It is officially—finally—game week for the Virginia Cavaliers, and coach Bronco Mendenhall released the team’s depth chart ahead of the season opener against Duke.
There is no surprise at QB1, as sophomore Brennan Armstrong has been named the starter for a few weeks. Behind Armstrong, though, is just about every scholarship QB on the team: senior Lindell Stone, transfer Keytaon Thompson, and freshman Ira Armstead are listed as “or” options to back up Armstrong.
Gone from the two-deep is the “big back/speed back” distinction. Wayne Taulapapa is the listed starter at tailback, with transfer Shane Simpson and sophomore Perris Jones as his backups. Tavares Kelly and Hayden Mitchell go one-two at H-back, the Swiss army knife role perfected by Olamide Zaccheaus previously.
The receiving corps does not have many surprises, at least among the starters. Terrell Jana leads all returning Cavaliers in most receiving categories, and St. Francis transfer Ra’Shaun Henry will start opposite Jana; Billy Kemp has the slot role locked down. Behind the starters, though, is the Hoos’ ongoing youth movement: freshmen Lavel Davis (all 6-foot-7 of him) and Demick Starling cracked the two-deep, along with former baseball player Jalen Harrison.
Central Michigan transfer Tony Poljan and former linebacker Grant Misch are both expected to play, including playing together much of the time. They are listed as “or” starters together.
The offensive line, from left tackle to right, goes Ryan Swoboda, Ryan Nelson, Olu Oluwatimi, Chris Glaser, and Dillon Reinkensmeyer. Absent from the two-deep are both tackle Bobby Haskins and tackle/guard Alex Gellerstedt. Tommy Christ has moved from the defensive line back to offense and is among the backups to Reinkensmeyer at right tackle.
There is more returning production on the defensive side of the chart. Richard Burney and Mandy Alonso have long been the expected starters at defensive end, with stud sophomore Jowon Briggs getting the starting nod at nose tackle. (Briggs has added 15 pounds since his 2019 playing weight, too.) Other than redshirt freshman Ben Smiley, it’s all newcomers behind them, with freshman Jahmeer Carter backing up Briggs and JMU transfer Adeeb Atariwa playing Alonso’s understudy.
Noah Taylor, Nick Jackson, Zane Zandier, and Charles Snowden are the starting linebackers, with loads of experience behind them to rotate in and keep the Hoos’ pass rushers fresh.
In the defensive backfield, Virginia’s versatility is on display. De’Vante Cross moves from safety to boundary corner, with former wide receiver Darnell Pratt and freshman Elijah Gaines among his backups behind Darrius Bratton. Nick Grant will start as the field corner, with Brenton Nelson playing SABRE and Joey Blount in the free safety role; Blount is backed up by the other JMU transfer, D’Angelo Amos.
The punting competition remains unsettled between Nash Griffin and Brian Delaney. Delaney holds the starting placekicking and kick-off roles, with Griffin set to hold for kicks. Snapping duties will be split again between Tucker Finkelston long snapping for punts and Bryant transfer Danny Caracciolo snapping for kicks.
Billy Kemp is the starting punt returner, with Tavares Kelly and Shane Simpson both in the mix to return both punts and kicks.
All told, six true freshman appear on the two-deep, far fewer than in seasons past.
The Hoos start the 2020 season at 4 PM Saturday from Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.