Cavaliers looking to get Zaccheaus the ball in open space
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae and his staff have a huge task ahead of them this summer.
They need to find ways to get one of the nation’s more dynamic offensive weapons in senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus the ball in open spaces where he can showcase his speed.
Zaccheaus set a school single-season record with 85 receptions last year. He racked up 895 yards, a 10.5 average, and five touchdowns, but those numbers seem to just scratch the surface of what could produce.
He is the No. 2 returning receiver in the country, trailing only Gary Jennings of West Virginia (97 catches), and Zaccheaus also has carried the ball 63 times in his three seasons, averaging 7.4 yards with two TDs.
”Olamide has separated himself as the primary playmaker on offense and so, now, it’s a matter of challenging the offensive staff: Can we create ways to get him the ball that’s quarterback friendly,” Anae said.
One of the answers to the puzzle may already be in place in transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins. He is more of a threat as a runner than was Kurt Benkert, the drop-back style transfer who was quarterbacked the Cavaliers the last two seasons.
”What may have worked with Kurt Benkert may not work with the quarterbacks right now in the program, so we’ve done a tremendous amount of moving him around,” Anae said of the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Zaccheaus. ”Sometimes he’s a running back, sometimes he’s an outside receiver. He’s always in motion or lining up here to there.”
Perkins started his college career at Arizona State, but transferred after two seasons. Last year he led Arizona Western Community College to the NJCAA national championship game, then transferred to Virginia. Unlike Benkert, who arrived in the summer, Perkins arrived before spring practice and quickly made an impression.
”He just came in from Day One working to compete,” quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said.
In the spring, he also won over the coaching staff.
”At this point it’s his job to lose,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said after spring drills concluded.
In his third season, Mendenhall feels like Virginia is starting over in some respects. He arrived wanting to run a fast-paced offense that puts an emphasis on depth, physical conditioning and a mobile quarterback. Instead, he had a big-armed pro prospect in Benkert having to learn the offense and not nearly enough depth to make a fast pace work.
Mendenhall is back to a style he prefers, and with Perkins’ speed and athleticism and ability to hurt teams with option runs, Mendenhall believes he has a dynamic combination in Perkins and Zaccheaus that can punish defenses.
”If spring is any indication, the combination of those two has been really hard to stop,” he said.
Zaccheaus also has been challenged to make more of his open-space opportunities, and his coaches say he demonstrated a better knack for turning a short pass into long gains during spring drills.
”It’s just a mindset that once you catch the ball, you’re not going to get tackled,” Zaccheaus said. ”And that’s just something that you’ve got to develop and it takes a lot of conditioning. I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life and it’s just allowed me to excel, especially in that area.”
He’s also working to excel in another area – leadership. That will be critical in the weeks ahead as the team works out on its own, looking to arrive at preseason practice prepared to run the new offense.
”I can’t be that guy in the background that I’ve been in the past because there aren’t guys to fill that role of people talking, leading with their voice,” he said. ”I don’t like being that vocal guy. I’m just kind of laid back, chill, but that’s not what this team needs. This team needs to hear what I’m thinking.”
And to find ways to get him the ball with room to make things happen.
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