One more go at it: Quin Blanding returns to UVA with focus on growth
Quin Blanding reminds you a lot of another UVA safety, Anthony Poindexter, who I still say is the best player I’ve yet seen play in a Cavalier uniform.
We all remember that Poindexter was faced with a similar choice following his junior season, decided to come back, then shredded his knee late in his senior season.
A guy that many expected to be a top 10 draft pick ended up spending a couple of years in the NFL, one on injured reserve, the second playing on special teams.
Poindexter, at least, from a football perspective, was coming back to a team that some thought might contend for an ACC title.
Blanding, if he were to return, was coming back to a team that finished 2-10, and didn’t seem poised to do much better in his senior season.
You know already that Blanding is back for his senior season.
You might not know how close he was to pulling the trigger on early entry into the NFL.
“It was about 50-50. Leaning that way, leaning this way. I just had unfinished business to do here, as a team and as an individual,” the soft-spoken Blanding told me last week at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte.
“A lot of people doubted us. A lot of people doubted me. It’s time to prove people wrong,” Blanding said.
My fellow media members and I were not convinced about the team aspect, at least, voting Virginia seventh in the seven-team Coastal Division.
Blanding, not surprisingly, was voted first-team All-ACC in the preseason voting at safety, as was teammate Micah Kiser, a fellow senior who himself surprised observers with his decision to return.
Both were first-team All-ACC performers in 2016, and finished 1-2 in the conference in tackles (Kiser with 134, Blanding with 120).
In spite of their efforts, Virginia ranked 12th in the conference in scoring defense (33.8 points per game) and 12th in total defense (446.6 yards per game).
And even with Blanding anchoring the secondary, the Cavs were dead-last in pass defense efficiency.
So, yeah, work to do, lots of it. A key focus for Blanding in 2017 will come in the mental part of the game. A sort of elder statesman as a senior who has been starting since his true-freshman season, Blanding knows that it’s up to him to set the schematic tone for his teammates on the field.
“I’m the leader of the defense,” Blanding said. “I make the calls, and I see everything before anyone sees anything anyway, so I’ve got to know what the offense is going to give me. I’ve got to be in their huddle before they even come out of the huddle. So that’s been my job since my second year, and that’s the job I`m going to keep continuing. I`m just going to keep growing at it.”
Blanding gets high grades on both his coverage in the secondary and his ability to provide run support. A number of publications list him as a first- or early second-round NFL Draft pick next spring, but first things first, right?
One point of focus will be improving as a team leader. He’s already demonstrated how much a team player he is.
That’s why he’s back for one more go at it in Charlottesville.
“I believe in the system. I trust the system. I trust the process. You know, why not go one more year and go out with a bang and increase the status of Virginia, and just like I said, go out with a bang,” Blanding said.
Story by Chris Graham