Press Conference: UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall

Highlights from the UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall press conference ahead of the Cavs’ Week 1 game with William & Mary on Saturday.

 

Q: You said during camp that the proof of where they are actually will ultimately show itself on the field. How much anticipation do you feel for what you’re going to see? How much do you kind of think you have an idea of what you’re going to see? What will you draw from the way the first game goes?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Really hard to put a percentage on it other than, again, I’ve never known exactly how a game will play out. But I do know, and I can measure intuitively, behind the scenes just as to what I sense is progress happening. Whether the outside world will see that by how we play football week one, I’m not sure. But that won’t take away the simple successes I’ve seen behind the scenes or what I see at practice.

In terms of how you play, especially in week one, there is always surprises. No matter how much preparation, there could be personnel surprises, someone might perform as a higher level or lower level than expected. There could be depth surprises where some positions you think you’re going to be deep, an injury or two all of a sudden you’re not so deep. There possibly might be chemistry and confidence issues that you see that don’t manifest until you actually play a game, or different settings within a game.

I think that’s why game one, there’s so much anticipation and so much value, is simply because the feedback you get actually adds probably the most clear reference point that you’re starting from for that year. Up until then, until you play as many scrimmages as you do, live work against each other, I would love to say I’ve been able to determine that. We’ve played more football against each other than any camp that I’ve been a part of.

Still with that there’s question marks. We’ve just tried to eliminate as many as possible while accelerating the growth of our program.

 

Q: When will the backup quarterback receive his jersey number? Still going to stick to your no double numbers rule with this?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: My guess is this upcoming Thursday is when the next jersey selection comes. I don’t think any of our kickers – well, Lester, maybe that just happened Saturday, I forgot. We had a draft again there. But next Thursday is our next chance. I don’t know what number that will be for not only our potential backup quarterback but anyone else.

 

Q: I don’t remember you being pessimistic at this stage last year. Can you compare the way you feel now compared to last year?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think more educated is the way to say it. I have a clear reference point where our program is, what it needs to move forward, where we’re going, at what stage.

I don’t remember much about last year. I remember a few moments of the opening game. It’s like, Oh, this is who we are, this is where we are, this is how we are. That was all really valuable information. Then trying to take that knowledge and accelerate it and apply it into our program.

So I just feel more clear about where we’re starting from. It doesn’t mean that one game won’t change my mind in terms of that reference point, but I’m clearer than I was a year ago.

 

Q: You opened training camp in July. Your first game will be in September. What has it been like managing a training camp, a preseason that long? Do you think there will be talk among the coaches association about reevaluating the pre-season calendar?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: There already has been talk amongst the coaches. The general consensus to this point, it’s premature in terms of it being adopted, but the general consensus is, we as coaches would rather have a uniform number of practices rather than a uniform start date. It seems to us that somewhere between the 25 and 21 mark are the number of practices that most of us would like.

This particular season it has been long. I acknowledge. We designed a plan to manage how long it was. If our program wasn’t at its inception in the beginning stages, I wouldn’t have been for coming in an extra week. Given all things, all things considered, I thought we needed the time. I think that we’ve managed it as well as we can with limited injuries, to try to accelerate our program.

But in the future, I think what will be happening is there will be a specific number of practices, and it will be fewer than what we’ve had in the past, especially considering student-athlete health and well-being.

 

You have a number of young kids in the two deep. Moved some guys around. What did you see from your 2017 recruiting class and how did they make their way onto this depth chart?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: The ’17 class is a strong class. I tried to express that I think the wordy used was ‘foundational’. There’s very few of the 2017 class that have surprised us in terms of what we thought we were getting. We wanted good football players who were good students, good people, that are coming to help us really improve UVA’s football team and our program at-large. They haven’t disappointed. It’s really fun because, again, the players are the ones choosing when they get to select the jersey number and to see their peers, upperclassmen, recognizing that number of young guys that early, that itself is a pretty strong endorsement.

If we switch places and I was in your shoes, I would look at that as a pretty authentic endorsement that they think the younger class are good people, good players, are going to help our team.

 

Q: You have new guys on the offensive line. Looking at the line, how do you balance the challenge of establishing cohesion but also trying to figure out who the best 11 guys are on the field?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s one of the reasons we came in a week early. I can’t promise there’s not going to be changes after week one. Seems like there always is, no matter how much meeting time we put in, practice time, sometimes the lenses we see things through are practice lenses. Game lenses are different.

We need consistency up front. We need consistency at the quarterback position. Those two things are really what usually drive a team and a program. I think we’re deeper at offensive line than we were a year ago. What that performance is going to look like yet, we don’t know. We’ll find out. That will really determine where we go from there.

I have been impressed with Kurt, his consistency, his conditioning, his leadership. So I really like what I’ve seen there. That combination I think you can’t separate one without the other, they go together. We’ll get an idea soon enough what that combination looks like.

 

Q: Keeping (quarterback) Kurt (Benkert) upright would be seem to be of paramount importance to you this year. Last year he showed he’s willing to be a guy who puts his head down, stick it in in places. What have you tried to instruct him on how to take care of himself so some heroic three-yard run doesn’t dramatically change the season?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: He’s one of the best football players on our team. We expect through his maturity, and his knowledge of the game, to manage that appropriately. So we don’t want him taking extra shots. If it’s a difference of a first round and getting an extra yard, then get the first down, that’s good enough. If it’s a first down and there’s a chance to get five more, get out of bounds, get out of bounds. We’re talking about not only being successful in each game, but we’re talking about being successful hopefully for an entire season.

Like many positions on our team, there isn’t a lot of depth. So that has to be reflected in how they play. That does not mean soft or passive, it just means smart.

The team voted on our captains last week, I believe on Friday. We have three captains that have been selected. We’ll rotate a fourth weekly through special teams. Kurt Benkert is one of our captains. Micah and Quin are the other two captains. The team voted on those three players. Again, there will be a special teams captain that will be the fourth each week, and that will be rotating based on performance.

 

Q: You’ve talked about the football team can be a rallying point for this city, this community, this university. This is your first chance now to get out in front of people and have them use you as time to heal, push things forward. Do you embrace that with your guys? What kind of symbolism will you have jersey-wise on Saturday?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: There is a Hoos Together movement that’s been initiated by the athletic department and the head coaches. A lot of us have done things already independent of each other. It wasn’t coordinated. Our team, as you know, took a picture in front of the Rotunda with our players supportive, arms linked, showing diversity and unity at the same time, which is our simple message: you can do both, and we like both.

This is a place where we think that should be emulated, I’m talking about Charlottesville. Our program wants to be an example of that. We would certainly like to be able to perform in a manner that would be admirable to show that not only can you do it, but you can get results that way also.

So we recognize the opportunity. But to say then that the more we focus on that usually means our mind is elsewhere, other than in the moment of what we really need to do.

We’ve acknowledged it. We know that’s our intent. Okay, now the tactical and the realistic part of what do we have to do day by day, minute by minute, practice by practice, play by play, that’s the only place our mind can be. Now that we’ve acknowledged it, unified around that idea, we’d love to help. Now it’s the execution of how we really help.

 
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