As part of our ongoing preview series of the Virginia Cavaliers, we'll now turn our attention to the Cavalier offense. Yesterday, we previewed Virginia's Coaching Staff and Special Teams. In that preview, we discussed the passing game struggles that Virginia faced last year. Fortunately for Virginia, most of the offense is returning, and Virginia should be a notch better all-around offensively this year.
At quarterback, Virginia will start So. Greyson Lambert. Lambert played 7 games last year after Jr. David Watford struggled through most of the season. Lambert checks in at 6'5 235 lbs., and he's not going to turn and outrun UCLA's defense, but he's a big, sturdy, pocket passing quarterback. Lambert only threw 75 passes last year, completing 33 of them for 340 yards, which was worse statistically than Watford, but Virginia is giving Lambert a shot to start. Last year, Virginia only managed 211 passing yards per game and a 55% completion rate, so there really isn't anywhere to go but up.
Thankfully for Lambert, Virginia returns Sr. Kevin Parks, who ran for 1,031 yards last season. As a team, Virginia ran for roughly 1,900 yards last year, which was in the bottom half of the nation, but Parks did the lions share of the work and put up decent numbers. At 5'8 205 lbs., Parks is not a big back, but he's shifty in the open field and scored 11 touchdowns last year. In addition to his 227 carries, he caught 38 balls last year and managed another 340 yards from scrimmage. Early draft rankings project him as a late round pick in next year's draft, but he's probably Virginia's top NFL prospect for next year.
After Parks, Virginia has explosive So. Taquan Mizzell and Sr. Khalek Sheppard. Mizzell is a former 5 star recruit, but at 5'10 185 lbs., he may not be quite big enough to be a featured BCS back. He had 74 total touches last year as a true freshman, but look for Virginia to utilize his skills and get him the ball more often this year. Sheppard only managed 51 carries last year, and he probably won't get many more than that this year with Parks returning. He has good speed, but he's not as effective as Parks or as electric as Mizzell, but he should have a small role in the offense.
Virginia really struggled getting the ball to wide receivers last year. As a group, the unit simply is not very explosive. They have some talented pieces in Sr. Darius Jennings (5'11 175 lbs.) and incoming Fr. Jamil Kamara, but this is not one of the better receiving corps that the Bruins defense will face this year. Jennings is the leading returning receiver with 38 catches for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jennings will start along with Sr. Miles Gooch (6'3 220 lbs.), who managed 2 catches for 25 yards last season. Virginia will also rotate Kamara, So. Keeon Johnson (6'3 200 lbs.), Fr. Andre Levrone (6'2 210 lbs.), and Fr. Doni Dowling (6'1 215 lbs.).
The Cavaliers do have a couple of big tight ends that will also be utilized in the passing game in Sr. Zachary Swanson (6'6 250 lbs.) and Jr. Rob Burns (6'7 260 lbs.). Given their size, the two should be mismatches with our linebackers, especially in the red zone, but neither one has much of a track record. Swanson caught 19 balls for 173 yards last year, while Burns only managed 1 catch for 0 yards. That said, Virginia's leading receiver last year was departed Jake McGee, who led the team with 43 catches, so I would expect Virginia to target Swanson and Burns often.
Along the line, Virginia returns 6 players with starting experience despite losing two linemen to the NFL. Last year, the team only allowed 24 sacks last year and paved the way for Virginia's unspectacular-yet-effective running game, and this year's unit should be at least equally effective. In fact, the depth chart along Virginia's line is very young, and they are set to have a solid offensive line for years to come.
That concludes Part II of our preview of the Virginia Cavaliers. Tune back in tomorrow for our preview of the Virginia defense.