Ahead of the season opener against Richmond on Sept. 3, the Virginia football coaching staff released its team’s official depth chart Monday afternoon.
It comes as no surprise after coach Bronco Mendenhall’s big announcement last week that junior quarterback Kurt Benkert will start against the Spiders. Seniors Connor Brewer and Matt Johns are listed as either / or for the second and third-string spots at signal caller. Johns will again act as the team’s holder on place kicks.
Senior running back Taquan ‘Smoke’ Mizzell, whose 721 yards led all ACC backs in receiving last season, is slotted as the top slot back for the Cavaliers. The lightning quick native of Virginia Beach will also return kickoffs. Senior Albert Reid, a former Maryland transfer, is listed as Virginia’s top B-back.
At the wideout position, there are four different groupings — X, Y, H and Z. The X is generally reserved for a team’s best all-around receivers, which in the Cavaliers’ case is junior Doni Dowling. Benkert has often found both Dowling and his backup, sophomore David Eldridge, open deep in practice.
Senior Keeon Johnson, sophomore Olamide Zaccheaus and redshirt freshman Warren Craft are listed atop the Y, H and Z positions, respectively.
Sophomore tight end Evan Butts, who appeared in all twelve games in 2015 but started in only five, assumes the No. 1 spot this week.
On defense, Virginia features a number of underclassmen in starting roles. Redshirt freshman Steven Wright is slotted as the team’s top right end, while four sophomores — linebackers Corey Jones and Chris Peace, as well as corners Juan Thornhill and Myles Robinson — are set to start this week.
Robinson is starting in the place of senior corner Tim Harris, who is nursing a left-shoulder injury, but may give it a go Saturday in limited action. Junior outside linebacker Malcolm Cook, who was slated to start after shifting down from safety, could miss the season due to an undisclosed injury, Mendenhall announced Monday.
Cavalier fixtures on the defensive side of the ball include junior Andrew Brown at left end, senior Donte Wilkins at nose tackle, junior Micah Kiser and senior Zach Bradshaw both at middle linebacker, senior Kelvin Rainey at strong safety and junior Quin Blanding at free safety.
No spots are locked in under Mendenhall, however, as things could very well change from week to week depending on what goes on in practice, and for anxious Virginia fans the suspense builds to Saturday.