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ACC All Access: Five football players that need an offseason kick in the seat if Virginia hopes to improve

As the dust settles on Virginia’s coaching shake-up, the focus will shift back to what has to happen to get the program back on the right track.

There’s no easy answer after a 4-8 campaign, but a few players have no choice but to step up and make significant improvements during the offseason. For U.Va., the list of players that fit into this category is lengthy, but here’s a look at five players that need to make giant leaps:

 

QB Phillip Sims

With Michael Rocco out of the picture, it’s time for Sims to take the training wheels off and grab the starting job. He’ll be pushed in the spring by Hampton High graduate David Watford and promising redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert. After joining U.Va.’s program last May as a transfer from Alabama, Sims could be given a grace period for learning offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s offense. Now, Sims will be expected to make vast improvements on his 56 percent completions this season and often poor timing.

 

WR Dominique Terrell

When Terrell and Darius Jennings came to Charlottesville in 2011, many recruiting analysts considered both of them to be among the nation’s top 20 athlete prospects coming out of high school. Both players transitioned from being high school quarterbacks to college wide receivers, and both players have endured the expected growing pains (learning downfield blocking techniques, perfecting route-running and developing dependable hands). The issues continued into this season. While Jennings may have had the most memorable receiving miscues of the season (drops of what would’ve been sure touchdown catches at Texas Christian and against North Carolina), Terrell was the more consistently butterfingered of the two receivers. He showed serious potential with nine catches for 127 yards in U.Va.’s 41-40 win against Miami. Entering his junior season, it’s time for Terrell to have more of those kinds of games and fewer of the dropped balls.

 

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LT Kelby Johnson

After serving a two-game suspension early in the season for a violation of team rules, he managed to stay No. 2 on U.Va.’s depth chart at left tackle behind All-ACC performer Oday Aboushi, but Johnson never got into a game and ended up redshirting. He’ll be a sophomore next season. Considering Aboushi will be gone next season, Johnson will have to show he’s mature enough and physical enough in the spring to handle added responsibility. He impressed coaches in 2011. He needs to recapture whatever momentum he gained as a freshman.

 

DE Eli Harold

He opened his freshman season with a well-known penchant for getting after quarterbacks, and he didn’t disappoint in a backup role. As his playing time increased late in the season, his production also increased. In U.Va.’s last six games, he had 24 of his 36 tackles for the season, six of his seven tackles for loss and his two sacks. He’s certain to step into a starting role next season, which means this offseason could be huge for a guy who intends to add a few pounds to his relatively slight (but chiseled) 225-pound frame. With Jon Tenuta in charge of running the defense, Harold should thrive in Tenuta’s ultra-aggressive, blitz-happy style. One of the primary goals in bringing in a guy like Tenuta is to increase U.Va.’s pass rush capabilities, which obviously plays to Harold’s strengths.

 

LB Kwontie Moore

Following in the footsteps of Steve Greer, who finished his career sixth on U.Va.’s career tackles list with 376, won’t be easy. Moore may offer a different, more athletic playing style at middle linebacker than Greer, but Moore’s first order of business will be to display a nose for the football that at least rivals what Greer showed for most of his career. Moore played in all 12 games as a true freshman, but he had just four tackles. He’ll head into the spring as the expected starter at middle linebacker, and he won’t have any serious competition.

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