Training Camp Battles

Who will be the QB for the 2011 Virginia Cavaliers? Will it be the Michael Rocco, a coach's son? Will it be Ross Metheny, the lefty who has the longest tenure in the program? What about David Watford, the freshman phenom? And don't forget the wild card, Michael Strauss.

Going into training camp, this is the biggest question in the minds of fans, players and coaches. And obviously, it is the most important decision to be made during training camp. There are, however, other positions up for grabs that must be decided.

After the jump, we'll take a look at these battles, and give you all the particulars.

Free Safety

 
The incumbent
Corey Mosley

The challengersLoVante Battle, Pablo Alvarez, Dom Joseph, Brandon Phelps

Mosley is a 5th year senior, with 3 years as a starter. It isn't easy for a guy like that to get beaten out. But, Mosley had a tough year. He missed some time with injuries, was out of position far too often, and has always had a propensity for committing bad penalties at terrible times. This has opened the door for him to lose his starting spot. At the very least, expect to see other players get increased reps.

Battle and Alvarez are the top two candidates to unseat Mosley. Battle is the closer match to Mosley; but is that a good thing or a bad thing? Battle spent last year playing LB, although almost all of his playing time came on special teams. Battle is a junior, so this may be his last chance to really make an impact on defense. Alvarez looks like a more prototypical free safety, at 6-3 and near 200 pounds. He is rangy and should be good in a 2-deep zone. But, he has no experience on the field at this level, so he might not be ready.

Dom Joseph is also a 5th year senior, which would seem to give him a leg up on the competition, but Joseph has spent his time at Virginia flipping between CB and S, which means he doesn’t really have the experience that you’d expect. Most of his playing time on the field has come at CB. Joseph will definitely get snaps this year, possibly in nickel and dime situations, but don't expect him to be starting at safety.

The true wild card in this discussion is Brandon Phelps. Phelps is a true first year, with dynamic ability. He was recruited as a CB, but with the talent and depth that we have there, it is possible he will see some time this year at S. Like Joseph, I don't expect him to start at safety, but that doesn't mean he won't end up there, especially if there are injuries in the secondary. Whatever happens this year, Phelps future is at CB.

I should note that the depth chart has Battle listed as the backup SS behind Rodney McLeod and Alvarez as the backup FS behind Mosley.

The prediction – Mosley will start the opener, but his playing time will decrease. He may come off the field in substitution defenses, for the more pass oriented players, like Joseph and Alvarez. It shouldn't surprise anybody if Alvarez is starting by the end of the season.

Cornerback

Nicholson_medium

(Right: Demetrius Nicholson // via CavsCorner)

The incumbent – N/A (Ras-I Dowling graduated)

The contendersRijo Walker, Demetrious Nicholson, Brandon Phelps, Dom Joseph, Drequan Hoskey

Obviously, on one side, Chase Minnifield will be starting. This question is not about anybody fighting the preseason All-American for a starting nod, this is for the opposite side of the field. The first thing you notice here is that a couple of these names are also in the running at FS. This is due to the depth issues there, and the fact that we have a glut of CB talent right now. Regardless of who starts, expect all 5 of these guys to see the field this year in some manner.

The leader coming into camp is Rijo Walker, a true sophomore who saw the field last year on defense and special teams. This gives him a big leg up because he should be more adjusted to the speed of the game. Behind him are two incoming freshmen with big time talent. Tre Nicholson was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia, and was rated as one of the top 5 CBs in the nation by every recruiting service I can find. And I mentioned above, Phelps is also a dynamic playmaker at CB, and was rated as a top 20 CB in the nation.

Joseph, as I mentioned, is a senior who has moved back and forth between CB and S, and has never really stuck at either one. Again, figure Joseph to see playing time at both, perhaps in substitution defenses, but don’t expect him to start.

And, there is a wild card in the mix. Drequan Hoskey is a redshirt freshman who might be the fastest guy on the team. He's small, and that will hurt him against bigger WRs, as well as in run support. But if we are playing an opponent with a burner on offense, Hoskey may get some time. Most likely, Hoskey isn’t ready to see the field on defense yet.

