Big changes in store for Virginia as spring practice begins

The Bronco Mendenhall era at Virginia officially kicks off Tuesday with the start of spring practice, but the new sheriff in town has his work cut out for him. The Cavaliers are just 15-33 in the last four seasons and 8-24 in ACC play. Mendenhall's renovations are already underway, but big questions linger as spring gets started.

1. Who will Matt Johns throw to?

A year ago, Johns' emergence as the starting quarterback was the surprise of the spring. Now, he's firmly established as the starter and earning raves from Mendenhall for his leadership. The bigger question is, how many weapons Johns will have at his disposal? Only Arizona State's Mike Bercovici targeted his tight ends and running backs more often than Johns last season, and now Virginia must replace their top wide receiver, Canaan Severin. Among returning wideouts, Keeon Johnson had the most catches last season -- just 13 for 173 yards. The entire receiving corps had just 19 receptions in 2015.

2. Who's going to step up in the secondary?

Virginia figured its defensive backfield would be a strength last season, but despite the presence of established stars like Quin Blanding and Maurice Canady, the Cavaliers allowed 8.2 yards per pass (108th nationally) and picked off just four passes (fewest by a Power 5 team). New coordinator Nick Howell also oversees the secondary, and he could lend a big hand to his unit by simply switching up philosophy. No defense in the Power 5 blitzed more often than Virginia did last season, yet opponents still completed nearly 60 percent of their throws against the blitz and averaged nearly 7 yards per dropback. Virginia needs talent to emerge, but as much as anything, the new scheme could have a big impact.

3. What's the attitude at practice?

For all the attempts at optimism around Virginia the last few years, there were two clear issues that were impossible to avoid. The first was that former coach Mike London opened each of the last two seasons on the hottest seat in the ACC. The second was that the schedule appeared immensely difficult. With Mendenhall's arrival and a far more manageable schedule in 2016, those black clouds have parted. So, will things feel truly different for the Cavaliers? How much Mendenhall can change the culture in the span of just a few weeks may be as important as how much of his game plan can be installed.