Mike London's Weekly Press Conference - August 29, 2011
QUESTION: Can you tell us about the depth chart, mainly the quarterback situation?
COACH LONDON: After an extensive amount of time looking at the team and trying to put players in the best position to help us win, we went through this and decided. As you look at the depth chart today, going into our first game, this is the way it looks.
The depth chart changes all the time. It changes with injury – it changes with guys whose learning curve has improved. It’s always in constant flux.
I think now there are 10 or 12 true freshmen that will play. Henry Coley, Drequan Hoskey, Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd, Jake McGee, Conner Davis will see their first college game because they’re in the depth or they’re on four-phase special teams.
I think one of the things you see is obviously the guy who is going to take the first snap of the season as quarterback is Michael Rocco. No surprise. Taking the extra snaps during practices kind of arranged it that way. Also you’ll see David Watford play in the game.
I think one of the things we’re trying to do is find athleticism. We’re trying to find the playmakers and trying to find guys that can help us win. As I said going into this, David has a set of skills that are still developing but at the same time, it’s something this team can utilize.
That doesn’t put Ross Metheny out of the mix. He’s an older guy, probably the oldest guy we have in terms of playing quarterback depth chart-wise.
Everybody wants to know who the starting quarterback is, this and that. But to be clear, our team understands what’s going on. We go out and we practice every day. The quarterbacks go against whoever they’re going against. The quarterback is behind the center. I think our team has a lot of confidence in Michael Rocco, and I think they have a lot of confidence in Ross Metheny. In terms of the development of David, I think there’s a confidence level that they have when he does some things. He can do some things that are special. Does he still have to learn? Yes, he does. But that’s part of the process. The process of him learning will happen as the season goes on. But I’m committed to playing him and trying to give him that development and that playmaker ability that I think this team needs.
There are also some young receivers in the mix with Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell. I think they are also in the mix in terms of returning kicks and punts. It’s another opportunity for guys, those guys particularly, who have a skill level, particularly the speed and elusiveness to go out and catch the ball and further the field aspects of the game.
I know they’re excited about playing. We’re excited to play them. Those are guys that I think will be talked about a lot as the season goes on. Also, there is Kevin Parks and the running back situation. Kevin has done some very, very good things during the course of camp-coming out of the backfield, kicking the ball, running the ball, having long runs, having tough, hard runs, things like that. So we’re excited about Kevin having an opportunity to play.
Looking at it, we have a redshirt freshman, Matt Fortin, who is hopefully going to take the mode of Danny Aiken when I recruited him. He was a snapper-that’s what he did for a long time. Hopefully he’s still in the NFL snapping. But Danny was special. I think Matt has a chance to be really, really good for the next four years.
As you kind of look at it, you see on the depth chart that there are some young players who are backing up. This is the class of the true freshmen that are playing. Also I didn’t mention Kameron Mack, Brandon Phelps, D.J. Hill. They’ll also figure heavily into the special teams and perhaps the rotation.
In terms of the skill level of some of these young guys, there’s the good and the bad. The good is they’re young, athletic and they want to play. The bad is they have to learn how to play as they go along. They’ve gotten it through practice, but now they’re going to have to get it in playing through college football games. Our situation is no different from other teams in the country.
That’s it as far as the depth chart situations.
QUESTION: Rijo Walker is now playing safety. What made you see confidence in him at that position? Is that a long-term move?
COACH LONDON: No. I think Rijo was one of those young players that played last year as a true freshman. He started out playing on two phases. First, he played on the special teams unit. As he started to play, started to develop, he moved into a four-phase, full-phase special teams guy. His football IQ was very high. He’s a corner that has good skills and ability, but he’s also a smart guy. You want your safeties back there to be able to call defenses, get you lined up.
I think his development playing last season, knowing the defense, put him in the position now where he can also play safety. You always like those corners that can play safety. That’s why you recruit corners that play safety. His curve has fast-forwarded to the point he has a great understanding and grasp of the defense and how to run it. He shows an aptitude for getting it done.
We could have gone with Dom Joseph, who played safety last year. We still can do that in an emergency situation. But, as I said, I think Rijo has done a pretty good job in knowing the defense, the calls, the adjustments, all those things.
QUESTION: Following up on Matt Snyder, when you’re in the nickel package, who is the fifth defensive back?
COACH LONDON: It will be Dom [Joseph], [Demetrious Nicholson], of course Rodney McLeod, and Corey Mosley back there. We’ve gotten Drequan Hoskey into the mix a little bit. Brandon Phelps is another one in the mix as a young player who’s going to play in the nickel and dime packages.
