After increasing their win total from six to eight in 2018, the Virginia Cavaliers will begin spring practices with the hope of winning the ACC Coastal in 2019.
Despite their 8-5 record last year, the Cavaliers finished tied for third in their division. But there's a lot of optimism in Charlottesville these days.
Virginia returns nearly most of their players on both sides of the ball. Lost to graduation were running back Jordan Ellis and leading receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, so part of the focus will be on filling those roles during the spring.
5 Storylines to Watch During Virginia's Spring Practice
1. Bryce Perkins' health
Last season, Perkins passed for 2,680 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for 923 yards and nine scores. However, not long after the 28-0 Belk Bowl victory over South Carolina, Perkins had surgery to repair a dislocated pinkie finger on his throwing hand, so his participation in the spring could be limited if for no other reason as a precaution.
Perkins suffered the injury against Louisville, in the Cavaliers’ fourth game of the season. He went on to have a solid debut after joining Virginia as a junior college transfer from Arizona Western College. With the departure of leading rusher Jordan Ellis, Perkins figures to be the key cog in the Cavaliers' offense this fall.
The good news if that Perkins was out on the field on Monday, taking part in some drills and showing no ill effects from the surgery. The hope is that he will be able to participate in the spring game on April 27.
2. RB battle
As Ellis departs, the Cavaliers will be looking to find a way to replace his 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns. While he and Ellis had about the same number of carries (215 vs. 212), the next player on the list had just 26 rushing attempts.
That player was PK Kier, who is in line to take over as Virginia's lead running back. Kier has totaled just 32 carries in his career and averaged 3.1 yards per attempt last year, so it remains to be seen if he can shoulder the load and how effective he will be with more touches.
Kier could use a solid spring showing to give him a leg up on the competition. Mike Hollins, a 3-star prospect from Louisiana who ran for 1,645 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior for University Laboratory in Baton Rouge, will arrive this summer and could make a push for immediate playing time.
3. Who replaces Zaccheaus?
Olamide Zaccheaus led Virginia in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2018. He also finished as the third-leading rusher with 83 yards on 16 carries.
Although Virginia might not have a dynamic do-it-all receiver on the roster, this position group could be deeper as rising seniors Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois were productive last year, combining for 77 catches for 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns. Also, expect underclassmen Terrell Jana and Tavares Kelly to become a more significant part of the offense.
A year ago, Virginia was trying to groom many young defensive players during the spring. Now the Cavaliers hope all the experience their players received will benefit them greatly in 2019.
Linebackers Charles Snowden and Jordan Mack appear to be budding stars as they should be able to replace Chris Peace and Malcolm Cook. Also, defensive ends Aaron Famui and Tommy Christ should be factors up front for a defense that finished third in the ACC in both points and yards and allowed per game last season.
Virginia has a ton of players that will miss spring practice this year. Those that will not be taking part include safety Joey Blount, defensive end Richard Burney, and offensive linemen Bobby Haskins and Dillon Reinkensmeyer. And as was mentioned earlier, it's possible that Perkins will be limited to some degree in his return from offseason surgery. This will provide opportunities for other players to make an impression, but it could lead to some challenges for the coaching staff to navigate as well.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.