Posted: 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013
By Justin Ferber
Mike London released Virginia's depth chart for the season opener vs. BYU yesterday, and it featured 34 underclassmen, more than any other team in the nation. Among those 34, there were 7 true freshmen listed in the two-deep. This number was a little higher than most anticipated, and it seems that later in fall camp, several newcomers played their way into potential playing time.
Two of the first years on the depth chart are featured on the offensive line. Sadiq Olanrewaju and Eric Smith are listed as backups and left and right tackle respectively. As is the case with most freshman on the offensive line, both Olanrewaju and Smith were expected tor redshirt this year. But with some upheaval on the line since the spring, both newcomers seemed to have passed up some more experienced players on the pecking order. It remains to be see whether either of these two will actually receive playing time, as the redshirt designation is only lifted once a player enters a game. The staff may prefer to redshirt them for a year, but if the line is as shaky as they looked at times in the spring, the coaches' hands may be forced.
Another pair of true freshman in line for playing time are in the backfield. Former 5-star running back Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell was always a lock to play this year. The dynamic Mizzell can run the ball, line up in the slot, and serve as a returner on special teams. His pure talent was on display in fall camp, and there is no way the staff can afford to keep him off the field this year. The other freshman back on the two-deep came into fall camp without any of the fanfare that Mizzell had, but seems like just as safe a bet to play at this point. Conner Wingo-Reeves was a late addition to the Cavaliers' 2013 class, and is listed as the 2nd string fullback in Virginia's offense. Wingo-Reeves could have been slotted at linebacker, but with a lack of depth at the fullback spot, the staff decided that would be the better place for him. The Richmond native has apparently picked up the offense pretty well throughout August, and will be featured on special teams as well.
There are three true freshman on the two-deep on the defensive side of the ball, starting with two in the front seven. Defensive tackle Donte Wilkins and linebacker Zach Bradshaw are both listed on the 2nd team. Wilkins, along with fellow freshman Tyrell Chavis, figured to fit into the tackle rotation at the start of camp. Although he is not listed on the two-deep, Chavis could very well end up playing significant minutes this season. Wilkins and Andre Miles-Redmond will spell starters David Dean and Brent Urban in the middle of Jon Tenuta's 4-3 scheme this fall, looking to occupy linemen while speed rushers and blitzers get into the opponents' backfield. Bradshaw's inclusion in the depth chart was a little more of a surprise. Not much was reported on the Damascus native early in camp when practices were open to the media, but Bradshaw passed up redshirt freshman Mark Hall on the depth chart, and is listed as the 2nd-string outside linebacker behind Demetrie Brim. Bradshaw is a great athlete who was recruited by some schools as a wide receiver, and like Wingo-Reeves, could be featured on special teams units this year.
Tim Harris, who we profiled yesterday, is listed as the Hoos' 4th cornerback, along with redshirt freshman Divante Walker. The former Varina High star sat out part of fall camp with a groin injury, but appears to be ready to go for the match-up with BYU on Saturday. Kirk Garner, another true freshman, could see time at the cornerback position as well, and both Harris and Garner received praise from the coaching staff for their camp performances.
It remains to be seen whether or not all seven freshmen listed on the two-deep will end up playing this year, and if others can emerge and earn playing time as the season progresses. There were a few surprises on the depth chart released yesterday, and it seems to be an indication that some of the true freshman on the two-deep have really impressed the coaching staff, to the point where they may be too talented or vital to the team's depth to sit out their first year at Virginia.