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Up and at ‘em with Virginia Football: And outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga

uva footballEvery morning, team meeting, 8 a.m. sharp. That’s 8 a.m. Eastern, by the way, so for members of the Virginia football roster at home in, say, Hawaii, that’s a 2 a.m. wakeup call.

It’s brutal, but it’s also structure that Kelly Poppinga, the outside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator, thinks will pay off when the team gets back on Grounds.

Keeping a football team together virtually is a challenge of a decently high order. What Poppinga has done for his unit is give them a script that allows them to practice virtually that sounds pretty unique.

The script, Poppinga explained, includes types of drops his ‘backers would make in coverage, pass rush moves, shuffles, crossovers.

“There’s about 12 or 14, I can’t remember exactly, of the different types of movements that we would make in a game,” Poppinga said. “I sent a script out that out to them, and they would run 12 plays in a quarter, and they do four quarters in a play, in about 45 seconds between each play, and there is a different movement there.

“That’s one of the things that we’ve done as far as just making sure they’re getting those movement patterns down patterns down without practice. And that’s been, I think, pretty effective.”

The hard part: no film to record and gauge progress, that coaches can then review with players for critiques and evaluations.

That has had Poppinga watching old film of his guys – “going all the way back to 2017, ’18 and ‘19, and just critiquing how guys did it good. And then watching things that we didn’t do as well this past season and making sure we’re making those corrections right now.”

Virginia, famously, didn’t get a single spring practice in before the COVID-19 lockdown, one of three ACC programs to miss out on having anything in the way of spring football.

The NCAA is allowing schools to begin voluntary practices on campuses beginning June 1, but UVA is not in a position to begin on that date due to continued restrictions in the Commonwealth.

Poppinga, for one, doesn’t think it’s a big deal that this is the case, not yet.

“They wouldn’t be back anyway until mid-June, if it was a regular year. And so, there’s no rush to me right now. I think we have plenty of time,” Poppinga said. “You know, now, we get into July and mid-July, and yeah, things start to, you know, get a little more intense right there, and you feel a little bit more pressed, but I don’t feel pressed right now at all.

“I have trust that our guys are out there right now working. They’re working out. We’re doing film study every single morning. This is actually more than what we’ve ever done in the months of May and June. Usually, when players get done with finals, we don’t talk to them for six weeks until they come back in mid-June for the summer semester. So, we’re getting more communication done with them now than we ever have in the past. It’s just really the lack of not having spring ball, and so I feel like we’ll be fine.”

Ready for Georgia?

Poppinga thinks the raised level of competition for the ‘Hoos at the end of 2019 – facing Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, then Florida in the Orange Bowl – will pay dividends in 2020.

“I think you saw how, I think, we made a big jump my opinion from the Clemson game to the Florida game, even though obviously, we did not play to the level in the last seven games of the season as a defense, we did not play to the level of our expectations and where we hold our standard to,” Poppinga said. “I do think that our team gained confidence from the Clemson game to the Florida game. It took us about a quarter to get going that first quarter out of the Florida game. Take the next three quarters, we played pretty good defense, and if we could have done that from the beginning, I think the outcome is completely different. You know, coulda, woulda, shoulda, all that stuff. But they did gain confidence coming out of that game. And I think they did see that they can play against anybody.

“I think we have a really good idea of what we need to do as a coaching staff to prepare them and to help them get ready for a team like Georgia,” Poppinga said. “Now, we don’t know exactly what they’re going to do. We have some thoughts and ideas. But for the most part, we just got to keep things simple and help those help those kids play fast and what they know exactly what to do. Keep it simple, to those things. And you know, I think our guys have enough experience to go out there and have success.”

Poppinga on his guys

On Nick Jackson: “He’s had a great offseason. Players send us videos of different things that they’re doing. He sent us a video of his workout the other day, and I was I was blown away. I was impressed. He looks great. He’s moving great. And I think he’s he looks like a man on a mission right now, man, so I’m really excited to see him come back and see what he can do once we get the pads on.”

On Noah Taylor: “I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a kid that loves football as much as Noah. He loves, loves football. He’s always wanting to work out, he’s always wanting to watch film. He’s always wanting to talk football. He’s always texting me, calling me, wanting to do Zoom calls, to watch film with him. That just shows the commitment that this kid has, and the passion that he has for the game, which I love. That kid is just constantly, this offseason, just been pestering me every moment, more film, cutups of different players, NFL players that he’s wanted to watch that I’ve gotten film on for him. He’s just a student of the game. We expect big things from him. He obviously expects bigger things from himself. Probably one thing that I get from Noah that I’ve not got from many players is the expectation that he has for himself is way more than anybody else could put on, which is good.”

On Charles Snowden: “One thing that Charles has is great presence. He’s just, you walk into a room, and that guy, man, he fills up the room, and his personality, his character, the presence that he has, the way that he that he talks, he kind of has this booming voice, you know, kind of carries through the room, and so people listen to him when he talks. I think now that he’s made a lot of plays, that always gives you a little bit more tout, right, when you’re making more plays. People respect that more. And so, as that happens, as that’s happened over time, I think people have listened more and more to Charles, but man, he just has a great presence. He never backs down from any workout. I think that’s the other thing that guys see, is this guy is not taking a day off. He’s, you know, he goes into workouts with great energy every single day. And I would say that’s probably one of the staples that Charles has. Talking to an NFL scout last week, I told him I don’t know that been around a player that has as much energy as Charles every single day.”

On Jowon Briggs: “He’s like 310 right now, and he just looks on, on a video screen, he looks massive. He just fills that thing up. Looked at him this morning, we were actually talking about it, the defensive staff in our meeting this morning, went, holy smokes, this guy is looking ginormous. So obviously, the kid is very talented. He’s very strong, very cerebral, very smart kid. And that game experience as a true freshman last year, very valuable for him going into this season. And so now really what it comes down to Jawon is, he’s got to make a lot more plays. And that’s the bottom line. He’s got to make more plays. And he’s going to do that based upon him knowing the defense better than what he knew last year.”

On Matt Gahm: “I don’t think there’s a more consistent guy on our team, which is a good thing and sometimes a bad thing for Matt. Sometimes he does exactly what he’s supposed to do. And he gets a little robotic at times. But the thing about Matt is, you know, when he’s out on the field, he is going to do exactly what the defense asked him to do. And he’s going to be assignment-sound, he’s going to be physical and give 100 percent when he does it. And so Matt’s role, and I told Noah and Charles this as well, it’s not that Noah or Charles, you know, have that pin in as the starters. And I know Matt’s hungry, and he wants one of those spots to be one of the starters and so, you know, the rotation that we had at the end of the year, I thought, worked really well. And, you know, Matt is wanting more playing experience and he will earn it based upon what he does in practice, and other guys could lose it based on what they do in practice, and based upon what’s in the game.”

Story by Chris Graham