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What do Bronco Mendenhall’s comments mean for the UVA quarterback competition?

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Reading between the lines, Benkert may have the edge

Yesterday we shared Bronco Mendenhall’s comments about how the quarterback position—and the offensive line, and the schedule—was “mismanaged” under previous head coach Mike London. The interview with Doug Doughty had plenty of red meat for UVA football die-hards.

But could it have also shed light on the most pressing question in every Cavalier’s mind: who will start at quarterback come September 3rd?

Here’s the relevant quotation in its entirety, with the most intriguing bits emphasized.

“I think, in general, the quarterback position at UVa has been probably the biggest mismanaged position in the program,” Mendenhall said. “This is just an objective assessment in terms of not only who has been chosen to play the position but in the succession planning for the position.”

UVa had three scholarship quarterbacks in the spring — the two rising fifth-year QBs and Nick Johns, a freshman who was redshirted last fall and left the program after Benkert’s transfer became official.

“You’re talking about a guy [Benkert] that has two years to play and that bridges a gap,” Mendenhall said. “We’re not just talking about this year’s team. We’re talking about roster management and succession planning so we always have a great quarterback.

“We wouldn’t have considered [a quarterback] who only had one year remaining. That would have made no sense.”

And then, in the context of discussing the offensive line, Mendenhall said this about the style of quarterback play they’re hoping for.

“As soon as a quarterback shows some mobility, stress is taken off the offensive line. Plays can be extended. Points can go up. After assessing our two quarterbacks in the spring, we were looking for a mobile option. That’s not at the expense of throwing the football. It means we wanted both.”

Let’s break this down, statement by statement.

“Who has been chosen to play the position”

This is the closest Mendenhall ever comes in the interview to a direct indictment of Matt Johns. It’s equally as possible that Mendenhall is speaking historically: the Lambert-Johns decision last year, or the Rocco-Simms debacle in 2012. Maybe it has something to do with moving Brendan Marshall—a three-star QB with a prototypical NFL frame who led Good Counsel to a top-50 national ranking—from quarterback to tight end.

But if Mendenhall is speaking in the immediate present tense, it has to be bad news for the incumbent starter.

“We wouldn’t have considered a quarterback who only had one year remaining.”

I would guess this is Mendenhall answering a question that was something to the effect of, “Why Benkert?” But if bringing in a new quarterback with only one year to play in the program “made no sense,” that seems to apply to choosing which quarterback to play as well.

Johns and Brewer are both in their last year in Charlottesville, barring some astronomically bizarre occurrence that probably involves missing the season with injury. Benkert, by contrast, has two years left (and the possibility of a third, if his 2015 absence due to a knee injury could warrant him a medical redshirt).

Starting Benkert in 2016 would presumably give Virginia two years with him as a starter, handing things off to a junior (Sonny Abramson or Divante Cross) or blue-chip sophomore (Lindell Stone) upon his graduation. That sounds more like the “succession planning” Mendenhall says his predecessors got wrong.

“We were looking for a mobile option.”

At the final VAF social of the spring in Charlottesville, Mendenhall identified Benkert’s “run/pass threat” as his strongest characteristic. He also praised Johns’s “leadership” and Brewer’s “accuracy.” But in Sunday’s interview, Mendenhall didn't say they were looking for a “leadership” option or an “accurate” option. A mobile option “that’s not at the expense of throwing the football.” To me, that’s synonymous with a “run/pass threat.”

Without a doubt, the competition will run through camp in August, and the starter will earn the first-team spot. But if you were laying money on who’s going to start, the smart dollars would seem to be with Benkert.