Home Virginia coaching staff getting good looks at deep roster of quarterbacks

Virginia coaching staff getting good looks at deep roster of quarterbacks

Chris Graham
anthony colandrea
Anthony Colandrea. Photo: UVA Athletics

Anthony Colandrea is still a freshman, but it seems to me, outside looking in, that he’s the guy taking the leadership role in the QB room at Virginia and running with it.

Last December, after the 55-17 loss to Virginia Tech that put an ugly coda on the 2023 season, it was Colandrea and another freshman, Kam Robinson, the four-star linebacker, who were texting players on the transfer portal, trying to recruit talent to join them and their teammates in the rebuild under Tony Elliott.

Fast forward, then, to spring break last month, and it was Colandrea who organized a trip to Florida for himself and a group of teammates to practice and train together.

“The best football teams are always always the closest teams, right. So, that’s what I was saying. I was like, alright, let’s bring, I’m gonna bring 13 guys down to Florida, we’re all gonna stay in the same house, we’re all going to be working out every single day, and just building a really good chemistry, really good bond with all of you, with everyone,” said Colandrea, who started six games as a true freshman last fall, and led the team in passing (1,958 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs, 62.6% completion rate, 139.6 QB rating).

The extra benefit to the spring break trip: “It’s so crazy, like, we’re all so tight. Now, after that trip, everyone’s just really tight. We’re all communicating well, and just, it’s really good, even on the football field,” Colandrea said.

Elliott hasn’t decided on a QB1 between Colandrea and Tony Muskett, the Week 1 starter in 2023, who was in and out of the lineup with injuries in his first season at the FBS level, and went under the knife after the season finale to try to clean up the lingering left shoulder injury that knocked him out of the season-opening loss to Tennessee.

QBs coach Taylor Lamb stressed to reporters after practice on Monday that the coaching staff isn’t looking at the spring as being part of the battle that looms for the QB1 spot, given that Muskett is still getting his feet back under him from where he is in his injury recovery.

“I mean, this guy, I mean, he killed the rehab process, right, to get back for the spring. It was kind of his goal, and, you know, he set his goal and made it, and he’s out here,” said Lamb, conceding that Muskett, for probably obvious reasons, “started a little bit slow” coming back from the surgery, “but it’s the movement for him. He’s got an obviously repaired shoulder. So, you know, his improvement has been really good since the start of spring.”

We never did get to see the best of Muskett last season, to hear the Virginia coaching staff tell it, because of the injury issue. The three-year starter at Monmouth, who transferred to UVA last year, and will compete in the fall as a grad senior, still put up nice numbers 1,031 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs, 63.3% completion rate, 128.8 QB rating) in his limited action in 2023.

And there’s actually a third guy who could push the incumbents in the mix – New Mexico State transfer Gavin Frakes, a redshirt freshman who started five games as a freshman in 2022.

“I mean, super powerful, big, long guy,” Lamb said, assessing the 6’4”, 220-pound Frakes. “You know, he is in the process of learning the offense, you know, the first-team offense. You know, it was the same thing with Tony, when you bring in a transfer quarterback, they know their offense, right, that they’ve ran in college, right, and they have to, you know, break some habits and learn our offense, and what we’re teaching and how we go about things. So, he’s grown, and just out of, just like, keep it simple, let’s learn the offense this spring, right, and then we’ll focus on execution down the line, but really, really good. You know, you don’t quite know until you get the orange jersey off, you know, in some live situations, you know, when you’re playing ball, but he’s been solid.”

What Lamb is saying there is, Frakes is, at the moment, an insurance policy, a guy who only sees the field in 2024 if something happens to both Colandrea and Muskett.

Because the 2024 spring is being spent more on development than competition, the focus from the coaching staff is on things like getting Frakes up to speed on the offense, in case something happens, and he has to be the guy, on getting Muskett some reps with care to make sure that he’s not pushing it too hard, given that he’s coming back from a serious injury, and then with Colandrea, walking what Lamb said is a “fine line” with his gunslinger quarterback.

“You got to coach him to the line, and he’s got to understand that there’s a line there,” said Lamb, referencing, without mentioning it specifically, Colandrea’s issues with turnovers – the nine INTs – which were almost entirely a result of his confidence, bordering on overconfidence, in his arm strength, and his ability to fit balls into tight windows.

“We don’t want to take away what’s great, what makes him great, but also, we got to grow and mature, and you know, he wants to get to the next level at the next level. That’s how they work. So, it’s been good, it’s been really good to spring see him kind of toe that line and take steps to mature,” Lamb said.

Having two guys who made starts at Virginia in 2023, and a guy behind them with five starts at another FBS school in 2022, the QB room is in a good place going into the summer.

“It’s really good when you have multiple leaders in the quarterback room, and I think Tony and AC do a good job of of doing that. And even the other guys, Grady (Brosterhous) and Gavin, those guys do a really good job leading as well. But we got to keep pushing,” Lamb said. “There’s steps that, you know, Colandrea’s gotta keep taking, and Muskett’s got to keep taking, to get more comfortable in that leadership role. You know, it’s a little different when you have two guys competing for a job, right? They’re like, you know, which one wants to be the leader. Like, we got to have both those guys, no matter who’s playing, we need both those guys to win games.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].