More Contact For Cavaliers In Practice This Spring

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Though few and far between, there were positive moments for Virginia’s football team in Year 1 of the Bronco Mendenhall era – snapping the road losing streak with a win at Duke and the near upset of Louisville at home spring immediately to mind.

The goal this spring has been on playing with enough consistency to string good moments together.

“The coaches have kind of got on us to try to put good days together,” senior offensive tackle Jack English said. “I don’t want to say it’s easy to have a day here, or a day there, but stack days, stack days together and be able to perform consistently. I think as a group we have the ability to play with just about anyone. We proved that last year at times.”

As the Cavaliers wrap up spring ball with their 15th practice Saturday, part of the team’s spring football festival at Scott Stadium, the players say their second spring under Mendenhall has been more technical, more focused on precise execution.

A year ago at this time, they said they were just learning what it would take to play for their new coach, who led BYU to 11 straight bowls before taking over the floundering U.Va. program before last season.

“At first it was a new program and a new system for us, so we didn’t know what to expect,” senior All-American safety Quin Blanding said. “Now we know what to expect and how to play in this system.”

Blanding said now that players have a better grasp of their assignments, it’s easier to work on their consistency. And that should lead to more success on the field this season.

“It starts in practice,” Blanding said. “You have to be consistent in practice, no matter what the situation is. That’s something that really translates to the field.”

If last year’s spring focus was on effort – Mendenhall uses the motto, “Will before skill” – these 15 practices have been about getting the Cavaliers’ players more football experience. Mendenhall also said he sensed a “cloud” over the program, a lack of confidence and enjoyment, especially at Scott Stadium. So he moved five or six of the team’s spring practices there this spring, to effectively reclaim that space as somewhere the team will have confidence.

Saturday, what the fans will see there is reflective of the work the Cavaliers have been doing all spring. They’ll run about 70 plays, offense versus defense, with full-contact, live tackling, though senior quarterback Kurt Benkert will be off-limits to tacklers.

Kids activities will begin at 1 p.m., with the actual practice starting at 3 p.m. After the practice, players will be available for an autograph session.

For the second straight year, the team won’t hold a “spring game,” opting instead to get in a 15th practice.

“We don’t have enough players yet that we can divide sides,” Mendenhall said. “Mostly limited by linemen.”

His players said that’s fine by them.

“I don’t think we really care,” Benkert said. “Everything we have been doing has been really game like. Most of our practice have been live, full tackling. There will be fans in the stadium. It’s awesome. You have to have the right mindset when it’s normal practice. … When you know that it’s going to be good-on-good every single play, it kind of brings that this is so much more like a game mentality to it. I think it increases everyone’s performances.”

Mendenhall said each play will be scored, with a winner and loser determined.

“We’re playing football,” Mendenhall said. “And playing football is competitive.”

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