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Virginia Football: Projecting The Depth Chart On Offense

Who gets the first snap against Richmond? Here’s our projection of the UVA offense.

Virginia v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Wednesday marked the end of fall camp for the Virginia football program. With their starting quarterback in tow, the Cavaliers will shift their focus to the season opener. Here’s our current projection of the depth chart with 9 days left before kickoff.

In today’s column, we’ll take look at the offense. Later editions will address the defense and special teams. We should see an official depth chart from the team next week. Until then, here’s our best guess.

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Starter: Kurt Benkert

Backup: Matt Johns

Others: Connor Brewer

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall made it official yesterday: Kurt Benkert will be the team’s starting quarterback for week 1. Mendenhall mentioned that Johns and Brewer will be listed as OR on the depth chart, meaning that the backup position is still unsettled. We think it’s likely that Johns will win that role. For one thing, he’s much more experienced and has experience coming off the bench. Brewer hasn’t played much since 2011 and isn’t quite as mobile as Johns. Brewer may have a better grasp of this offense, since it is similar to what he ran at Arizona. As Mendenhall alluded to on Wednesday, it’s possible that multiple QBs get snaps this year, depending on injuries and performance.

Running Back

Starter: Taquan Mizzell

Backup: Jordan Ellis

Others: Daniel Hamm, Albert Reid

Though “Smoke” Mizzell is unquestionably the starter, look for all 4 primary RBs to see significant action. Smoke is such a good receiver that he’ll likely split out wide on some plays, allowing another RB to get onto the field. One could make a case for all 3 of the reserves as the “primary” backup. We’ve listed Ellis there because he’s the biggest RB and the most likely to be used regularly in short-yardage and goal line situations.

Virginia Media Relations

Tight End/H-back

Starter: Connor Wingo-Reeves

Backup: Evan Butts

Others: Richard Burney, Brendan Marshall

We’re interested to see how this group of players fits into offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s offense. Everyone listed here is capable of providing mismatches, but it remains to be seen how often they’ll be used. In a traditional Air Raid, we may see Butts and the other TEs used as WRs from time to time, but a true H-back is probably a situational player in this offense. However, Wingo-Reeves fits the role well. He’s a good blocker, he’s big enough to handle blitz pickup and he’s also capable of making some plays happen in the passing game.

Virginia Media Relations

Wide Receiver

Starters: Olamide Zaccheaus, Keeon Johnson, David Eldridge

Backups: Doni Dowling, Andre Levrone, Warren Craft

Others: Joe Reed, Tanner Cowley

Look for UVA to be in a 3-WR formation a lot this season. The ‘Y’ (or slot) receiver will be Zaccheaus. That is the most “set in stone” of the 3 positions, as OZ may be the most dynamic player on the team. The ‘X’ receiver, who is often the most possession oriented guy, will be Keeon Johnson. He’s a polished route runner, he’s big and he’s got good hands. The ‘Y’ is often the big play guy, and that will be Eldridge, who may be the fastest of all the WRs (yes, including OZ) and also has the ability to go up over the DB and get the ball.

If Levrone can get (and stay) healthy, he’s an option at X, because of his size and hands. Dowling is an option at both X and Y, because he’s big and he also has big play ability. Craft is similar to Eldridge in that he has outstanding straight line speed and big play ability. Joe Reed is a wildcard because of his raw athleticism and big play ability. I don’t expect any other true freshmen WRs to play. Finally, Cowley could be a very useful possession receiver.

Keep in mind that the X, Y and Z receivers are a guideline and those guys could move around depending on the formation. Just because OZ is the primary option at the slot receiver doesn’t mean he won’t line up on the outside on some plays. Anae will show different looks depending the situation, the play, and the personnel.

Another thing to consider is that the TEs and RBs will be used as WRs at times. Smoke, in particular, will get looks as a slot receiver (especially in 4-WR sets). Butts, Burney and Marshall are all big guys with good hands who will be used in the ‘X’ role at times.

Virginia Media Relations

Left Tackle

Starter: Jack English

Backup: Michael Mooney

Others: Jake Fieler

English and Mooney are battling for the starting gig. Mooney had been the starter for the previous 2 years, but he got hurt last year and English played well in his stead. This could go either way, with English being the favorite because of his performance in training camp and because he has another year of eligibility remaining.

Fieler is going to be a utility type OL who could step in at any position if needed. But he’s more likely to be used on the interior of the OL than at OT.

Virginia Media Relations

Left Guard

Starter: Sean Karl

Backup: Jake Fieler

Others: Steven Moss

Karl finally made it onto the field for extended run last year and played reasonably well. Now a senior, Karl is hoping to increase his impact on the team. He’s facing a good fight from Fieler.

Moss is still getting up to speed, but he’s looked good in training camp and could be an option if the Hoos have to deal with any injuries on the OL.

Virginia Media Relations


Starter: Jackson Matteo

Backup: Jake Fieler

Others: R.J. Proctor

As a senior, Matteo is the unquestioned leader of the OL. He snapped the ball on every single play UVA ran last year and would likely have done the same in 2014 had he not suffered a foot injury. He’s a good run blocker and pass blocker, but his real strength is reading the defense and communicating with the rest of the OL. He may be the most important player on the offense, and that includes the QB.

Yes, Fieler is the primary backup here, simply because nobody else is ready. That said, Proctor has a lot of potential and could be in the mix should Matteo need to miss extended time.

Virginia Media Relations

Right Guard

Starter: Jack McDonald

Backup: Jake Fieler

Others: Steven Moss

McDonald started twice last year and entered the off-season as the leader for this position. He’s had a solid camp, and he looks poised to own a key interior OL spot for the next 2 years. Fieler is the primary backup here as well, with Moss being called upon if the Hoos have to deal with injuries on the OL.

Virginia Media Relations

Right Tackle

Starter: Eric Smith

Backup: Michael Mooney

Others: Jake Fieler

Smith has started the past 32 games for the Hoos, a streak that doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon. He’s a pre-season 3rd team All-ACC selection. He has an outside shot at being drafted late this coming spring.

If Mooney manages to edge out English at LT, then English becomes the primary backup here. Fieler, again, is the utility guy, but is more likely to be used on the inside, unless circumstances become dire.

Bottom Line

Virginia’s offensive personnel is relatively set, barring injuries or surprises. UVA has dynamic players at RB, WR, and now at QB with the addition of Benkert. If the offensive line can hold together, this could be a dynamic offense that gives headaches to opposing defensive coordinators.