Virginia is forgoing a traditional spring game Saturday in favor of a 15th, padded practice at 4:15 p.m. at Scott Stadium as part of its spring football festival. In that event, here are three takeaways from Bronco Mendenhall’s first spring in Charlottesville:
1. Well, to start, there is no spring game … But that’s OK. Mendenhall — who has made the Cavaliers earn everything this spring, from the right to practice to the right to getting to choose their jersey numbers later on — said the players earned the opportunity to have a spring game, but that everyone realized another day of work is what’s going to help the most.
“The team has done everything that I've asked them to do, and they've done it at a really high level where we currently are in measuring our program,” Mendenhall said during Wednesday’s ACC teleconference. “And the way I expressed it to the team is: Our program will move further ahead and faster with one more workday, so that's what we plan to do. They certainly qualified for a game, but then in presenting to them now here's how we could really benefit — and I think this day would help us if we did a different format than a spring game.”
2. New faces on D-line. The lack of depth up front is no secret for the Hoos. Junior blue-chipper Andrew Brown is the most familiar face, but he will play outside more as the Hoos switch to a 3-4 line. The guys around Brown are the ones facing the real opportunity this spring and summer. Eli Hanback looks like the other starting end, while Mendenhall has raved about senior Donte Wilkins inside. Senior Mark Hall moved from linebacker to end, and Mendenhall said Wednesday that he likes what he has seen from sophomore Steven Wright and senior Andre Miles-Redmond.
3. Receivers stepping up. Canaan Severin’s 759 yards from last season aren’t easily replaced. It doesn’t help that UVA’s next-two best receivers from 2015, Taquan Mizzell and T.J. Thorpe, are a running back and a senior who has graduated, respectively. But Doni Dowling and Andre Levrone are looking to make names for themselves in the Cavs’ new aerial attack. Dowling caught just one pass for minus-1 yard last season in a campaign that got a late start thanks to recovery from ACL surgery. But the junior has done plenty of little things to impress the new staff and looks to be on pace for a breakout year after being one of just four true freshmen to play for the Hoos in 2014. The junior Levrone, meanwhile, is the best bet to emerge as the Hoos’ downfield threat after missing the final 11 games of last season with a back injury. The continuity with position coach Marques Hagans — the lone holdover from the previous UVA staff — should help, too.