Joey Blount looks to bolster UVA secondary

joey blount
Joey Blount. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Joey Blount takes the super senior moniker seriously.

“I think the responsibility for being a super senior, really just, you’ve got to lead in a certain way, in a certain manner,” said Blount, who decided in December to return for a fifth season, allowed by the NCAA with its move to treat 2020 as a redshirt year for everybody.

Blount, one of nine Virginia players returning as super seniors in 2021, is trying to pay it forward, in a sense.

“I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve been blessed to, you know, encounter many people throughout my tenure at UVA who are very important to my life, and showed me right and wrong and what hard work really means. So it’s, being a super senior, coming back for this last year, having something to prove,” Blount said.

The veteran safety has logged 1,742 snaps in four seasons at Virginia, but was only on the field for 260 snaps in 2020, the least since his freshman year back in 2017.

And when he was on the field, Blount was at his least effective in his four years in Charlottesville – with a career-low 65.0 Pro Football Focus season grade, and a career-worst missed-tackle percentage (19.4).

For frame of reference, in his breakout season, in 2018, Blount, in 520 snaps, had a PFF season grade of 88.0, and a career-best 12.9 missed-tackle percentage.

Safeties coach Shane Hunter likes what he has seen in fall camp from Blount, who had a healthy spring for the first time in his years on Grounds.

“You’ve got a guy there that’s played in a lot of ACC games. He knows exactly what’s going on,” Hunter said. “He can communicate, he can get everybody lined up. I mean, but you have De’Vante (Cross) back there as well, who knows exactly what’s going on. And even Antonio Clary and guys like that, they know the defense, they know the communication, they’re getting it spread throughout the whole defense. And they’re making sure that we are doing exactly what we need to be doing, which just puts us further ahead and gives me a lot of comfort back there.”

The secondary was a weak point for the UVA defense in 2020. I ran an analysis of the 716 defensive snaps the Virginia D saw in 2020, and counted 51 pass completions of 20 or more yards.

Those 51 big-play completions, from among the 323 pass attempts from UVA opponents, accounted for 1,775 yards – 58.3 percent of the pass yards surrendered in the 2020 season.

Another frame of reference point: those 51 big plays, from the 716 defensive snaps, accounted for 40.1 percent of the total yards surrendered by the Virginia D in 2020.

Forty percent of the yards came on 7 percent of the snaps.

The good news, sorta, kinda, is that the secondary returns players who accounted for 83.9 percent of the snaps in 2020.

The bad news is that you have guys returning from a secondary was dead last in the ACC in passing yards per game allowed (304.4) and pass efficiency defense (154.4) in 2020.

Another frame of reference there, a QB averaging 304.4 yards per game would have ranked second in the ACC, and one with a pass efficiency rating of 154.4 would have ranked third.

That’s what the Virginia secondary made every QB it faced look like each week.

“When you go back and look at last year’s film, it was a mix a lot of things,” Blount said. “I would say, like, experience wasn’t there, nervousness, keys, your eyes are wrong, little things that we have been doing during camp, during spring to fix. And we’ve seen, you know, night and day improvements from that. There’s not really anything else to blame besides the play that we had last year, and it’s not what it was. It was last year’s performance, and I really do think that we’re going to turn the tide

The health of guys like Blount and cornerback Darrius Bratton, who had a 56.2 Pro Football Focus grade for his 127 snaps in 2020 is key to getting that fixed.

Also key: integrating newcomers like North Dakota State grad transfer Josh Hayes, who was a standout as he helped the Bison to a run of three state FCS national titles, including a 2019 campaign in which was named second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference in 2019 after making 59 tackles, breaking up 10 passes and recording two INTs.

Hayes and Louisville grad transfer Anthony Johnson (119 snaps in 2020, with a 64.9 PFF grade, allowing one reception in 10 targets on 58 pass coverage snaps) figure to battle Bratton and another returning senior, Nick Grant (634 snaps in 2020, 63.7 PFF grade, 29 catches in 48 targets on 346 coverage snaps), for the starting jobs at corner in fall camp.

“I think the competition has been really strong during camp as well,” Blount said. “I mean, we kind of saw it more towards the spring, summer workouts, all of us getting closer together, and really just lighting fires under each other trying to push each other. You know, some people crumble with the competition, but some people rise to the occasion. So, we’re just trying to find the right group of guys who really step up to the competition with the depth that we have.”

Story by Chris Graham


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