At the end of National Signing Day on February 1, Virginia Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall addressed the media to discuss the newest haul of recruits. He kept coming back to one word—over and over—to describe his 2017 class: “Foundational.”
Fall camp is now fully underway, and that foundation of UVA football’s future is finding its footing. Which #NewHoos are likely to contribute this year, and which ones are more likely going to wait in the wings?
Expect to see...
QB Lindell Stone (Woodberry Forest)
When Mendenhall was at ACC media days, he broke the news that Stone was unlikely to redshirt and was entering camp as QB2. He’s lived up to that heavy burden so far, with offensive coordinator Robert Anae calling Stone one of the smartest incoming freshman Anae had been around. And Stone is putting in the extra work to get himself up to speed physically, as well.
No question, UVA fans would rather see Benkert on the field than a kid who was playing prep ball just last year. But it’s almost impossible for any quarterback to take every snap or throw every pass in a season. If Benkert’s helmet comes off, someone else has to run the next play. If Benkert gets his bell rung, someone else may have to run the next series. And if a game’s way out of hand, the coaches way want to spend some time grooming a quarterback for future use instead of exposing their current quarterback to more injury risk.
Hopefully Stone will see only limited time in 2017. But you can bet he’ll see at least some.
The Early Enrollee Running Backs: TB Lamont Atkins and FB Jamari Peacock
Atkins and Peacock got the added advantage of extra time in the UVA program, having come to Charlottesville in January. They’ll also benefit from turnover in front of them. With 2016’s do-everything tailback Taquan Mizzell off to the Baltimore Ravens, and “big back” Albert Reid also graduating, there are roles to fill in UVA’s running game.
At 230+ pounds, Peacock naturally fits into Reid’s vacated slot, and the only other two players listed on the roster as “fullbacks” with Peacock are both walk-ons. While Atkins will have to fight Jordan Ellis and Daniel Hamm for touches, he should be one of the first options when either of the more experienced tailbacks in front of him need a breather; as the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year in the Commonwealth, Atkins adds an injection of serious talent behind the older guys’ experience.
K/P Brian Delaney
You watched the UConn game last year. You know that UVa’s kicking game in 2016 was...
Punter Nick Conte, on the other hand, was first-team All-ACC. Delaney—the #1 punter and #18 kicker in the 2017 class, according to Kohl’s Kicking—should help pick up the slack left by Conte’s departure, while also giving the kicking game a leg up (pun absolutely 100% intended).
Don’t be surprised to see...
OT Ryan Nelson
Nelson was the only player among Virginia’s 2017 signees that 247Sports rated as a four-star prospect. But Nelson’s weight was something that could have held him back from contributing much early on: he played most of his senior year around 280 pounds, which was his listed weight on signing day. That’s big, but not really Power-Five-starting-offensive-lineman big.
This is from OL dinner at Coach Tujague’s house tonight pic.twitter.com/txcVcVczKJ— PMW (@pmwcville) July 12, 2017
The official roster lists Nelson at 290 pounds. If Nelson has added the quality bulk to hold his own against ACC defensive linemen, he could be in line for a rotation or backup spot along an offensive line in need of more depth.
The Outside Linebackers: Elliott Brown, Charles Snowden, and Zane Zandier
Andrew Ramspacher of the Daily Progress wrote a great piece about how attrition in the linebacking corps has opened the door for these three freshmen:
Four linebackers — Naji Abdullah (outside), Eric Gallon (outside), Cory Jones (outside) and Landan Word (inside) — left the program in the offseason, making this position group among the thinnest on the team.
But, as shown in Mack, there’s optimism depth can be formed from freshmen. Elliott Brown, Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier are early names to keep in mind.
CB Germane Crowell
Crowell was one of the top-rated prospects in UVa’s 2017 class, second only to Ryan Nelson. He was also one of the January enrollees, like Atkins and Peacock above (as well as fellow DB Riah Burton). Standing a solid 6-foot-3, and having boasted SEC and Big Ten offers coming out of high school, Crowell brings both size that fits Coach Mendenhall’s scheme and the talent to hang with ACC-caliber receivers.
The only thing keeping Crowell out of the limelight this fall is that he’s joining arguably the Cavaliers’ deepest position group. But the same combination of extra practice time and superb talent that will help Atkins see the field toting the rock should get Crowell at least some playing time, with injuries or surprises opening the door to even more.
Next year, watch out for...
OL Chris Glaser and Ryan Swoboda
Like Nelson, both Glaser and Swoboda were guys whose signing day weights just simply weren’t high enough to log any meaningful playing time. But these guys have all the potential to log SERIOUS minutes for the Hoos in the future. Glaser has a mean streak a mile wide, and should make for one nasty guard. Swoboda—like Elliott Brown and Charles Snowden—is a fairly recent basketball convert, but at 6’10 he projects out as a Alejandro Villanueva-type tackle.
WR Darnell Pratt
Speed. Speed speed. Speedspeedspeedspeedspeed. That’s what Pratt brings to Virginia’s roster. He was a track superstar at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Maryland, and should blow the top off opposing defenses in years to come. He’ll have a year to hone his craft with Coach Hagans behind guys like Doni Dowling and Andre Levrone.
DE Isaac Buell
Anytime your team has a guy nicknamed “The Viking,” you want to find him a way onto the field. Buell should benefit from a year of intense conditioning under Frank Wintrich, which could help him grow from merely scary to truly terrifying. He could slide into the plus-size DE role required in a Mendenhall 3-man front once Andrew Brown and Jack Powers graduate after this year.