With Virginia's spring game just a few days away, it's fair to ask the question, what will we learn? I think we'll learn more from dissecting the depth charts in the spring game than from anything that happens in the game itself. Coach Beeznik has already shown that his teams play a very vanilla offense and defense, not diving too deep into the playbook.
One thing that jumps out at you right away is the massive amount of turnover this roster will have to deal with this year, especially on defense. The entire defensive line will consist of new players, with last year's starters all graduating. While it looks like you'll have three new starters in both the linebacking corps and in the secondary. That's a defense returning only two starters. A lot of these new faces are incredibly talented, but raw, with six coming from that monster 2021 recruiting class. The competition for those starting spots has been aggressive, and those battles continue and will likely continue into the summer.
On the offensive side, the turnover is not as extreme, with five players graduating. On that note, here are few questions heading into the new season that this spring game may help decide.
1. Will redshirt freshman QB Jeremy Ellington 6-2 209 (Fr) Pope (Marietta GA) 2.0 of 5.0 [Hybrid] push Junior QB Mike Lucas 5-11 233 Jr Dwight Englewood (Englewood NJ) 4.0 of 4.0 [Pocket]?
Mike Lucas had a phenomenal start to last year, but as the year went on, his numbers went down significantly. In the end, he had a solid overall year, with 3209 yards passing and 25 TDs with 8 INTS, but most of those TDs came earlier in the year. In fact, After week 12 Lucas had 21 TDs with only 1 INT. In the last 3 weeks he had 3 TDs, 5 INTs and he passed for under 200 yards in each game. That's not including the bowl game where he threw for 170 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. Unfortunately, that's what Virginia fans remember, those last four games, particularly the season ending blowout to rival Virginia Tech. The coaching staff has remained tight lipped, but reports have surfaced that Ellington has been taking some snaps with the first team in practice. You gotta think Lucas will start the year at QB, but will Beeznik be tempted to throw the 2021 prize recruit Ellington in there if Lucas struggles? Hopefully we don't find out.
2. How much will the young defense struggle?
We've already talked a bit about all the turnover on the defensive side of the ball. How much will the defense struggle? There is no doubt that the talent is there, but it's not developed. From looking at the depth charts, there may be eight players that are freshmen or sophomores. They are missing some experience. ILB Soldier Brooks 6-4 237 Sr Westfield (Chantilly VA) 5.0 of 5.0 [Mike] will be asked to carry the load, and he'll have to. The only other player with starting experience is CB Jaylin Fulton 5-11 193 (Sr) Saint Albans (Albans, WV) 4.0 of 4.0 [Man Coverage], so this could definitely be a tough year for the defense. Which brings me to the next question.
3. Can the offense carry a poor defense?
That depends on a couple of factors, we already talked about Lucas but what about that offensive line. It's lacking, as they lost their best player to the NFL. I find it interesting that OT Luke Knowles 6-1 303 (Fr) Laney (Wilmington NC) 2.5 of 5.0 [Run Blocking] is on the Orange team (which seems to be players that aren't likely to start). I would bet by the beginning of the season he makes his way to the first team. Even then, however, the OL looks average at best. The team does have some weapons. New JUCO RB Robert Green 5-7 213 Sr Lackawanna (Scranton PA) 4.5 of 4.5 [Speed] will be asked to do a lot, and the receivers look to be a strong point. Virginia will be able to put up some points, but if they go up against a strong defensive front they might get pushed around.
4. Will DE Oluwafemi Okoye 6-5 250 Fr McLean (McLean VA) 2.0 of 5.0 [Contain] redshirt?
He is listed on the Orange team on the depth chart, which is full of guys that you expect to be backups. Beeznik has said that no decision on redshirts have been made yet, but I think they might be comfortable with using a redshirt on Okoye and giving the nod to DE Ibrahim Shaw 6-5 237 (So) Largo (Largo FL) 2.5 of 3.5 [Contain].....for this year.