The chatter around Virginia Football ahead of the opening of transfer portal season, almost entirely on message boards and social media, was that the Dec. 4 portal opening date would be the beginning of a mass exodus of players – which, you have to now assume at this point, isn’t going to happen.
Ahead of the portal season, I identified the four players that coach Tony Elliott couldn’t afford to lose – linebacker Kam Robinson, safety Jonas Sanker, QB Anthony Colandrea and wideout Malachi Fields – and four others to keep an eye on – cornerback Dre Walker, offensive linemen McKale Boley and Blake Steen, and edge linebacker Chico Bennett Jr.
None of those eight are among the 10 UVA players who have entered the transfer portal, and though the portal has only officially been open since Monday, I think it’s safe to say that kids who aren’t in the portal now aren’t going to up and declare now.
Chris Graham on UVA Football offseason moves
One name that I hadn’t included in any of my early postseason personnel lists is Tony Muskett, the guy who won the starting QB job at the end of training camp, then was in and out of the lineup with injuries, but played well when he was on the field, including leading Virginia to its 31-27 upset of then-#10 North Carolina in October.
Muskett, who has one year of eligibility remaining, from the COVID redshirt year, seemed to me to be a possible-slash-likely portal guy, given the way Colandrea, a freshman with three years of eligibility left, played after being pressed into action.
With my assumption being that Colandrea would be the QB1 going into the spring, I wouldn’t fault Muskett for looking around to see if there is a chance to compete for snaps somewhere else, and I would think that he’d get some good looks, given his productivity.
Muskett, assuming now that he hangs around, is an important piece in terms of depth in the QB room.
Elliott probably still needs to look to add at least one more QB either in his 2024 prep class or from the portal to add to that depth.
The next guy on the depth chart is Grady Brosterhous, a walk-on who saw limited action in 2023 as the tush-push guy on the short-yardage package.
Given the way injuries impacted the QB room in 2023, you’d want more options, just in case.
One other personnel retention note of importance: defensive lineman Jahmeer Carter, a senior with his COVID redshirt year left, has indicated that he will return for a fifth year.
Another huge pick-up there.
Prep class rankings don’t tell the whole story about personnel acquisition, but they do go a long way, so the fact that Elliott’s 2024 class is ranked 16th in the now-17-team ACC, no, that isn’t good.
Elliott still has just 12 prep commits with 12 days to go until the Dec. 20 signing day.
More work to do there.
Elliott did get a huge pickup off the portal with the addition of Notre Dame wideout Chris Tyree, a Thomas Dale grad who was the #3 recruit from the state of Virginia in the Class of 2020.
Tyree had 26 catches on 37 targets for Notre Dame in 2023, averaging 18.6 yards per catch.
The 5’9”, 192-pound Tyree would be looked at as a guy who could help fill the void that will be left by a 2023 grad transfer, Malik Washington, who caught 110 balls and put up 10 100+-yard games in his single season at Virginia.
Elliott is looking to add depth at the skill positions with other portal targets including wideouts Tony Johnson (60 catches at Florida Atlantic in 2023) and Andre Greene Jr. (five catches in two seasons at UNC) and a pair of tight ends, Tanner Kozol (34 catches at Ball State in 2023) and Tyler Neville (24 catches at Harvard in 2023).
On the defensive side, Elliott has an offer out to Georgia Tech DB Kenan Johnson, who started nine games for the Yellow Jackets in 2023, and is pursuing three other DBs – Ivy Leaguers Paul Lewis (Cornell) and Kendren Smith (Penn) and VMI grad transfer Alex Oliver.
No movement on the staff
It shocks me that Elliott hasn’t made a move with special teams, which has floundered under the direction of coordinator Keith Gaither.
The unit ranked 105th in Pro Football Focus and 108th among the 133 teams in FBS in the ESPN FPI in 2023.
And these numbers are actually an improvement from 2022 – PFF had Virginia’s special teams 115th in 2022, and the ESPN FPI had the unit 127th.
Virginia, in 2023, lost two one-score games (JMU, Louisville) in which the special teams allowed the opponent to score a TD on a blocked punt, and there were two other games (Maryland, Virginia Tech) with an opponent returning a kickoff for a TD.
Oh, and the walk-off loss to NC State came after a penalty on the special teams that gave the Wolfpack kicker a second chance after blowing the first attempt at a game-winning kick.
Virginia has, in effect, been fighting a three-pronged battle with one of the units not only not contributing, but actively ceding territory to the enemy.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the classic definition of insanity.