After Elliott wrapped up his Q&A session Tuesday, two players followed him into JPJ: Armstrong, who is in his fifth year at UVA, and defensive back Darrius Bratton, who is in his sixth year.
Armstrong, a three-year starter coming off a record-setting season, said his understanding of Kitchings’ offense has improved dramatically over the last eight months. Not only is some of the terminology different from what the Hoos used last year, but there’s a new emphasis on establishing the running game.
“It’s been night and day, honestly,” Armstrong said. “At first I was just trying to figure everything out. It was nothing on the field. I was just trying to get the formations down, work on the running game and then work in a little bit of the passing game here and there. Now we have intermediate shots, our short game, our fast game, now we have our shots down the field. From the beginning to now, it’s a totally different feeling for me, at least running the offense. I think it will be exciting to finally go out there and play a game that isn’t against our defence.”
Likewise, the Cavaliers’ defense is also up for something new, Bratton said, “but the iron is sharp, so you can never miss a day with our receivers and Brennan throwing the ball. It is a great experience, they are great representatives. So we value those repetitions.”
Armstrong is working behind a rebuilt line that lost its top six players of 2021. The Cavaliers’ most experienced offensive lineman, tackle Jonathan Leech, is recovering from injury and won’t play against UR. That created an opportunity for McKale Boley, who is expected to become the first freshman to start at offensive tackle for UVA since D’Brickashaw Ferguson in 2002.
“You’re a freshman, but you can’t be a freshman,” Elliott told Boley after Monday’s practice.
Asked Tuesday about the 6-foot-4, 331-pound Boley, whose father, Michael, played in the NFL, Elliott said, “I’m trying to calm him down, not pressure him. But he loves soccer. It’s important to him, and you can tell he worked hard to be able to understand the concepts that we asked him to understand and then be able to go out there and play physically.”
Elliott acknowledged before spring practice that the offensive line was the team’s biggest question mark. But the group has progressed faster than he thought.
Linemen “have really started to click,” Elliott said. “So I’m excited to see those guys [Saturday], because the progress I’ve seen them make in the last few weeks has been impressive. That is positive for us, because I think with his progression, we will also get more leadership from that group.
“I am pleasantly surprised with where they are. Receivers are receivers. We know those guys can make plays. Brennan has looked good. So I think offensively, those guys are starting to develop chemistry and get into their groove. Now we just have to implement it in the game settings and make sure we have it.”