2011 Virginia Preview – Offense
Virginia WR Kris Byrd
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Virginia Cavalier Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Virginia made dramatic strides on offense with coordinator Bill Lazor at the controls. Maintaining that momentum, however, is going to require some heavy lifting. In 2010, the Cavs improved dramatically in every major statistical area, finishing higher than 100th nationally in total offense for the first time in five years. Staying on track will require the development of a new quarterback and replacing key playmakers at running back and wide receiver. The program is auditioning four hurlers, none of whom has ever started a game. Promising news comes from an offensive line that brings back four starters, headed by budding star Morgan Moses. Lazor is again aiming for balance with the ball, keeping defenses on their toes and constantly guessing. That'll only be possible if a steady passer emerges from the pack.
Star of the offense: Junior PK Robert
Passing: Ross Metheny
13-17, 171 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Perry Jones
137 carries, 646 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Kris Burd
58 catches, 799 yds, 5 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Marc
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Tim Smith
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Joe Torchia
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Torchia, 2) Smith, 3) Senior
G B.J Cabbell
Strength of the offense: Receivers and tight ends, the guards,
Weakness of the offense: The quarterbacks, passing game,
running game, the offensive line, red zone scoring,
State of the Unit: Marc Verica might be missed after all. Who'd have thought? The journeyman provided a little spark to the offense a year ago, throwing for 2,799 yards and 14 touchdowns. He leaves a bigger void than expected, a hole the Cavaliers will try to fill with a quartet of inexperienced players. The competition behind center will be the story of the offseason, a wide-open battle that'll likely keep observers guessing right up until the Sept. 3 opener with William & Mary.
Four applicants. One job. The job market is tight everywhere, including in Charlottesville. The only players with experience are sophomores Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny , though neither played meaningful minutes in 2010. Rocco is a 6-3, 210-pounder, a coveted recruit who's quickly adapted to the speed of the game and shows a high football IQ. Metheny made the most of his limited opportunities last fall, throwing for three touchdown passes and 171 yards on 13-of-17 passing. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he's a polished southpaw, who swaps a cannon for accuracy and a quick release.
Redshirt freshman Michael Strauss arrived in the same class as Rocco, but was a little slower on the uptake and never saw the field. A bit of a gunslinger, he's used the offseason to get a better grasp on the offense and beef up to 6-2 and 210 pounds. The longshot of the contenders is 6-1, 180-pound rookie David Watford , who took part in his first spring. An exciting athlete, he still has a long way to go as a passer.
Watch Out For .... the winner of the job to be the quarterback who does the best job of managing the game. Yeah, he'll have to make plays, but he'll also need to be a conservative field general, who limits mistakes and can lead a team. The intangibles will be particularly important in this job search.
Strength: The gift of youth. All four quarterbacks are eager underclassmen, bucking for that opportunity to lead an offense. Generally speaking, they're clean slates and coachable kids, which is precisely what the coaching staff wants to mold between now and the opener.
Weakness: Experience. Youth is a good thing, but it comes with a steep price. The quartet of contenders is painfully inexperienced, which will negatively affect every area of the offense. Inconsistency and mental mistakes are pretty much going to be a given this year.
Outlook: The Cavaliers love their potential at quarterback, but how long will it take to reach the surface and produce tangible results? The upcoming season might be asking too much, but someone will begin providing a glimpse of the future. If the program can anoint someone and watch him develop, it'll qualify as a positive first step.
State of the Unit: Thunder is gone. Lightning is back. One-half of last season's running game returns, but the Cavaliers will be without Keith Payne, who wrapped up his career with 749 yards on the ground and 16 total touchdowns. His physicality and toughness in short yardage will be tough to replace. The ‘Hoos want to establish a presence between the tackles, especially with so much uncertainty in the passing game.
Ready or not, the new workhorse out of the backfield is going to be 5-8, 185-pound junior Perry Jones . Although he lacks prototypical size, he's tougher than most expect, and has the vision and agility to make something out of nothing. In the first extensive action of his career, he rushed for 646 yards and a score on 137 carries. A skilled receiver, he also chipped in with 31 catches for 224 yards and another touchdown.
Beyond the physical talents, Jones will be asked to take on more of a leadership role as well. His backups are rather green. Two of the team's candidates for backup duties, Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd are redshirt freshmen. Built an awful lot like Jones, the 5-8, 195-pound Parks left high school as the all-time leading rusher in North Carolina history. Shepherd is also undersized, a 5-8, 175-pounder, who could wind up having the best hands of the group.
There's no shortage of experience at fullback, where Terence Fells-Danzer and Max Milien are both seniors. A linebacker when he arrived, the 6-1, 240-pound Fells-Danzer is the biggest back and a natural fit for short yardage situations. The 6-0, 215-pound started seven games in 2010, running four times for 45 yards and a score, while catching eight passes for 75 yards. A decent blocker, he's easily the better athlete among the fullbacks.
Watch Out For .... Jones' durability. He'll get help, possibly from Parks, but the expectation is for Jones to be the feature back. Can he physically handle the load? Last season, he only carried the ball more than 20 times in a game once. Yeah, that had something to do with the presence of Payne, but also No. 33's modest stature.
Strength: Pass-catchers. With Jones leading the way, the Cavaliers are flush with quality third-down backs, playmakers who can swing out of the backfield, take a dump off, and beat the defense around the corner.
Weakness: A bona fide between-the-tackles runner. Of the three likely runners to get carries this season, none is north of 5-8 or 200 pounds. Not only will short yardage and durability be potential problems, but Virginia won't have much luck wearing down opposing defenses in 2011.
