Postseason play gives UVA more practice time, development

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- After playing in 10 games as a true freshman at Virginia last year, Charles Snowden made the move onto the first-team defense at outside linebacker this spring. Snowden has started all 12 games for the Wahoos this fall, heading into Saturday's Belk Bowl matchup against South Carolina.

Snowden says the additional practice time he got leading into last December's game against Navy in the Military Bowl was critical to his development going into his second season.

"Last year's bowl practices definitely helped me a lot," Snowden said. "It was about 15 of them, and they were all really tough and physical. And the first few were with Coach Mendenhall. So that really built, 'will before skill' we always say. So I think that definitely built will. And the team periods at the end definitely built skill. So I think they helped a lot."

Snowden's 2 1/2 sacks and 7 1/2 tackles for loss were both second on the UVA defense during the regular season, and his 61 total tackles were tied for third on the team. He was just one of the second-year players on the UVA roster to step into bigger roles in 2018.

Safety Joey Blount also finished with 61 tackles, despite missing a pair of late-season games because of an ankle injury. A pair of sophomore inside linebackers, Zane Zandier and Rob Snyder, emerged after injuries to starters Jordan Mack and Malcolm Cook. Mandy Alonso played a key role in the team's defensive line rotation before a season-ending knee injury in early November. Offensively, redshirt freshman Ryan Nelson started all 12 games at left tackle, while second-year receiver Terrell Jana was fifth on the team with 11 catches.

"Every practice counts. Especially with film," said junior receiver Joe Reed, who went from two touchdown catches in 2017 to seven this season. "It's amazing the things you can learn from film, and just being out here the extra couple weeks. Getting more reps against our first-team D, putting more things on film for us to learn from."

Last year's trip to the Military Bowl was the first postseason appearance for the UVA program since 2011. This season marks back-to-back bowl trips for the Wahoos since going to four straight from 2002-05.

That has given Mendenhall and his staff a jump-start on the 2019 season this month. Mendenhall says UVA's younger players had the equivalent of eight spring practices before the team starting preparing for the Gamecocks.

The head coach mentioned second-year running backs Lamont Atkins and PK Kier, freshman receiver Billy Kemp, and a pair of outside linebackers, redshirt freshman Elliott Brown and true freshman Noah Taylor, as players who impressed during those developmental practices.

"I think this season and the progress we've made is reflective of not only who we've brought to our program through the last recruiting classes, but again, especially last year," Mendenhall said. "When you get extra practice, it accelerates your program. And when you're able to do that now especially back-to-back, it's invaluable."

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