By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mike London liked much of what he saw from No. 17 during UVa’s football practice at Episcopal High in Alexandria last weekend. But the Cavaliers’ least experienced wide receiver was far from flawless.
“Although Miles Gooch looked like he was catching the ball pretty good, he lined up offsides about three or four times,” London, Virginia’s second-year coach, said with a smile Saturday. “So we’ll check his eyesight.”
For now, UVa’s coaches can live with the occasional mistake from Gooch. The 6-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman-to-be is big, strong, fast and athletic. He’s also a converted quarterback trying to learn the nuances of a position he had not played since he was in elementary school.
“He’s getting better and better every day,” said Shawn Moore, who coaches Virginia’s wide receivers. “It’s just going to take some time.”
At one point during the practice at Episcopal, during an 11-on-11 drill, Gooch cut over the middle, caught a pass from freshman quarterback David Watford and ran directly into middle linebacker Henry Coley. The contact knocked Gooch off his stride, but he held on to the ball.
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said: “He’s a guy who’s got good size, who’s athletic and who has some confidence in his own abilities.”
The coaching staff is doing all it can to accelerate the learning process for Gooch this spring, and there have been unmistakable signs of progress. Still, Gooch said after practice Wednesday morning, it’s “an adjustment. The physical requirement is way higher than it is playing quarterback.”
Gooch switched positions before the start of spring practice. His workload has increased considerably in the past two weeks, and he’s now running with the first-team offense, if only because the Cavaliers are so short-handed at his position.
Virginia’s spring game is Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium, and four wideouts will be on the sideline because of injuries: Kris Burd, Tim Smith, Matt Snyder and Bobby Smith.
Burd and Tim Smith are recovering from operations; Snyder and Bobby Smith got hurt this spring. Of UVa’s healthy wideouts, Raymond Keys, a former walk-on who caught three passes last season, is the most experienced.
“We have quite a few guys out right now, and I’m just trying to do my best to fill in for them,” Gooch said.
Learning where to line up and how to run precise routes has been difficult, Gooch said, but he feels much more comfortable at wideout than he did when spring practice began.
“Especially since I’m getting way more reps than I ever dreamed of,” he said. “So I was kind of forced into having to get comfortable.”
The playbook is not new to Gooch, who as a quarterback had to know what routes his receivers would run.
“But it’s kind of different trying to determine which coverage it is,” he said. “It’s easier when you can see the whole field [at quarterback], as opposed to when you’re on one side looking at the corner and the safety.”
When asked about Gooch, London often says, “He’s what they’re supposed to look like,” meaning big-time college receivers.
How much he’ll play in the fall is unclear, but Gooch is becoming an intriguing option for the coaching staff. And with every route he runs, every block he throws, every catch he makes, it’s easier for Gooch to look in the mirror and see a wide receiver looking back.
“I feel confident with my hands,” he said, “and I guess the confidence grows as spring ball keeps going.”