Again, it goes back to trying to take the skill level that the players have and utilize their skill level with the personnel group.
If we go for wide receivers in nickel and dime packages, you’ll see Brandon Phelps and Drequan Hoskey. It won’t be regular personnel, base personnel. We’ll have to be multiple with the types of guys that go in, both on offense and defense.
They wanted to play. We assessed them, evaluated whether they had the ability to do so. Now the biggest thing is playing in a college game in front of people yelling and screaming, bright lights, all those things. You never know how they’re going to react to that. My guess is they’re a confident group and they’re ready to play so we’re going to play them.
QUESTION: Was there ever any discussion regarding who was going to be the No. 2 quarterback, or was there any point when Michael Rocco was not the front-runner?
COACH LONDON: He was always a guy that was taking a lot of reps with the first group. Then David would take some reps with the first group. Also Ross would take reps, beat the clock in game situations in terms of his experience. As practice goes on, we start fine-tuning “the who” and “the what.” Obviously Michael will take most of the reps with all of the ones.
We’ve got to continue to try to develop David. There are some things he does well, there’s some things he has to learn. We wanted to make sure he had those opportunities to continue learning as a player. Ross was there with the first-unit group, he’s taken some of those reps. He has a presence as far as the balance of the offense. He has the experience there that you want around, that you have to have around.
We’ve got different quarterbacks. We have different guys that have different gifts, abilities and talents. Instead of anointing one as the sole guy, at this time in this program we are where we are right now with the quarterback situation. Hopefully their play as the season goes on will separate one from another because then they’re playing in front of people.
They’ve never been hit in practice. As much as you try to simulate live rushes and tackling the quarterback, that hasn’t happened. But it’s going to happen real quick. It’s going to happen this Saturday.
Who can handle it, how they handle has got to be evaluated as far as who will continue to keep taking snaps from center.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say there’s not separation between the three?
COACH LONDON: As I said, Michael Rocco is going to be the first quarterback to take a snap. I think that’s how we’re going to start the game. [Rijo] Walker will get some reps. If the game dictates that Ross goes in, that’s how it happens.
There’s separation in the fact that we said the first guy taking the reps is Michael. Then after that, as we see how the game goes, I’m committed to putting David Watford in the game because he has another skill level. I don’t know if that answers your question or not. The separation is that the guy that’s going to take the snap is a guy that’s earned the ability to start the game.
QUESTION: William & Mary beat Virginia in 2009. With that loss in mind, what is it like facing them this year?
COACH LONDON: The last time they were up here, a lot of players playing for them now played and beat Virginia and helped them with turnovers. They wanted it more. They played harder. They came in with the mentality that, ‘We can win this game.’ As a BCS opponent, sometimes you get into that lull that you’re supposed to win this game.
I’ve been on both sides of that. If you don’t play to your capabilities, you’re in for a long day. I’ve been on that staff; I’ve coached with Coach Laycock. I know there’s a lot of confidence down there. Jonathan Grimes is an excellent player, the quarterback is an excellent player. So is the wide receiver they have. Their tight end, Gottleib, is an All-CAA pick. They’ve got great players. On the other side, defensively, the one corner, B.W. Webb, is excellent. The linebacker they’ve got, Dante Cook, a really great player. So is Marcus Hyde, the defensive end. There’s a team full of veteran players. Jonathan Grimes was an All-CAA special teams player and a starting tailback also.
They’re a very good team. I’ve seen them up close and personal. I’ve been on the staff. I know what’s being taught down there. I know the mindset that those guys are going to have coming in. I know it’s the first game, however you want to say. We have to play better, way better, than them if we’re going to have the kind of success we’re looking for.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about Michael Rocco? What do you like about him?
COACH LONDON: You haven’t seen a whole bunch of him. He’s a true sophomore. He didn’t play many games last year. We’re trying to get some depth. Again, I’ve said that Michael comes from a family of coaches. He was a quarterback in high school, taught by his father. Frank Rocco does a great job up there at that school. There’s a calmness about Michael, and there’s an understanding about the style of offense that we have, about how to distribute the ball to the different playmakers. He’s a pocket guy that can make some of the reads.
Over the course of camp, he kept demonstrating his ability to do that. As I said before, we try to simulate live rushes and things like that. But whether it’s Michael or David or Ross, the test will come when they’re coming after you and you have to do something. You have to make snap judgment decisions, make those throws, or maybe use your feet to get you out of trouble.
