There is no time wasted during exercises led by Tony Elliott.
On a crisp spring morning in Charlottesville as the sun lay across two practice football fields, Virginia players scrambled to keep up with the pace demanded by their new coach in his first session in charge of the Hoos.
“We were moving at a really fast pace,” said senior defensive back Anthony Johnson, “and the coach is emphasizing running on and off the field and every drill and every transition, so we made sure to do it today.”
Senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong said, “Guys got a little tired with the tempo. It’s the first day and everyone is running around, but [Elliott] tells me to speed up to try to pick up the tempo and maintain it.
Elliott has a few goals for the next four-plus weeks until the April 23 Blue-White game, and he said one of them is for his group to establish their habits and practice routines.
He said he was pleased with the energy his Cavaliers showed on Tuesday and has reasons why he wants to up the pace of their practices.
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UVa started a little before 9 a.m. and ended before 11 a.m. when Elliott met with reporters.
“The most important thing for me is how we train,” Elliott said, “because the guys have to understand that we have to train in a way that the games become easy because [practices are] so competitive and so fast that we do our conditioning while we train.
The players were put through ball safety and positional drills as Elliott, wearing a UVa cap, dark gray hoodie and matching sweatshirts, moved from place to place on the pitch. If his Apple Watch was following in his footsteps, he would certainly have come full circle and hit his target for Tuesday because the former Clemson offensive coordinator never stopped navigating and figuring out which position group to give advice to.
He was handy with instructions, at one point emphasizing “Keep your pads down!” as tight ends rolled past him and each clutched the ball to his chest while shielding him after a catch.
Elliott called the first practice “really, really fun” because he was able to focus fully on the football. Since taking the job last December, he has had more fundraising, recruiting and staffing responsibilities.
But Tuesday was the first chance to run his own practice.
“It’s like, ‘What am I supposed to do this period? Am I spending enough time on the defensive side?’” he said with a smile. gravitate towards offense I think I coached all the offensive positions today, and with defense they were rocking and rolling and I thought they had a better day if you compare the attack and defense.
Elliott said he thought the entire defensive line played well and junior defensive tackle Ben Smiley III impressed during practice. Elliott also said Michigan State transfer defensive end Jack Camper “has been awesome” since joining UVa last January.
Johnson said in addition to drill speed and timing, Elliott and his assistant coaches taught the fundamentals throughout.
Defensive coordinator John Rudzinski led a tackle circuit in which all defensive assistants were tasked with coaching one of the saves along the way.
“It’s really good to get to grips with the fundamentals so guys have the right technique in their positions,” Johnson said, “learning new patterns and knowing how to master their technique to get out and execute in the game.
“They want us to be disciplined and solid in everything we do.”
Elliott said the on-court part of learning the pattern will happen over the spring and the Cavaliers need to develop roster depth, but the priority for the initial session was getting his players to understand what what he expects of them when they take the field.
“Guys who play in a place of joy and passion,” Elliott said of what he’s looking for, “love what they’re doing. And, understanding that it’s going to be tough and challenging and that the coaches are going to come after you it’s going to be intense and your body is going to hurt and you’re going to feel tired but find a way to have some joy and get back to loving the game like you were when you were a kid.
“A lot of energy, but trying to have a controlled energy,” he continued. “I don’t want the guys to be out of control. I want coaches to train. I just don’t want them screaming. I want them to teach, so it’s a combination of guys that are excited and up for a challenge, but also improving their fundamentals, techniques, and patterns through the teaching that’s happening.