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Virginia football notebook: Hoos keep focus on fundamentals as game prep begins

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Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong participates in a drill during practice at the McCue Center on Wednesday.

During Wednesday’s session, the Hoos followed their special teams period with the same ball-security drills for offensive skill players while their defenders went through their usual tackling circuit.

And linebacker Josh Ahern said prioritizing proper tackling technique has enabled the defense to upgrade its ability to tackle.

“I definitely think we have [improved],” Ahern said Wednesday. “There’s still a lot of work to do and tackling is obviously a tough thing to do in college football, but [we’re] harping on it and working on it every day and I definitely think we’re better.”

To continue to reemphasize those tackling skills falls in line with first-year defensive coordinator John Rudzinski’s philosophy. Earlier this week, he said he installed plenty of his playbook for the defense, but “there’s not going to be a magic scheme” that can make up for his players shedding blocks and tackling well when it comes to slowing opposing offenses.

“It’s more of a players make plays kind of [defense],” boundary safety Langston Long said. “It’s focusing on tackling, securing tackling and having the right eye discipline and executing what we’ve been told to execute.”

Ahern said he feels the defense made gains in communication during the last three weeks as well, and those strides should help the Hoos beginning Sept. 3 when they line up against the Spiders.

“We’re adjusting better,” Ahern said. “We’re making certain calls when they need to be [made] and noticing formations, and that’s all really paid off during camp.”

Said Long: “I think we’ve come together as a defense very well.”

During Wednesday’s practice, junior specialist Brendan Farrell was handling first-team place-kicking duties and Minnesota transfer punter Daniel Sparks handled first-team punting responsibilities.

Since the injury to offensive tackle Jonathan Leech, UVa has given some tackle reps to freshman McKale Boley, a 6-foot-4, 331-pounder.

Fellow offensive lineman Logan Taylor, who is likely to start up front and said he’s concentrating on tackle as well, said Boley has impressed him.

“That guy is a baller, man,” Taylor said. “He’s been working every day to get better. It’s still the fundamentals, but he’s going to be a good player.”

■ One reserve linebacker to keep an eye on as the season progresses is junior D’Sean Perry.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder finished training camp strongly, and is grasping the Cavaliers’ new defense.

“He’s done a tremendous job,” Rudzinski said. “He made a bunch of plays [during Friday’s scrimmage], was going sideline-to-sideline. Shoot, I think he had a forced fumble, so he’s done a really, really nice job, so we’re excited about all the growth he’s shown as a football player.”

Perry is likely to have a role on special teams to begin the campaign.

■ Senior tight end Grant Misch and junior Sackett Wood Jr. have separated themselves from the rest of their position group, according to offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Des Kitchings.

Misch started seven times last year and most memorably hauled in a game-tying touchdown in the final minute during UVa’s come-from-behind victory at Louisville.

“Misch has been solid. Sackett has been solid,” Kitchings said. “A big stressing point has been who is going to emerge as the third [tight end]. You know, we’re still working on that.

“Josh [Rawlings] has shown some flashes in that regard. [Jack] Witmer has shown some flashes. But flashes aren’t enough for either one. We need some more consistency with that.”

■ Six UVa players were named to the Senior Bowl Watch List on Wednesday morning — quarterback Brennan Armstrong, defensive end Chico Bennett Jr., linebacker Nick Jackson, cornerback Anthony Johnson, wide receiver Billy Kemp IV and wide receiver Keytaon Thompson.

The Senior Bowl is the premier All-Star Game during the lead up to the NFL Draft.

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