By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Come the Sept. 3 opener against William and Mary, veterans Kris Burd, Tim Smith and Matt Snyder figure to see time at wide receiver for UVa’s football team. Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell may well be in the rotation too.
None of them, however, will be working against defensive backs Saturday afternoon when Virginia practices at Episcopal High School in Alexandria.
Burd and Smith are each recovering from an operation. Both should be ready for training camp this summer. Snyder is nursing a minor injury.
Jennings and Terrell? Still in high school.
Suffice it to say, this has been an interesting spring for Shawn Moore, who coaches the Cavaliers’ wideouts.
“It’s been good,” Moore said after practice Friday morning. “I actually enjoy the opportunity these younger guys have. With Kris Burd and Timmy Smith and now Matt Snyder out, it gives these young guys an opportunity to step up, and I emphasize that every day.
“I tell them every day, ‘This is an opportunity for you to get better and also get into the rotation.’ Because last year, Burd and Dontrelle [Inman] and Matt logged a lot of football plays. It’s just hard to do that.”
Smith, who’ll be a redshirt sophomore this fall, appeared in only two games last season before an ankle injury shut him down. In his absence, virtually all of the snaps at wideout went to Burd (58 catches), Inman (51) and Snyder (30). Moore wants to use more receivers this fall.
“Three guys can’t get through the entire season logging all the plays,” Moore said. “Hopefully one, two or even three of these young guys step up.”
Burd, Snyder and Ray Keys, who had 3 catches for 53 yards last season, will be fifth-year seniors in the fall. The “young guys” to whom Moore referred include Miles Gooch, E.J. Scott, Bobby Smith and Kevin Royal.
Gooch and Scott will be redshirt freshmen this season; Smith and Royal, redshirt sophomores.
The 6-3, 215-pound Gooch came to UVa as a quarterback last year, but the logjam at that position resulted in his recent move to wideout.
“It’s been tough for him, because he’s never played the position,” Moore said. “But when you walk out on the field and you see him in uniform, he looks like the type of guy you want to put on the field. I think he’s going to help us. I think before he finishes playing here at this school he’s going to be a pretty good receiver.”
Moore, of course, is not a former wide receiver. Many consider him the greatest quarterback in UVa history. Still, he’s well-versed in the nuances of both positions.
For Gooch, Moore said, “I think the biggest challenge is all the technique stuff that comes with playing receiver. Whether it’s releasing, getting off the football, whether it’s type of catches that he needs to make. He’s getting better and better each day. It’s just going to take some time. It’s great that we have the spring, because he doesn’t have the intensity of the fall, prepping for a game. I think that definitely helps him.”
At 6-5, 205 pounds, Bobby Smith is another big target. The former Varina High star, who is not related to Tim Smith, appeared in Virginia’s final three games last year. He did not have any receptions.
“Just like with Gooch, for him it’s the transition of being a high school kid and coming and playing at this level, where there are so many other things that are involved with playing the position,” Moore said. “But Bobby’s really starting to separate himself, if I had to point one guy out [this spring]. I just hope he keeps being consistent and keeps making plays.”
Scott, at 5-11, 180 pounds, is closer in size to Burd and Tim Smith (and to Jennings and Terrell). His opportunities may be limited in the fall, but “E.J. definitely has a tremendous amount of potential as well,” Moore said. “He’s showing that each day as well, and he’s getting better.”
The 6-1, 205-pound Keys, who came to UVa as a walk-on, has been working with the first team this spring.
“He’s probably the most consistent guy we have right now,” Moore said. “He’s comfortable. Ray’s the type of guy I can put in and not worry about anything, about losing a beat. He can do all the things you ask him to do. He’s definitely the veteran of the group.”
Moore looks forward to the day when he can work with a full complement of receivers. But he remains excited about the present.
“With those [recruits] coming in, and those three guys that are injured right now coming back, that’s why it’s so important for these young guys,” Moore said.
“Everybody’s getting reps right now, but when it comes times to get ready for William and Mary, everybody’s not going to get reps. So those guys that step up now will create opportunities for themselves.”
The open practice at Episcopal’s Hummel Bowl will run from 1 to 3 p.m. It represents another opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate the four quarterbacks in the program: Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss, David Watford and Ross Metheny.
One of the four will succeed Marc Verica, who was a senior in 2010, as starting quarterback. For now, though, UVa coach Mike London said Wednesday, no “one has stepped out or emerged as being the front-runner.”
If Burd and Tim Smith were healthy this spring, the evaluation process might be easier for the coaching staff, Moore acknowledged Friday.
“If you got a guy that gets very few reps at receiver and he goes with one of your quarterbacks and he doesn’t run the right route,” Moore said, “it makes it tough to evaluate the quarterback.”