College football teams all over the country will begin fall camp this weekend, and even the best of them have questions to answer.
Virginia opens camp on Friday with its sights set on a third-straight bowl game and its first 10-win season since 1989. Here are 10 questions the Cavaliers ponder as they prepare for the season opener on Aug. 31 at Pittsburgh.
Who will be the right tackle?
Barring any more injuries, the starting offensive line on opening night will looking something like this: Ryan Nelson at left tackle, Chris Glaser at left guard, Victor Oluwatimi at center and Dillon Reinkensmeyer at right guard. But graduate transfer Alex Gellerstedt’s knee injury leaves the job at right tackle wide open. The most likely candidates are sophomore Bobby Haskins (6-7, 285), who saw snaps last season but missed spring ball with an injury, and fellow second-year Ryan Swoboda (6-10, 300), who briefly moved to tight end last fall and got the bulk of the snaps at right tackle this spring.
Who will be the go-to receiver?
The easy answer is Hasise Dubois. He’s a big-bodied receiver who is perfect for underneath routes and in red zone situations. Joe Reed has the explosiveness to be QB Bryce Perkins’ first option on deep routes, and with as much as the Cavaliers relied on Olamide Zaccheaus last season in the slot, Tavares Kelly may be primed for a big sophomore campaign. Don’t be surprised, though, if once he returns from a foot injury, graduate transfer Dejon Brissett gets the bulk of the targets. He’s a seasoned route runner, who has the athleticism and quickness to play in the slot and the size to compete outside the hash marks.
Is it Kelly’s job to lose in the slot?Another simple one. Yes. He was indecisive at times last season, as any true freshman would be, but Taveres Kelly is one of the fastest players on the roster, and his route running improved late last fall. He’s almost always going to be the smallest player on the field, but he didn’t shy away from contact last year and his pure athleticism gives the coaches too many options in the running and passing game to keep him off the field.
Who will be the top pass rusher?Charles Snowden is a safe bet, but he did some of his best work last season in pass coverage. Noah Taylor and Elliott Brown are also lanky edge rushers, who are the most likely candidates to start opposite Snowden. This spring, Taylor was one of the team’s most productive players, according to head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold said he has gained almost 15 pounds since last season and now checks in at 6-5, 219.
Who will shine in the secondary?Safeties Brenton Nelson and Joey Blount both fly to the ball and should put up plenty of tackles, but Blount seems more comfortable in pass coverage. In 2017, Nelson was the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Last season, Blount tied for third on the team with 65 tackles and second with two interceptions.
Can Mike Hollins win the starting RB job?He has a long way to go before running out of the tunnel as the starter, but all signs currently point to yes. Hollins was a bowling ball of a running back in high school. Last fall, he was the MVP of the Louisiana Class 3A, Division II state championship game with 237 rushing yards and five touchdowns. That’s after putting up 1,408 yards and 29 touchdowns during the regular season. His strength and athleticism have already caught the coaches’ attention, and with the depth the Cavaliers have in the backfield, he won’t have to carry the load, which leaves many freshmen broken down late in the season. The future is bright.
Who starts at CB opposite Bryce Hall?Darrius Bratton has impressive size and speed, and he showed the coaches enough to earn a couple starts early last season while Tim Harris was still on the mend. Nick Grant is in his fourth year in the program, and he saw a lot of reps this spring. Beyond that, there isn’t much in the way of experience, but Germane Crowell, Joseph White and Myles Robinson will compete for snaps.
Can DL Jowon Briggs earn a starting job?Virginia’s coaches know exactly how big of an ask it is for an 18-year-old to step right in and compete in the ACC’s trenches. They did it just last year with Jordan Redmond and Aaron Faumui. Briggs does have the physical tools, and he’s the highest rated recruit Mendenhall has landed in Charlottesville. Whether or not he starts, he’s going to see the field.
How big is DE Richard Burney’s return?In the first couple games of last season, Burney was hands down the most disruptive defensive lineman on the roster. But after week three, he missed the rest of the season with an undisclosed medical condition, and he was held out of spring ball. He hasn’t seen a live snap since Sept. 15, 2018, but if he can return to the form he showed in last season’s opener against Richmond, Virginia’s defensive line rotation will be stronger than it has been in the better part of a decade.
Which new receivers will play first?Given his experience and the fact that he’s healthy, Arizona State graduate transfer Terrell Chatman is the safest bet. At 6-4 and 190 pounds, he has the physical tools to be productive, and in his last year of eligibility, he’s motivated to leave his mark. Brissett will see the field when he returns from offseason foot surgery, and freshman Dorien Goddard — a January enrollee — has the size and athleticism to compete on the outside. He has dealt with his share of injuries in the last year, but sophomore Ugo Obasi showed the coaches enough last season to earn some snaps, and he should compete for some this year.