By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Three of the players with whom wide receivers coach Shawn Moore is likely to work when the UVa football team opens training camp in August — Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell and Adrian Gamble — are still in high school.
Kris Burd, Virginia’s leading receiver in 2010, is recovering from ankle surgery, and Tim Smith, who missed most of last season with an ankle injury, hasn’t been cleared for contact. Jared Green has left the program and plans to use his final season of eligibility at another school.
As a result, only two wideouts who caught passes last season — Matt Snyder (30 receptions) and Ray Keys (three receptions) — will be available when the Cavaliers begin spring practice early Wednesday morning.
The team’s newest wideout, Miles Gooch, should have plenty of opportunities to impress the coaching staff.
“I think it’s a great situation to be a wide receiver right now,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. “Some of the guys who’ve caught passes are not going to be here, and so it’s like a land of opportunity for [the other wideouts].”
The 6-3, 215-pound Gooch came to UVa last year as one of three quarterbacks in the first-year class, along with Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss. Rocco played as a true freshman, but Strauss and Gooch redshirted.
Marc Verica, Virginia’s starting quarterback in 2010, is out of eligibility, but with Rocco, Strauss and sophomore Ross Metheny back, and true freshman David Watford added to the mix this semester, Gooch’s prospects for earning playing time at that position dimmed. And so he recently moved to receiver.
“We talked long and hard about his opportunity to get on the field,” head coach Mike London said Monday. “He’s a very good athlete. And with Kris Burd being out and Timmy Smith being limited, then we’ll have an opportunity to see a guy like Miles Gooch or [rising sophomore wideout] Bobby Smith. Those are tall, athletic wide receivers that you like.”
As a senior at Towers High School in Decatur, Ga., Gooch passed for 2,204 yards and ran for another 500.
“When Miles first came here last fall, he and I had a conversation about what the best position for him in college football would be,” Lazor said. “He’s a guy who’s got good size, who’s athletic and who has some confidence in his own abilities.”
Case in point: Gooch was watching special-teams drills one day when he made a comment that stuck with Lazor.
“The way he put it was, ‘I can stand here and watch some guys do some things. I’m not getting a lot of reps at quarterback right now, and I think to myself I can do some of those things as good as those guys,’ ” Lazor said. “So here’s a guy who was really hungry to play.”
For the wideouts who are able to participate spring practice will “be pressure-filled,” Lazor said. “They need to know how to line up. The thing we really hold them accountable for is to be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, and that means coming off the ball fast and being exact in your routes, and we’re really going to hold them to that. And that’s the only way that the quarterbacks will be able to be evaluated and play correctly: if the receivers are doing the right thing. And when I say receivers, I mean all the route-runners. But at wide receiver, with Kris out and those other issues, there’s some guys who haven’t had a lot of game catches who are going to have some great opportunities. There’s nothing like having the chance to go out and play to earn playing time and to earn a spot.”
Gooch is the third-tallest wideout in the program, behind the 6-5 Smith, a rising sophomore, and the 6-4 Snyder, a rising senior.
“I couldn’t tell you where Miles Gooch will end up when he’s done with his college career and you all are writing stories about what a great career he had,” Lazor said. “It could be back at quarterback; it could be at some other skill position. He’s really a talented guy. So I think it’s as much as exploration as anything, and the wide-receiver situation may lend itself to him having a chance to have a lot of opportunity there, which would be fine for him. But I think throughout the spring we’ll figure that out.”
The first practice, which will start at 6 a.m., is open to the public. The Cavaliers practice on the fields behind University Hall and the McCue Center.