For the last few seasons, Virginia fans have gotten used to being able to watch their Hoos on the practice field for a few muggy days in August. Although the weather was more forgiving this year, the competition on the field was no less heated.
After the final open practice closed this Sunday, we look at three big storylines leading into the 2015 season.
Transfers are going to be a big deal
The spring game showed us that former UNC WR T.J. Thorpe is going to have a big role in the Cavaliers' offense this season, and QB Connor Brewer and RB Albert Reid have drawn plenty of curiosity in the offseason. But one less heralded transfer may make as big a mark as any of them: TE Charlie Hopkins.
Hopkins transferred from Stanford, which is renowned for its dominant tight end play. Given the Hoos' mighty struggles to open up running lanes last season, the expectation is that Hopkins, at 6'6 and 255 pounds, will add some grit to the Cavalier running game.
But at practice this past weekend, Hopkins also flashed some big play receiving ability. According to Jeff White, Hopkins hauled in a long pass down the sidelines from Brewer that set his teammates abuzz. Wahoo fans are no stranger to a heavy dose of tight end in the offense. If Hopkins can bring to U.Va. some of what Zach Ertz or Coby Fleener did for Stanford, the Hoos may follow their big fella straight to a bowl game.
We may know who our offensive linemen are
Part of the problem with the running game last year was the inconsistency of the offensive line. A position that is traditionally a strength at Virginia was plagued by injuries and inexperience in 2014. By all appearances, the coaches are focused on creating more stability in the offensive trenches in 2015.
Jamie Oakes reports that the offensive line ran in the same two groups of five on Sunday that it has throughout early practices. The first line is LT Mike Mooney, LG Ryan Doull, C Jackson Matteo, RG Ross Burbank, and RT Jake Fieler. That puts three juniors and a senior on the starting line. The lone underclassman, redshirt freshman Fieler, has a bit more experience than other players his year, having taken a post-grad year at FUMA; he also has a SWEET haircut.
The second line has been LT Jay Whitmire, LG Jack McDonald, C Eric Tetlow, RG Sean Karl, and RT Eric Smith. The big surprise here is Smith on the second line, after a sophomore season in which he started all 12 games and a 2013 freshman campaign that led to several national freshman All-American honors. If Fieler has in fact beaten him out for the starting gig, that speaks volumes to the kind of lineman Fieler is and could become.
Don't expect a youth movement in 2015
The depth chart coming out of the spring featured only one true freshman on the two-deep: OLB C.J. Stalker, who was second at Will LB behind Zach Bradshaw. Stalker is now running with the first-team, joining Bradshaw on the outside with Micah Kiser in the middle.
Aside from Stalker, none of Virginia's true freshmen look like they will make a big impact this season. This is in part because transfers in filled some gaps in the U.Va. depth chart, and in part because the pains of the past two seasons have been growing pains. Lots of players return this season for the Hoos. Here's hoping they've taken a step forward—individually and as a team—that will result in better on-field success.