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Virginia football notebook: Billy Kemp confident he will thrive in altered role

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Virginia receiver Billy Kemp IV participates in a drill during practice at McCue Center recently.

He’s studied up this summer on the position he believes his skills are best suited for.

Virginia receiver Billy Kemp IV is readying himself for an altered role in his fifth and final go-around with the Hoos.

“I’m getting more opportunities in the slot with this offense,” Kemp said. “The past two years I’ve been playing a lot outside, but for a guy like me, I feel like I can really work and maneuver in the slot, so I’m thankful [offensive coordinator Des] Kitchings is giving me the chance to do that and I’m thankful for them coaching me up in that position.”

Kemp, who tallied 74 catches last season, 67 the year before and enters this fall with 1,658 receiving yards to go along with eight receiving touchdowns in his career, said he’s absorbed some of the nuances particular to the inside receiver position from former college stars and NFL players that have excelled in the slot.

He dedicated time in the offseason to watching film of those pass-catchers.

“The elites like Tavon Austin,” Kemp said, “so it’s a lot of those quick, twitchy slot guys who keep the ball off the ground. Wes Welker and Stefon Diggs. I’m watching how they release and really catch the ball and even what they do with their hands within their routes. I’m just trying to learn.”

The Highland Springs High School product had extra moments to do so throughout the offseason and while recovering from a postseason surgery, which would’ve kept him out of the Fenway Bowl if the contest had been played.

He said he’s bounced back nicely, though, thanks to the plan UVa’s medical and training staff put together for him. Kemp said during the summer, he’d rehab twice a day and he’s continued the routine into training camp to make sure he’s prepared to perform during the Cavaliers’ afternoon practices.

“I’m almost to 100 [percent] and I’m working back every day,” Kemp said.

The receiver said he’s also adapting well to the offense Kitchings and coach Tony Elliott have installed, and has confidence the unit will succeed given Kemp and his fellow receivers’ chemistry with quarterback Brennan Armstrong as well as a renewed effort to run the ball.

Kemp said after last season, he told Armstrong whatever Armstrong’s decision was going to be regarding a return to UVa or not was what he planned to do as well.

“And we’ll be even harder to pin down this year because we have so much more of a better, dominant run game,” Kemp said, “and I feel like it’ll open it up for receivers much more. And as receivers, we know we’re probably not going to get as many opportunities as last year, but when we do get those opportunities, we just have to make the most of it.”

Kemp ran many underneath routes last fall, he said, but is encouraged by his responsibilities in the slot and in the new system since they will require him to run a number of different routes this coming season.

“I look forward to showing everyone I can run any route in this offense,” Kemp said.

■ After Monday’s practice, Elliott said senior running back Perris Jones “has actually been the guy who is trying to separate himself by doing the little things right,” within his position group. Jones, Mike Hollins, Cody Brown and Amaad Foston are all competing for the job, but as of Monday, Jones has performed above the rest to this point.

“The best guy is going to play,” Elliott said. “And I told the team, told Perris in front of the team that, ‘If you want the job, go take the job. I don’t care that you came here as a walk-on. If you’re the best guy, it’s going to be your job.’”

■ Elliott said Miami (Ohio) transfer defensive end Kam Butler has already worked his way to the top of the depth chart thanks to his strong practice habits.

■ Two new specialists are performing well through the early part of camp, according to Elliott. Freshman kicker Will Bettridge and Minnesota transfer punter Daniel Sparks are in the mix for those roles. Elliott said the team calls Bettridge, “Walk-off Will.”

“At first I didn’t know if I was going to use that nickname for him,” Elliott said, “but I’ll tell you, it looks like he’s got pretty good nerves about him because we put him in a situation here at the end of practice, treated it like there was a game on the line with a 48-yard field goal and he didn’t know it was coming. But he walked out there and he hit it.”

Junior Brandon Farrell is kicking and punting, and Elliott said he’s hoping to distribute the specialists’ workloads this season.

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