The prediction – This one is tough, as there is no incumbent. With Chase locking down one side of the field, teams are going to be attacking the other side. This means you need to have a CB who can handle the physical aspects of the position, but also a guy who can handle the mental aspects. The guy opposite Chase is almost guaranteed to get beaten from time to time, and he can't get down on himself when he does. Nicholson strikes me as the kind of guy with the confidence to get burned and then line up for the next snap knowing it won't happen again. Nicholson is simply too good to keep off the field, and he'll be lining up opposite Chase for the first snaps against William and Mary.

Defensive Tackle

The incumbentsMatt Conrath, Nick Jenkins

The challengerWill Hill

This one is weird. Conrath and Jenkins are both seniors, and both have three full years of playing time. Jenkins is a team captain. And both were relatively productive last year. This question isn't about any problem with Conrath or Jenkins, it is about Will Hill being too good to keep on the sidelines. Hill is a junior who has played in every game in his career, but has seen a grand total of 111 defensive snaps. Still, in just 92 plays last year, Hill had 1.5 sacks, compared to a total of 4.5 for Jenkins and Conrath.

Hill isn’t as big as either Jenkins or Conrath, but he brings a different skillset. He’s much faster laterally, and off the snap. He has better range than both. And he is still big and strong enough to win at the point of attack against interior OLs.

The prediction – Conrath and Jenkins will start the opener, but Hill will be in a rotation and will almost definitely be subbed in on passing downs, as he is simply a better pass rusher than either. By the end of the season, Hill may well be starting over Conrath.

Defensive End

The incumbent – N/A (Zane Parr left school early and entered the draft despite nobody thinking he was NFL ready)

The contenders – Bill Schautz, Jake Snyder

One DE spot is obviously manned by senior Cam Johnson, who has gotten some preseason accolades and looks primed for a huge year. But, when Parr left, a spot opened up on the defensive line that will have to be filled by an underclassman.There are a few fringe candidates beyond the two I've mentioned, but none really have a legitimate shot at starting.

Snyder and Schautz provide two vastly different looks as DEs. Snyder is the more prototypical DE, and was actually recruited to play as a 3-4 DE. Snyder is a big strong guy who can more than hold his own against the run but won't blow anybody away as an edge pass rusher. Snyder's biggest strength is going to be his motor, he will never stop fighting, especially when trying to rush the QB. Snyder's game is a nice complement to Johnson, because he is a strength guy as compared to Johnson's speed and quickness.

Schautz, on the other hand, was recruited as a LB and looks like one. He is much quicker than Snyder, and therefore is a better edge rusher. However, he is giving up nearly 30 pounds to Snyder, and so he will struggle at the point of attack against big OTs. Schautz' strength is going to be getting into the backfield quickly and wrecking havoc. He is more like Johnson as an athlete, although not as big nor as athletic.

The prediction – Snyder is the better bet as an every down DE, because he won't be pushed around as much. He should, at least, be able to occupy the OT and allow the OLBs to make plays. Schautz, however, will almost definitely be used as a rush DE in passing situations.

Middle Linebacker

The incumbent Steve Greer

The challengerHenry Coley

This is the second year in a row that Greer has had to fight for his starting spot, after winning multiple honors as a freshman. Last year, he ended up splitting snaps with Aaron Taliaferro. Despite being on the field less, Greer was more productive. This year, Taliaferro has moved to strong side LB, but there now Greer must face down a challenge from redshirt freshman Henry Coley.

Coley was a highly rated recruit, showing up as a top 50 inside LB by most recruiting services. He has more speed and lateral quickness that Greer, and he is still big enough to meet a RB in the hole and bring him down. Greer obviously has the experience, and has been very productive in his two years so far.

The prediction – Despite the temptation to start the more athletic player, Greer is too productive to be knocked off his perch. Greer will be the starter, but Coley will see snaps, especially in passing situations where his athleticism will be a greater asset. Coley may also see time on the outside, especially if there are injuries to be dealt with.

