Fall camp has marked the start of a new season and a fresh start for the Virginia football team.
In some ways, the Cavaliers are starting over at wide receiver, after losing both Tim Smith and Jake McGee, who led the team in receiving yards in 2013.
Even with those losses, the 'Hoos have a deep group of receivers taking the field this season. According to offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, its the group that has made the biggest strides since last year.
"That's probably where we're most improved," he said. "You always want a dominant go-to number one guy, but I like the competition, I like the numbers we have, we've got depth. Any time you have that type of competition and depth, they're working harder at practice, because there's only so many reps."
For younger players like redshirt freshman Andre Levrone, that depth has already forced improvement during the offseason.
"Just the competition in the group and the maturation of myself through Coach Hagans coaching," Levrone says, discussing why he's improved. "Everybody bought in in the group, and we all just decided that we were going to work hard, and we just found ways every day to get better."
Getting better was a must coming off the 2013 season. Now, the Cavaliers' receivers admit they made too many costly mistakes that stalled drives.
"That's something that really needs to be big for us, no drops," said junior Canaan Severin. "I think last season in the past, that kind of hurt us a little bit. It was hard for David Watford to get going when it's 2nd down, we have a drop, and then 3rd down we have a drop."
While drops may have been a weakness last season, the 'Hoos say size may be the biggest strength heading into a new year.
"The fact that we have so many 6-3, 210-pound guys that can stretch the field out, that can go across the middle, I think it helps a lot," Severin said. "Then also we have the quicker guys, shorter guys like Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell that can really shift and get open."
"I think I bring a different dynamic to our core," said Jennings, who now enters his senior year. "We do have a lot of big guys, but I'm more of a smaller, shiftier guy. Just whatever Coach Hagans or Coach Fairchild asks me to do, I'm going to go out there and try to do it to the best of my ability."
In addition to Jennings, Terrell, Levrone, and Severin, the Cavaliers bring back even more size and experience to the wide receiver position. Senior Miles Gooch will be another 6-3, 210-pound target for quarterback Greyson Lambert this fall, while 6-3, 210-pound Keeon Johnson returns for his sophomore season after playing in eight games as a freshman. Four-star recruit Jamil Kamara is the newest addition who could make an impact in his freshman season.
Early in camp, the receivers haven't just been proving themselves to Fairchild. Lambert, who's been taking the first-team snaps throughout camp, says he's enjoying the competition as well.
"That whole position group is excellent," he says. "We have so many good receivers right now. There is no rotation because they're all getting in there and they're all producing. It's a lot of fun when you can trust all of those guys to go up and make plays for you."