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Spring practice ends with some answers, many questions for Virginia football

Roster still shows signs of flux heading into year three under Mendenhall

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The final Saturday of the spring practice period played perfect host to the Virginia Cavaliers’ final practice. April sunshine drenched the field at Scott Stadium for a live-action scrimmage in front of the Hoos’ most diehard fans.

It also shed some light on where the UVA roster stands with the 2018 season just over the horizon.

Shortly after the game, head coach Bronco Mendenhall named Bryce Perkins the official starting quarterback going into summer conditioning and fall camp. Perkins—a JUCO transfer who started his career at Arizona State—flashed game-changing athleticism on several long runs during the final practice, a promise of new offense to come.

No other starters got an official nod like Perkins. But here is how the starting lineup could shake out for Virginia this fall.

QB - Perkins
RB - Jordan Ellis
FB/BB - Jamari Peacock
X WR - Terrell Jana
Z WR - Joe Reed
H-back/Slot WR - Olamide Zaccheaus
LT - Chris Glaser
LG - R.J. Proctor
C - Jake Fieler
RG - Marcus Applefield
RT - Dillon Reinkensmeyer

DE - Richard Burney
DT - Eli Hanback
DE - Mandy Alonso
OLB - Chris Peace
ILB - Jordan Mack
ILB - Rob Snyder
OLB - Malcolm Cook
CB - Bryce Hall
CB - Tim Harris
FS - Brenton Nelson
SABRE - Juan Thornhill

Some storylines to watch through the offseason:

  • Deepest position group: Defensive backs. Picking four starters out of the current DBs is tough. Hall and Harris have the experience that one expects them to get the nod on the edges, but Germane Crowell received rave reviews from the coaching staff as a true freshman before going down to injury. Joey Blount played well as a freshman safety, and may be the long-term heir to Quin Blanding. Look for incoming freshman Jaylon Baker to get in the mix somewhere as well.
  • Shallowest position group: Defensive line. Already thin after losing Juwan Moye and Steven Wright to off-season disciplinary issues, the #silverbacks lost another man this spring in tackle James Trucilla. Mendenhall announced Saturday that Trucilla is being forced to retire from football due to medical issues. That leaves Eli Hanback as the incumbent starter in the middle. Tight end-convert Burney has impressed through spring practice and Alonso shined in his freshman campaign (especially against Georgia Tech). The three freshman defensive linemen—Samson Reed, Jordan Redmond, and Aaron Faumui—better get up to speed quickly, as they’ll all likely be called upon this year. Adding transfer Dylan Thompson from Ohio State certainly helps.
  • Starters that are most locked in: Offensive backfield. Perkins is QB1; that’s easy. Jordan Ellis is almost as certain to be RB1, and do-everything back Zaccheaus will be on the field as often as his stamina will allow. A stellar sophomore season by Joe Reed has his role in the offense nearly as cemented as OZ’s. And Peacock is the only scholarship player listed as a fullback. The fight for playing time in the rotation should come down to running back, with PK Kier, Chris Sharp, and Lamont Atkins all vying for snaps. Hasise Dubois will be a major player at wideout, too, and three freshman receivers will keep pressure on the upperclassmen.
  • Least locked in: Offensive line. OL coach Garrett Tujague had a great quip in the lead-up to the 2017 season when asked how he picked a starting five: “Throw five gold coins in a room and lock them all in together; whoever comes out is a starter, and you just hope one is a center.” After two seasons of a chewing-gum-and-baling-wire approach along the line, things are a bit better for Tujague’s pupils—but not much. Fieler and Reinkensmeyer hold the majority of all the returning starts among their peers, and both have played multiple positions. Glaser played in spots as a freshman and has flipped between left and right tackle. Proctor and Applefield seem like the most likely starters at guard, but which guard is anyone’s guess. Behind those five, Ryan Nelson and Tyler Fannin were two of the stalwarts in the 2017 signees; their beanstalk classmate Ryan Swoboda has also bulked up enough to add playable depth at one of the tackle spots.

Check out these highlights and comments from Coach Mendenhall: