August 22, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Bronco Mendenhall and his staff are going to have to spread around the playmaking duties on the Cavaliers offense.

Gone is tailback Taquan Mizzell, the senior who accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team's rushing yards last year and led the Cavaliers with 52 pass receptions. Now, the Baltimore Ravens are benefiting from his versatility.

Meanwhile, Virginia will turn to a number of running backs and wide receivers to replace Mizzell, and Olamide Zaccheaus may top the list.

''There'll be some expansion and he's earned some expansion,'' Mendenhall said of Zaccheaus' role this year. ''I think there's been tons of focus in the spring of what he's capable of and so we're going to need him to be more of what we do offensively, and I think the diversity will help us.''

Zaccheaus, a junior wide receiver, finished second on the team with 51 receptions last year. Seven of his catches went for touchdowns, including plays that covered 82 and 74 yards. But after running the ball 33 times as a freshman, and averaging 7.9 yards on those attempts, the Cavaliers gave him only three carries a year ago.

That figures to change.

The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Zaccheaus was a running back in high school in Philadelphia and welcomes having his role expanded.

''I feel like I can do it all to be honest. It's really just what we've come to as an offense through experience,'' he said. ''You can't be throwing the ball deep all the time. We have to switch it up, run the ball a little bit, throw short passes, run the ball through the air like screens and stuff. Little things like that.''

It will help, he said, that Virginia appears to have more options that will attract the attention of defenses. Those options include deep-threat receivers Andre Levrone and Joe Reed, running backs Jordan Ellis and Daniel Hamm and possibly and expanded role for the tight ends led by Evan Butts.

Quarterback Kurt Benkert threw for 2,552 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, and loves to show off his arm by throwing deep. He said not having Mizzell as a security blanket will be a good thing for everyone else.

''I love `Smoke' to death,'' Benkert said of Mizzell, ''but it think it's going to make those guys better players knowing that it's on everybody now instead of just one guy.''

Zaccheaus believes it helps that the players know more of what the coaches expect, and that the coaches are more familiar with the skill sets available. Mendenhall favors a fast-paced offense, but has been more inclined, at least so far, in slowing things down to make sure the Cavaliers have the right personnel to make a play work.

''You can just feel the difference, especially on offense,'' Zaccheaus said. ''Last year was a lot of hype and this year is more confidence and just being prepared and being on the same page together. The work that we put in last offseason is not the same as the work that we did this offseason.''

He hopes the work will result in him getting the ball more often.

Said Zaccheaus, ''I would hate to be under-used.''


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