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UVA opens football practice: QB battle begins

virginia footballThe first day of UVA football practice means the first day of the three-way battle to see who will be the starting quarterback.

It’s anything but a foregone conclusion that the incumbent starter, senior Matt Johns, will get the nod when the Cavs open on Sept. 3 with Richmond.

In fact, the new coach, Bronco Mendenhall, decided against naming a starter coming out of the spring, when the battle had narrowed to Johns and fifth-year senior Connor Brewer.

And then the situation got complicated when former ECU starter Kurt Benkert transferred into the program, as a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining, something that Mendenhall said last week at the ACC Kickoff is a key consideration, that Benkert would have a chance to grow and build.

The one disadvantage for Benkert: the first day of UVA football practice is his first day working with his teammates under the supervision of his new coaches, after spending the spring at ECU.

“The biggest change has been the terminology,” Benkert said. “The plays are all the same that I ran prior. Just trying to get the old signals out of my head so when I see them, it’s a new play now. That’s really the part I’ve been trying to get down. Just so that when they signal it into me, I don’t have to think about, well, what play is it? I can think about what I have to do instead.”

For Brewer, a top-flight high-school recruit who originally signed with Texas, then transferred to Arizona before landing last summer at Virginia, his biggest challenge is figuring out which end is up.

Brewer is working under his fourth offensive system in five years as a college quarterback.

“I think the system is great. It’s definitely something I’ve been used to,” Brewer said. “It’s kind of a mix between what Arizona and Texas did, some read-option, some spread stuff. So I really feel comfortable with it. I think the coaches have done a great job finding what our strengths are as a team, as an offense, and kind of playing to those strengths. This fall camp is going to be crucial in putting together those pieces together before the season.”

And then we get to Johns, who doesn’t have the recruiting pedigree of Benkert or Brewer, though he has faced that challenge down before. The highly-regarded Greyson Lambert was ahead of Johns on the depth chart two years ago before struggling as the anointed starter in 2014, and Johns eventually wrested the starting job from him, prompting Lambert to transfer to Georgia.

Johns started all 12 games for UVA in 2015, with some positives (2,810 yards, 20 touchdowns, 61.5 percent completion percentage) and one very glaring negative (an FBS-worst 17 interceptions).

“It’ll be fun, it’ll be competitive,” Johns said. “It’s going to be about just taking it one game at a time, and really just competing and getting better every single day for our team.”

Story by Chris Graham