Outlook: Payne wound up being a revelation in 2010, but his success came as a senior. It's already time to turn the page. While Jones is a worthy successor as the team's most productive runner, the program would prefer to spread the touches out a little bit. The eventual success of the backfield hinges on the running game becoming a collaborative effort so that Jones isn't gassed by November.
State of the Unit: Not unlike the running backs, the wide receivers are splitting up a dynamic duo from 2010. The Cavaliers' top pass-catcher may be back, but Dontrelle Inman will be missed on the outside. He was a big-play receiver, with an ability to stretch the field and bail out the quarterback. He leaves a void in a passing attack that likes to spread the ball around, getting it in the hands of the wide receivers, tight ends, and backs.
Senior Kris Burd is back for one more season to reprise his role as the Cavaliers most dangerous receiver. For the second straight year, he led the team in receptions, making 58 grabs for 799 yards and five touchdowns. The 5-11, 190-pounder had foot surgery in the offseason, but doesn't expect to lose any of the speed or acceleration that's helped make him so dangerous in Charlottesville.
One of the holdovers hoping to offset Inman's production is 6-4, 205-pound junior Matt Snyder, who started only two games, yet caught 30 passes for 393 yards. His catch radius and route running will provide a security blanket to the young quarterbacks. The program is relieved to be getting back 6-0, 175-pound sophomore Tim Smith, a casualty after just two games in 2010. Raw, yet blazing fast, he caught three passes for 28 yards after beginning the year as Burd's backup. Former walk-on Ray Keys is a try-hard athlete, who's always going to give maximum effort. A special team lifer, he caught his first three passes for 53 yards last year.
Never lacking in talent at tight end, Virginia will be talented at the position once again. Junior Colter Phillips earned his second letter in 2010, starting 10 games. Already a solid blocker, the 6-6, 245-pounder, improved as a receiver, catching 18 balls for 155 yards and three scores. Among others, he's joined by 6-5, 255-pound junior Paul Freedman , another versatile tight end who caught eight balls for 98 yards and a score.
Watch Out For .... redshirt freshman Miles Gooch . When he arrived, he was a quarterback. Jump ahead one year later and he's competing for a spot in the receiver rotation. His physical tools are undeniable, a 6-3, 215-pound athlete who simply needs more time at a new position.
Strength: Burd. He has a habit of making everyone around him better, attracting attention from defensive backs and deflecting it from his teammates. He also makes the quarterback's life simpler by finding the soft spot in defenses and catching whatever is thrown in his direction.
Weakness: Depth. While Burd, Snyder, and a healthy Smith form a solid trio, there's uncertainty and a lack of proven players beyond that point. There'll be a lot hinging on the development of underclassmen, as the corps seeks a more consistent rotation.
Outlook: The improvement of the passing game last season had a lot to do with the development of this unit. It's solid, not spectacular, featuring a go-to guy in Burd and quality depth at tight end. In lieu of big plays, reliability figures to be their calling card in 2011.
State of the Unit: After performing marginally last season, the offensive line has a chance to be markedly better this fall. At least that's the plan. Although all-stars are scarce, eight lettermen and four starters return, including one larger-than-life young blocker, who's destined to become the cornerstone in the not-too-distant future.
Start learning as much as possible about sophomore Morgan Moses. He's one of the nation's rising stars among offensive linemen. While only in his second year, he's already begun fulfilling expectations when he was considered one of the country's top prep prospects. A 6-6, 350-pound road-grader, he immediately upgraded the play of the line after he entered the lineup in October, starting games at guard and tackle. The sky is the limit for a young blocker about to shed his anonymity outside of Charlottesville.
Senior Anthony Mihota is back at the pivot for his second year as a starter. A 6-4, 280-pounder, he started all but one game in 2010, flashing good athleticism. The linchpin at guard is 6-7, 320-pound Austin Pasztor, a fourth-year starter for the Cavaliers. He has tackle size and feet to go along with the strong base and heavy hands to be a nasty drive blocker.
Flanking Pasztor at the other guard spot is going to be a work-in-progress for the coaching staff. During the spring, only two scholarship players were at its disposal, 6-5, 320-pound sophomore Billy Cuffee and sophomore 6-6, 285-pound Luke Bowanko . Cuffee has rejoined the team at his own expense after missing 2010 because of academics. Bowanko appeared in five games and 68 plays.
Tackles Oday Aboushi and Landon Bradley both started games for the Cavs last season. The 6-6, 295-pound Aboushi started the first five games of his junior year on the right side before replacing the injured Bradley at left tackle for the final seven games. He's physical, smart, and tenacious, using his size and strength to move the pile. Bradley is working back from a hand injury that halved his junior season. Light on his feet, he's gained plenty of experience over the last two years.
Watch Out For .... Moses to part plenty of defensive lines. He already looks like the next great Cavs lineman, following in the footsteps of D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Branden Albert, and Eugene Monroe. Once he gets comfortable at a position, he appears capable of quickly rising to All-ACC recognition.
Strength: Pass protection. Forget the aggregate numbers from 2010. When Moses became a fixture at tackle, the Cavaliers evolved into a fortress around the quarterbacks. After bending early, Virginia yielded just six sacks over the final 26 quarters, including a stretch of 13 consecutive sackless quarters.
Weakness: Guard. Pasztor is fine, with NFL potential. However, after him, the Cavaliers could struggle, assuming Moses remains at one of the tackle positions. Cuffee wasn't with the team in 2010, and Bowanko lacks snaps. At a minimum depth on the interior will be an issue.
Outlook: There's plenty of hope in Charlottesville that the offensive line could be dramatically improved in 2011. Moses has the potential to be an anchor, and Mihota, Pasztor, Aboushi, and Bradley are capable veterans. The keys this fall will be to stay healthy and develop a few more reliable blockers, especially at guard.
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