Darius Jennings caught 20 passes as a true freshman wide receiver at Virginia. Now the rising sophomore is ready to play a bigger part in the Cavaliers' offense.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," Jennings said Monday morning, following the Cavaliers' first spring practice. "I played QB in high school, so it was a big jump for me last year to go to receiver. But now, I'm out here. I'm running routes; I'm doing my thing. So it's time to move forward and be a playmaker."
The Cavaliers have to replace three of their top six receivers from last year. Kris Burd led the team with 66 catches for 913 yards and three touchdowns; fellow senior Matt Snyder caught 20 passes for 225 yards in seven games. Another departed senior, fullback Max Milien, was third on the team with 22 catches.
Jennings, who finished his freshman season with 238 yards and a touchdown, now finds himself atop the pre-spring depth chart at wide receiver, opposite returning starter Tim Smith. Another rising sophomore, Dominique Terrell, is second behind Jennings on the depth chart.
"We talk about that a lot. We lost Burd, we lost Snyder, we lost (senior Ray) Keys," Jennings said. "So those are the guys who kind of led the group, just kind of showed us how to do it. So it's our turn to carry it on and just continue."
Jennings and Terrell were both rated as four-star recruits by Rivals, and among the top 150 prospects in the country by ESPNU, when they signed with Virginia in 2011. Terrell finished his freshman season with eight catches for 59 yards and a touchdown, and also returned 14 punts for Mike London's team.
Both players showed glimpses of their big-play ability as true freshmen: Terrell's touchdown came on a 27-yard catch-and-run in overtime of the Cavaliers' 21-20 win over Idaho; Jennings turned a screen pass into a 53-yard touchdown in Virginia's win at Miami.
Now that both players have gotten a taste of college football, London's hoping to get more big plays from them next fall.
"I've said it before, this might be the fastest group of receivers we've had collectively since I've been here," he said. "And they're going to have to, they've played in games and they're going to have to step up and make their play."
"One of the things we're trying to emphasize is yards after the catch," London added. "Utilize their skill and their speed if they catch the ball."