Several Wahoos stand out in Saturday’s first scrimmage; Jay Woolfolk was “electric” at QB

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Jay Woolfolk filled in admirably for injured starter Brennan Armstrong last season against nationally ranked Notre Dame. (Photo: UVA Athletics)

Coaches can garner a lot of information from a full-padded scrimmage under game-like conditions, and that’s exactly what Tony Elliott was expecting when his Cavaliers went after it Saturday at Scott Stadium.

Now, the coaching staff can go to the video and break down each player, each unit, to gain even more info before the next practice session. Elliott appeared somewhat pleased with the scrimmage and the chance to learn more about his team.

“My objective was to focus on guys getting lined up, being assignment-sound, technique-sound, play with great effort and then just have fun playing football,” the Virginia coach said three weeks before the opener against Richmond (Sept. 3).

One of the players that caught Elliott’s eye was backup quarterback Jay Woolfolk, a dual-threat from Richmond who saw some action last season when starter Brennan Armstrong was injured with broken ribs.

“We made Jay Woolfolk live and he’s electric,” Elliott said. “He was hard to tackle. He still has to grow as a quarterback, but in terms of a dynamic athlete with the ball in his hand, that was good to see.”

Elliott also liked that even though the offensive line still was not at full strength, Virginia’s offense was able to mount a running game. On the flip side, he was disappointed that the defense did not stop the run like it had been in practices leading up to the scrimmage.

“So far, defense’s had the energy and kind of set the tempo, but today the offense came out and they set the tempo, which was kind of surprising to me because we’re still banged up on the offensive line and didn’t have all our top guys going, so that was a positive on the offensive side, but also a positive to get to challenge the defense a little bit more.”

Another player that stood out to Elliott during the scrimmage was Michigan State transfer Jack Camper (6-foot-5, 252 pounds), who plays on the edge.

“Camper continues to be steady,” Elliott said. “He might not make the play, but he’s flushing the quarterback so somebody else can make the play.”

Defensive tackle Ben Smiley III (6-4, 274 junior) continued to impress, as well as wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr., who made some plays down field.

Running back still wide open

Mike Hollins is expecting to have a breakout year, but still has a ways to go according to Elliott.

“Mike’s a guy that I’m going to continue to press on him hard because he’s very talented,” the coach said. “He’s got some habits that he needs to break. He’ll run hard and look the way you want him to look on one play and then the next play, he’ll cut too deep in the backfield, dance in the hole when he shouldn’t. He’s got to have more experience in our system.”

Cody Brown, the transfer from Miami, is making progress.

“Cody is running the ball hard, but I tell you (senior) Perris Jones (5-7, 180, Alexandria) is having an outstanding camp,” Elliott said. “If I was to play today, Perris would be the guy that I would run out there first, just because of his consistency throughout camp and his feeling for what we’re trying to do in the run game.”

Freshman Xavier Brown (5-9, 186, Lexington, Ky.) has been a pleasant surprise.

“Being that he is a guy with a body type you would think would be more of a scat-type of back, man, he’ll slam it up in there with his 185 pounds,” Elliott said.

Know Thy Playbook

The head coach said offensive coordinator Des Kitchings has challenged his group in terms of the new playbook.

“That’s what you do in fall camp, especially on the offensive side of he ball,” Elliott said. “You attempt to get your whole planning in and then you’ll pare down as you get into your opponents, but what you want to do is give them exposure to all of the components of your system so that when you need them, you can pull from it and it’s not something foreign to them.”

Defensively, Elliott chuckled that coordinator John Rudzinski is doing the typical defensive coordinator thing.

“I think he’s got about two playbooks … they throw everything at you, so it’s been really good for our guys up front because there won’t be anything that they’ll see that would overwhelm them or be new to them.”

Where’s the O-Line stand?

Junior offensive tackle Jonathan Leech has come on strong during camp. A backup to Ryan Swoboda at right tackle last season, Leech has grown from 6-4, 280 as a sophomore to 6-5, 291.

“Leech has really, really, really turned the corner,” Elliott said. “He’s gone from a guy that we were trying to get excited in the spring to play football, to now he’s asking us to call a run to his side. That’s a big transformation for him.”

Sophomore Noah Josey missed the scrimmage, as did Logan Taylor, and while Derek Devine was available, coaches are being smart with his usage because he still has some foot issues after having undergone two surgeries. Charlie Patterson (sophomore) has not been performing up to the level he accomplished in the spring, according to Elliott.

“Some of it is mental, just trying to be perfect,” the coach said. “I’ve gotta tell these guys to stop worrying about making a mistake going 100 miles an hour.”

Center Ty Furnish is starting to show some moxy in terms of communication and identification of the defense (making reads just like the quarterback).

“He’s a very talented guy, not overly big (6-3, 279), but very skilled, very technically sound,” Elliott said of his center.

How was Woolfolk ‘Electric?’

There’s no question that all the other backups are behind Woolfolk. Most of them are new or simply inexperienced. Woolfolk, who also plays baseball for UVA, played the entire game against Notre Dame in football last season when Armstrong was sidelined with injured ribs.

On Saturday, the Richmond native got to show off a little for the new coaching staff.

“Just when he pulls the ball down, you better watch out because he can fly,” Elliott said. “He’s got great change-of-direction and you can just tell he’s a natural. He’s a natural playmaker with a ball in his hand.

“He’s making guys miss and then he’s turning around, so if he wants to drop his pads and run over people, he can. But the biggest thing that surprised me, seeing it in a live situation, was his speed and changing direction.”

Timetable for naming a kicker?

Elliott said that once the team goes through its second scrimmage, which will include more situational work, it will give players a fair opportunity to kick in live situations. The team is limited to the amount of full contact it can have in full pads, so he got a glimpse of his kickers in the scrimmage.

He believes at the end of next week, there will e some clarity on several starting jobs, including the kicking job.

More Special Teams

Elliott is hoping to bring out the best in junior wide receiver and return-man Demick Starling.

“Man, he can be a guy that helps us all the way around,” Elliott said. “I mean, the dude is fast. He’s really fast and he’s very, very quick. Just gotta get him going in the right direction, but definitely he can be a guy we can work into being a punt returner. He’s more comfortable catching kickoffs than he is punts. He wants to make a play every play and as a punt returner you have to understand when you want to take a chance and when you don’t, you need to use your fair catch and he doesn’t want to use a fair catch ever.”

COMING UP: A look at Brennan Armstrong’s camp