By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Much has been made of the University of Virginia football team’s lack of depth on the offensive and defensive lines, both of which have been hit hard by injuries during training camp.
Other positions, though, aren’t nearly as thin. Consider the Cavaliers’ linebacking corps and secondary.
Linebackers include Jordan Mack, Chris Peace, Charles Snowden, Zane Zandier, Malcolm Cook, Dominic Sheppard, Elliott Brown, Matt Gahm, Noah Taylor, Robert Snyder and C.J. Stalker.
At safety are such players as Juan Thornhill, Brenton Nelson, Joey Blount, Chris Moore and Myles Robinson, and UVA’s cornerbacks include Bryce Hall, Darrius Bratton, Tim Harris, Heskin Smith (who previously went by Shawn) and Nick Grant.
Thornhill, a senior who’s at safety this season, started at cornerback in 2016 and ’17. Moore offers similar versatility.
A 6-0, 210-pound junior, Moore has played outside linebacker as well as defensive back at UVA. He often joined Thornhill, Hall, Nelson and Quin Blanding in the secondary last season when the Cavaliers lined up in their nickel defense.
This year, Moore has been working exclusively at safety, and he’s impressed head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who oversees the Wahoos’ defense.
“He’s doing a good job,” Mendenhall said after practice Friday.
There are two safety positions in UVA’s base defense, the 3-4, and three in the nickel. Moore “can play any of the three,” Mendenhall said, “and knows any of the three.
Moore graduated from Broad Run High School in Ashburn, where he played mostly cornerback on defense. At UVA, he appeared in 14 games as a true freshman in 2016, with one start, and made 14 tackles.
His role grew significantly last season, when he started five games and finished with 41 tackles and one interception. But he struggled during spring practice this year, as he had in 2017.
“His history here has been pretty cyclical,” Mendenhall said. “Springs have not been strong; summers and falls have been. And so this summer was better than his last summer. His spring was similar to the previous spring, and his fall has been better than the last fall.
“We’d love to get more consistency in the spring. However, his summer and fall have been exceptional.”
Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium, after an intrasquad scrimmage in which UVA’s defense got the better of its offense, Moore was asked about Mendenhall’s assessment.
“It’s pretty accurate,” Moore said. “Our biggest thing is not just practicing, but making a difference. I think I was pretty common the last two springs, and I didn’t really stick out. My mind wasn’t in the right place.”
At the end of spring ball, Moore received feedback from secondary coach Nick Howell and others. They told him he needed to ramp up his effort level and make more plays.
“I just took that [to heart],” Moore said. “I knew I had to make up ground this summer and fall.”
He’s done so. In director of football performance and development Shawn Griswold’s offseason strength and conditioning program, Moore earned blue status this summer, the second-highest level. Moreover, a panel of team leaders awarded Moore the 10th pick when jersey numbers were selected last weekend.
After wearing No. 39 in 2016 and ’17, Moore went with No. 7 this year.
“I was going to switch to 7 last year when Doni [Dowling] moved to 5 [after Harris suffered a season-ending injury],” Moore said. “but I decided to stick with 39. It’s been on my mind to get 7, and since I was such a high pick this year I decided to get it.”
Virginia, which finished 6-7 in 2017, opens the season Sept. 1 against Richmond at Scott Stadium.