Tight End

The incumbent Colter Phillips

The challengersJeremiah Mathis , Paul Freedman

For a school that has been known as TE U, we haven’t really had a dominant TE since Heath left in 2004. Last year, Joe Torchia was the unquestioned starter going into the season, but he was hurt after just 4 games, and never returned. So Phillips, Freedman and Mathis all stepped in.

Phillips led the TEs last year in just about every category including snaps. He is the leader going into camp, and the others will need to work hard to replace him atop the depth chart. Of the 3 contenders, Phillips is the best blocker, but that isn’t really saying much. All three are stronger as receivers than as blockers.

Freedman is one of several players on the roster who could’ve really used a redshirt year as a freshman. He seems to be perpetually behind the curve. Freedman hasn’t developed as a blocker as much as you’d like, but he isn’t a liability there. He is probably faster than Phillips, but still needs work as a router runner.

Mathis was on the defensive line going into last year, but transitioned to TE to help fill out the depth chart after Torchia’s injury. He showed a lot of progress there in a short amount of time, even catching a TD against Maryland. Going into this year, Mathis is locked in at TE, and will see playing time there. He isn’t near the blocker that either of the other two are, but he’s more athletic and therefore might be the best pure receiver. If he can improve his blocking to a passable point, he could become a very good TE.

The prediction – Phillips will be announced as the starter, but all 3 will see plenty of snap throughout the season.

Quarterback

Quarterbacks_medium

(Metheny, Rocco, Strauss // via CavsCorner)

 

The incumbent – N/A (Marc Verica graduated)

The contenders – Michael Rocco, Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss, David Watford

Ok, we’ve reached the biggie. Our entire season could ride on this one question. Brian Schwartz took a closer look at each of the 4 candidates the other day.

It is now almost a week into camp, and none of the QBs have distanced themselves from the pack. Every day, it seems like a different guy was best. There is an old football adage that says "If you have 2 quarterbacks, you actually have no quarterbacks." I suspect that if you have 4 QBs, the line rings even more true.

All 4 have their strengths. Rocco comes from a football family, which includes former UVA assistant coach Danny Rocco. Rocco’s father is also a coach. This means that Rocco knows the QB position as well as anybody. He knows the playbook, and he knows what needs to be done. However, he probably has the least amount of physical ability of the 4 contenders. Rocco is also the biggest QB we’ve got, which would help on QB sneaks.

Metheny has the most time in the system out of the 4, and he is also the lone lefty. I’m not sure why that would matter, but it is interesting nonetheless. Metheny is the tallest QB, a benefit considering the size of some of our OLs. Metheny has decent athleticism, but he isn’t really the type to make plays with his legs. He also has an awkward throwing motion, and almost seems to be pushing the ball at times.

Strauss has the best arm of the bunch, and by a wide margin. Strauss is a gunslinger type of QB, who will attempt any throw at any time. This can lead to big plays – for both the offense and the defense. If the light comes on for Strauss, his physical ability will be hard to keep off the field. The problem is, he probably would need to be on the field for the light to come on. And if he is on the field too early, it could spell trouble for the Hoos.

As I mentioned above, the last choice is David Watford. Watford is a physical specimen, even if he's bit small. He is, by far, the most athletic QB of the 4, and the only one who will consistently make plays with his feet. He has a strong arm, and a decent pocket presence. Enrolling in January gives him a bit of a leg up, but he still has a long way to go in terms of learning how to be a QB.

The prediction – With the talent we have on offense (aside from QB, of course) the option here should be the safe one. All we need is a QB who can hand the ball off to our plethora of runners, and get the ball out to our plethora of receivers. For this reason, both Strauss and Watford are out. While both of them provide a skill that the other two do not have, neither of them are going to be able to manage a game the way offensive coordinator Bill Lazor wants. Rocco and Metheny came into camp as the leaders, and remain so. My guess is Rocco starts the opener, but both Rocco and Metheny see equal playing time until and unless one of them separates.

 

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