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Trying to define Keytaon Thompson: Go with ‘football player’

keytaon thompson
Keytaon Thompson races to the end zone for a fourth quarter touchdown in UVA’s 43-32 win over Boston College this past December. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference (Erin Edgerton/Daily Progress).

Keytaon Thompson has become Virginia’s update on Slash, if you’re old enough to remember Kordell Stewart.

You’re probably more familiar with Taysom Hill, who has been Slash 2.0 at New Orleans, lining up at wildcat, H back, slot, tight end, even starting four games at QB in place of Drew Brees in 2020, with the Saints going 3-1 with Hill taking the snaps.

Neither Hill nor Stewart necessarily wanted to be slashes – and Stewart went on to start 82 games at QB in the NFL over the final nine seasons in his career.

It’s certainly worked out for Hill, who signed a four-year, $140 million extension with the Saints after Brees announced his retirement last month, hedging their bets on whether it will be Hill or former #1 overall pick Jameis Winston who will take over for the future Hall of Famer.

Worst-case for the Saints: they have Winston at quarterback and Slash 2.0 doing everything else.

OK, so, back to Thompson.

He didn’t transfer to Virginia last spring to be Slash 3.0. A four-star prep recruit, Thompson got lost in the QB shuffle at Mississippi State, after outplaying future NFL MVP Lamar Jackson as a freshman in the Bulldogs’ win over Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals in the 2017 Taxslayer Bowl.

Thompson played for three head coaches in his three years in Starkville, and decided to leave after the school hired Mike Leach to succeed Joe Moorhead, who went 14-12 in two middling seasons.

He figured to get a shot at the QB1 job at Virginia, which was looking to replace record-setting quarterback Bryce Perkins.

But Thompson’s run at the starting job took a hit when he partially tore the labrum in his right shoulder in camp.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae schemed up ways to use Thompson … basically every other way.

Anae lined Thompson up as a wildcat QB, at running back, H back, in the slot, at split end, at tight end.

“I remember the last game, Coach Brumfield asked me if I could punt, and I said, coach, I’m not punting this game, so you can forget about that. But nothing really surprises me anymore. I just take it and try to do the best that I can,” Thompson said last week.

Can’t blame Ricky Brumfield, UVA’s special teams coordinator, for just assuming that Thompson can punt, because he has shown that he can do everything else.

He ran for 234 yards and three TDs in 2020, averaging 6.0 yards per tote, and caught seven passes for 98 yards, 14.0 yards per catch, for another three TDs through the air.

His shoulder has progressed to the point where he expects to be a full-go throwing by training camp, but with Brennan Armstrong (2,117 yards, 18 TDs/11 INTs, 138.9 QB rating in 2020) ensconced at QB1, it would be a waste to have KT on a headset calling in signals at QB2.

“Will he play quarterback? Yes. Will he play tight end? Yes. Will he play running back? Yes. Will he play slot receiver? Yes. Will he play x receiver? Yes. Will he play z receiver? Yes. Will he will he be on the punt team? Certainly. Will he be on punt return? Yes. So he gets whatever ever many boxes. We’re on a mission to have as many boxes checked for positions ever played. And he’s so smart and so capable. So yeah, yes to everything,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said last week.

Thompson concedes that he would have told Mendenhall and Anae this time last year that he would prefer not to be moved from quarterback.

“But man, I tell you what, it’s really been fun. It’s a fun experience, almost like you’re playing with your friends in the backyard again, running around lining up at all these different positions and learning new things each and every day,” Thompson said.

It was tough in the beginning making the adjustment from quarterback to lining up at all the different positions.

“You know, just learning a whole new offense is always tough, and coming in and competing. I was able to learn the offense, which was tough, but that went well, and then got into fall camp, the injury occurred,” Thompson said.

“After learning the offense and putting in all the work, and then suffering an injury, that really kind of had an effect on me. But I kind of like, just, you know, tried to make the best out of it and look at it in a positive light. And that’s how I ended up, you know, playing slash, playing receiver and running back and quarterback and things like that.

“I guess some good kind of came out of the injury,” Thompson said.

Thompson thinks he’ll be much more effective in 2021 because he can now see the offense from so many different perspectives.

“I originally was at quarterback, so you pretty much grasp the offense and all of the positions from that perspective. You don’t actually do it, you know, but you know what everybody’s supposed to do,” Thompson said.

“For me, the mental part is pretty much down now. I pretty much know all of my assignments, everything that I have to do, you know. New stuff occurs that I will have to learn throughout the season, but other than that, I’ve just been really valuing this offseason and trying to physically get my body right, get in shape and become bigger, faster and stronger.”

QB is the glamor position in the sport, but as the Hill contract extension demonstrates, NFL teams value versatility.

Thompson seems to grasp – and embrace – this.

“I look at it like all of this is one position: playing football,” Thompson said. “So lining up at outside receiver, inside receiver, quarterback, running back, at the end of the day for, I’m still playing football and still having to fight, still having fun. So I will say they all pretty equal to me.”

Story by Chris Graham


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