2015 Football: Cavaliers hope new mindset leads to wins

Virginia's Maurice Canady looks to make a play in a game last year. Canady and the Cavaliers play at UCLA to start the season. Courtesy photo/Virginia Athletics Communications

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Sometimes silence can be the best thing.

That’s an approach that the University of Virginia is hoping will lead to wins this season.

“In the past there was a lot of chatter. This year I think our mindset is just shut up and work,” Virginia junior quarterback Matt Johns said. “Just work every single day. …Bring energy, know your job and just focus and just work.”

There’s been plenty of talk about Virginia head football coach Mike London’s job being on the line this season if his team doesn’t have success.

That will be a difficult chore for the Cavaliers, who have a very tough schedule. Virginia plays UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State in three of its first four contests.

The Cavaliers, who return five starters on offense, will be counting on Johns to have a productive season.

The duo of Taquan Mizzell and Daniel Hamm will be counted on to lead the running game.

Mizzell, a junior, had a lot of hype in high school, and earned the nickname “Smoke” for his ability to make people miss tackles.

“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in ‘smoke,'” London said. “He’s learning. He has improved dramatically. He’s a very skillfull player. There’s different ways that you can use his skillset.”

The Cavaliers must replace graduated Darius Jennings at wide receiver, but got a nice gift when T.J. Thorpe transferred to the school in the offseason. Thorpe played three years for the University of North Carolina where he had 42 receptions for 574 yards and five touchdowns. He also averaged 24.5 yards per kickoff return for the Tar Heels in three seasons. However, Thorpe will miss the first part of the season after suffering a broken clavicle during the preseason.

Virginia also retruns senior wide receiver Canaan Severin (42 receptions for 578 yards and five touchdowns last season). Senior Rob Burns is expected to lead the way at tight end for the Cavlaiers.

One positive for the Cavaliers should be their offensive line, where they return at least three starters. Senior Ross Burbank and juniors Michael Mooney and Ryan Doull will be back. Junior Eric Smith is a tight battle with redshirt freshman Jake Fieler at right tackle.

“They’ve created a situation where they’re going to push each other,” London said of Smith and Fieler. “When you see that type of competition, not only from that position but any other position that we have, it makes us a better football team.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cavaliers should be solid up front with senior defensive end Mike Moore and senior defensive tackle David Dean both returning. Senior Kwontioe Moore should fill the other defensive end position, while junior Donte Wilkins and sophomore Andrew Brown will battle it out for the final defensive tackle spot.

The Cavaliers also have plenty of experience and talent in the secondary. Senior Maurice Canady and sophomore Quin Blanding (123 tackles and three interceptions last season) return at cornerback and free safety respectively. Juniors Kelvin Rainey and Tim Harris should fill out the rest of the starters in the defensive backfield.

“Maurice [Canady] is a very important cog in this defense, because he can play so many different positions,” London said. “His ability to play multiple positions very well makes us a better secondary. …The secondary should be a strength of ours on defense, because of the guys that are back.”

The one area of concern for the cavaliers on defense is the linebackers, where they have no starters returning. Juniors Mark Hall and Zach Bradshaw and sophomore Micah Kiser were strong candidates to start during the preseason.

Senior Ian Frye and junior Nicholas Conte were expected to be the kicker and punter respectively.

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com