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Virginia defensive lineman Jowon Briggs refines his skills during offseason football workouts.

Days remain before Virginia unveils its football depth chart, but the emergence of first-year defensive lineman Jowon Briggs has head coach Bronco Mendenhall doing some strong hinting.

Briggs, a 6-foot-2, 295-pounder, apparently has a good chance to start for the Cavaliers, who open the season Aug. 31 at Pittsburgh.

“Through six practices, he’s running with our [first unit],” Mendenhall said earlier this month. “Not only is he a very good player. He’s a great fit at UVa.

“He’s strong academically. There’s a number of [musical] instruments that he plays. There’s the thespian-ism that he has, if that’s a word. He has other interests but, man, is he passionate about football.”

After his senior year at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, Briggs was rated the No. 3 defensive-tackle prospect in the country by Rivals.com, and 247Sports had him at No. 7.

“There’s no stardom to him or [recognition of] the star rankings,” Mendenhall said. “He never even acknowledged that.”

Clearly, Mendenhall is pleased with his latest first-year class.

“Our model every year is to bring in players every year that are greater than or equal to what we already have,” he said. “There are already players emerging through special teams and offense and defense that are certainly going to play as first-years.

“I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing, even in Year 4, to have first-years playing. The numbers of first-years playing is decreasing, but this is a very good recruiting class. I don’t see any players, athletically, that we missed on.

“It’s the strongest class, from top to bottom, in my time here. It’s a short window to evaluate but I like what I see.”

Doug Doughty is in his 44th year at the Roanoke Times, having produced an estimated 10,000 by-lines, a majority of them on University of Virginia athletics.

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