had opportunities to really ask questions as me being the media,” Hagans said. “We had a training [session]. That’s why I’m anxious to read some of these articles to see what they say. If they don’t say it the right way, then there will be consequences.”

Keep it about the team. Keep it cliché.

“We told each other we were going to work hard,” Levrone, a spring game star with four catches, 60 yards and a touchdown, said when asked about the improvements he made during the offseason. “We told each other every day we came out here, we were going to fight the adversity and we were going to find a way to get better, regardless.”

The purpose of Hagans’ policy isn’t to give sports writers less to work with. It’s to send a subtle message to his players.

“I feel like we were at a certain standard last year and until we prove that we’re beyond that standard, then there’s really nothing for us to talk about,” Hagans said. “We have things that we have to prove and every guy has to continue to show up every day, find a way to get better and do their job.

“So that’s where that comes from. And it’s not to punish them, but until we do something, that’s what you’re going to get out of me and that’s what you’re going to get out of them.”

Virginia finished 10th in the ACC in passing offense last season, generating just 211 yards per game.

Tight end Jake McGee led the team with 43 catches. Of receivers, Darius Jennings was first with 38 grabs for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

Duke’s Jamison Crowder led the ACC with 108 grabs. Combined, it took UVa’s top six receivers — Jennings, Tim Smith, Johnson, Dominique Terrell, Kyle Dockins, Canaan Severin — to reach that amount.

“The production kind of speaks for itself,” Hagans said. “Where we finished as a team, where we finished in the passing game and the lack of completions we were able to contribute to the offense. So there’s been a lot of thinking in the offseason.”

The Cavaliers’ post-spring depth chart listed Johnson, 6-3 Dockins and 6-3 Miles Gooch as the starters.

But the first week of camp has provided numerous groupings for quarterback Greyson Lambert.

Everyone from Jennings, a 5-11 senior, to Doni Dowling, a 6-1 true freshman, is into the mix.

“There’s no starters, there’s no twos, there’s no threes,” Hagans said. “It’s just a bunch of guys ...”

Bunch of guys showing up every day, working hard and doing their job?

“I’m telling you,” Hagans proudly stated with another smile, “it’s going to get redundant.”

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