Four weeks into the season, there isn't a whole lot to complain about if you're a Virginia fan. The Wahoos are 2-2 and have played better than most everyone expected. Areas of concern in the preseason -- the offensive line and the quarterback -- have turned into areas of competence. And potential bright spots -- the defensive front and the wide receivers -- have exceeded expectations thus far. All in all, there's not much to nitpick.
One area that has been interesting to watch has been Virginia's use of redshirts. Only four true freshmen have played this year: safety Quin Blanding, defensive tackle Andrew Brown, and wideouts Doni Dowling and Jamil Kamara. But with Kamara and Brown barely seeing the field so far, there's been a bit of nervous message-board chatter about whether their redshirts were burned wisely.
At least some of the angst, in my opinion, comes from the perception that Virginia's coaches under Mike London have been a little looser with playing true freshmen than they should have been. But I don't think history bears that out. A common line of thinking among the pro-redshirt camp is that a player will perform better during his fifth year than during his first. But while London and Co. have played a lot of true freshman, they've put them to good use in most cases. Let's take a look.
In 2010, London redshirted almost the entire freshman class in order to help build depth for the future. Morgan Moses and Rijo Walker were the only freshmen that played. Moses was an obvious choice because of his potential and because of the physicality he brought to the position. Walker mainly filled in on special teams. Moses played in 10 of Virginia's 12 games and started 6 of them. Walker played in 11 games, missing only one.
London and his staff played many more true freshmen (12 total) in 2011. But for the most part, they used those players quite a bit. Demetrious Nicholson, Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell, Clifton Richardson, Brandon Phelps, Anthony Harris and Kameron Mack played in all 13 of Virginia's games. Nicholson started them all. Daquan Romero, David Watford, DJ Hill and Thompson Brown also played in double-digit contests. Only Kelby Johnson, who played in 4 games that season, raises an eyebrow. But it's important to remember that the 2011 class had a bedrock feel during signing day as it was loaded with talent and depth. It's not surprising that London wanted to get it on the field as much as possible.
The 2012 season saw Virginia play 9 true freshmen: Eli Harold, Trent Corney, Mike Moore, Kwontie Moore, Maurice Canady, Canaan Severin, Adrian Gamble, Demitre Brim and Anthony Cooper. LIke the true freshmen who played in 2011, this crop was also used well. All of them played in double digit contests except for Corney, and Harold and Canady became starters by years end.
If there was ever a year to complain about redshirt burning, it was 2013. Virginia played 11 true freshmen: Zach Bradshaw, Taquan Mizzell, Tim Harris, LaChaston Smith, Sadiq Olanrewaju, Keeon Johnson, Donte Wilkins, Max Valles, Eric Tetlow, Eric Smith, and Connor Wingo-Reeves. Unlike the prior two years, only 3 of the true freshmen played in 10 games or more. What's interesting, however, is that 6 of the 11 ended up in the starting lineup at some point during the year:.And 5 of them have started games in 2014. To borrow a phrase from ESPN3's freshest new color commentator, it's like London coached the 2013 season with the 2014 team.
As noted, 2014 has seen a significant decrease in the number of true freshmen being thrown into the fire. That may be a result of the amount of young depth on the Cavalier roster. Whereas many of London's early burned redshirts were used for help on special teams, those spots are now being taken by second-and-third-year players like Wil Wahee, Micah Kiser, and Kelvin Rainey. That should help the pro-redshirt crowd breathe a sigh of relief.
But on the whole, it appears that London and his staff deserve some credit for how they've handled the true freshman they've decided to play. While there are many ways to define "a successful redshirt decision," the evidence makes it hard to say that too many redshirts have been wasted. London's roster management, like everything else during the 2014 season so far, looks a little bit rosier than it once did.