Virginia football notes: Coen King sticking at cornerback for the Cavaliers

Changing positions is nothing new for Coen King.
The sixth-year senior defensive back has manned every spot in the Virginia secondary at various times over past three seasons, but last fall settled in at free safety only to be bounced to cornerback out of necessity ahead of the spring.
King said as the Cavaliers were wrapping up their winter workouts, defensive backs coach Curome Cox told him that the coaching staff wanted to try him at cornerback. King played well enough and hasn’t departed the position since.
He’s now in a camp competition with Clemson transfer Malcolm Greene and SMU transfer Sam Westfall for a potential starting job at cornerback.
“The challenges are that it’s a totally different game in itself, really,” King said following Monday’s practice. “At safety, I see the entire field. I get a holistic view of everything going on, but at corner I might be lined up against the same guy every single play while playing man coverage, so for one, it’s a totally different game.”
It’s a switch, though, he said he’s more prepared for this time around compared to earlier in his career when he started a 2021 contest against Duke at corner or even this past spring while practicing at the position for the first time since.
King said he upped his conditioning over the summer because cornerback is more taxing on the legs than safety, and he said he studied more with Cox, too.
“From what I know now [about cornerback] to what I knew before, it’d be like reading a children’s book versus reading the encyclopedia,” King said. “So, Coach Cox has so much knowledge that he wants to give us and you’ve really got to go to him and listen to him if you want to get it.
“So, from what I thought corner was to what it actually is and what he’s telling me, it’s totally different. There’s so much more you can look at with formations, quarterback information and receiver stems. He tells us to look at their feet, and we were all taught before to look at their hips. Fentrell [Cypress III] and [Anthony Johnson] did that [last season] and they were All-ACC corners, so Coach Cox has his reputation and you’ve got to listen to him.”
King said he’s watched some of Cypress’ and Johnson’s game tape from last season to pull aspects of their playing styles and apply it to his, but can’t take everything because Cypress has elite speed and Johnson, as King put it, has ‘freakishly long arms’ that helped them each play the position well.
King said he’s always been willing to play wherever for the Hoos even if he didn’t anticipate this particular transition.
“I was kind of thinking I’d spend my entire year at safety again,” King said, “and I hate to say it, but with it being my second year in the system, I was excited to have a big year at safety. But how they’ve helped me develop as a corner, whether I’m at corner or at safety against Tennessee or come Game 10, I think I’m well developed in this system and they’ve really helped me along the way.”
• In an early moment during Monday’s practice, Tony Elliott was undeniably a stickler for proper fundamentals and effort.
His tight ends and quarterbacks were running through a drill during Virginia’s ball-security period of practice, and when a rep wasn’t to his liking, the second-year Cavaliers coach made sure to correct his players immediately.
“Finish the drill. Keep the ball high and tight,” Elliott demanded as he walked toward the group waiting for their next turns to run through the six-pad power blaster — a piece of equipment that’s on every practice field in America this time of year and one designed to force ball-carriers to clutch the football close to their armpit.
Virginia coach Tony Elliott instructs a ball-security drill during Monday's practice.
“Do not relax coming out of here,” Elliott yelled. “C’mon. The drill is not over until the cone.”
Sixth-year tight end Grant Misch was the first up after Elliott’s instructions and without any hesitation, the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder plowed his way past the hanging pads and beyond Elliott.
“All the way through the cone. Go! Go!” Elliott said. “There it is!”
There’s reason for Elliott’s need for players to be precise when going through a drill they’ve done probably hundreds of times in their careers. The Cavaliers were one of three ACC teams a season ago — along with Boston College and Miami — to lose at least one fumble per game, and heading into this year, Elliott said he wants those turnovers cleaned up.
UVa’s 22 total giveaways in 2022 were tied for the 10th most in all of the FBS.
“The key to winning football games is taking care of the ball,” Elliott said after Monday’s session, “and we didn’t do a great job of that last year. So, just about every practice, we’re going to take all of our offensive skill guys through that and really teach them the fundamentals of how to protect the ball in a normal posture but also to be able to protect the ball in awkward, unbalanced postures that you may find yourself in throughout the course of the game.”
Elliott said he’d show his players strong and weak examples from Monday’s practice when the team reconvenes for film on Tuesday.
“We’ll reiterate the good and the bad,” he said. “So, these are positive pictures that’s a result of quality reps during the time we worked on it and then these are pictures that need improvement and that’s why we’re doing the drill, so we can build the muscle memory.”
• On the injury front, Elliott said UVa sophomore running back Xavier Brown will miss four to six weeks with a dislocation in his elbow.
“The good thing is nothing was major from a bone standpoint,” Elliott said. “It’s just recovery time there.”
Brown rushed for 210 yards and a touchdown last season.
• Some freshmen standing out according to Elliott are linebacker Kam Robinson, cornerback Keandre Walker, wide receiver Suderian Harrison, offensive lineman Cole Suber and defensive lineman Jason Hammond.
“There have been several guys that have jumped [off the tape],” Elliott said. “But [Tuesday] will be the test, when we spot it down, coaches are off the field and it’s 11 on 11 and a little bit of live work.”

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