We’ll see what happens with those guys as the season goes on.
We’re looking at this as, ‘this is the first game.’ Michael Strauss is also a good prospect that’s going to be a really good young quarterback. But still, for Rocco and Watford, their development as the season goes on will be crucial and will be key because there is no other place to go. You have to develop the guys that you have, and that’s what we’re going to do.
QUESTION: At the time you took the job, if I’m not mistaken, Michael Rocco was committed to another school. What went into the acquisition of him?
COACH LONDON: As I recollect, we were trying to go after guys particularly him in his situation. He committed to Louisville. We got a call from his family stating that he was interested in reopening his process because I believe there was a coach change there. I believe Coach Strong was coming in there. I think the familiarity the family had with the coaches here on staff and myself was one of the issues. Also, the chance to play close to home was a huge issue. Once he met Coach Lazor and the style of offense we were going to run, that was another issue that brought him here.
I think that with the accumulated points and in his best interest, he chose Virginia. We had spots open. We had scholarships available at that time. So that’s how that came about.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on David Watford? Did you always think he could play as a true freshman?
COACH LONDON: He was a midyear player. He did a great job with his grades in the midyear when the semester was over. I knew that he would. But the fact that he did well was something that I knew spoke to him as a quarterback. His first semester, he did an extremely good job in terms of handling the academic course load going into spring practice. There was something about him from the mental standpoint, the learning curve part. Then we started practicing. He wasn’t in the mix at that point. The few reps that he did get, he showed ability. He’s got an arm, he can run, and he’s athletic.
Spring practice ended. We were dealing with Michael and Ross from that standpoint. With David, it wasn’t as much as a ‘we got to get this kid in the game.’ It was, ‘look at his development, he’s pretty good.’ During the summer, he started working out as the guys are doing their own seven-on-seven. He gained 11 pounds, got stronger, got half an inch taller-I don’t know if it was the Afro, but there was something that got him bigger. That was the early part of camp.
So his development started, his process started. When you already have two guys that have played a lot, you want to make sure you do right by them and give them opportunities. When you have another guy like Michael Strauss in the mix, it’s hard to find reps to get him in there and speed up his development.
We go back to three weeks ago, whenever we started about it, and this is what we decided to do. I decided to make sure that he got reps but also, at that time, Michael Rocco got a chance to have reps. When you go back, the players that have gotten the most reps, the most looks, the most throws, have been Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss, Michael Rocco, and David Watford in an attempt to try to bring them up to a level being able to evaluate them and to make a decision to do what we did a few weeks back.
As I said, the commitment to play David is because I see better things on the horizon for him, his development. That’s where we are with him.
QUESTION: Kris Burd is a senior among a group of younger receivers and quarterbacks. What do you need from him?
COACH LONDON: Just getting the ball to him. With our passing game, we throw spots. It’s an offense that’s based on coverages and things like that. Looking at the older guys, Tim Smith is back, healthy now. It’s been really nice to see him out there running around. Matt Snyder, our captain, is there. So are young guys like Miles Gooch, who is trying to find a way to play.
I think the better our receivers are in running their routes, the better it’s going to make it for those young quarterbacks to throw where they’re supposed to throw. I think we have a handful of veteran receivers that can do that.
QUESTION: You’ve gotten a lot of questions this summer about Cam Johnson. What kind of season do you expect from Jake Snyder?
COACH LONDON: Hopefully a very good one because he hasn’t been playing a lot. Jake is a tough, hard-nosed blue-collar type of guy. Not flashy. He just works hard every practice. He’s very physical, one of the strongest guys on our team. He’s a smart player and an effort player.
We’re hoping that he can give us some snaps that can add up to tackles, tackles for loss, and even some sacks because he’s exhibited those type of capabilities in practice. Again, here we are, game week, and we’ll see if he can do it in the game.
QUESTION: With all the youth on the team, was there any reluctance to have so many guys jump right into the fray?
COACH LONDON: Well, I think it’s an indication of the talent of some of the young guys who came in here. They had, whether it was speed or athleticism or strength. Most of them that are going to play are skill-position guys. One of the things we tried to do was address speed, address skill, the needs there.
I love all my players. There are third years and fourth years that have been in the program for a while. It’s no disrespect to them. It’s just the reality of college football that you’re supposed to play the best players, try to develop those players as you go along.
Whether it’s a fourth year or a first year, I know there are some things that are good and bad about the young players that are playing. Like I said, we’re no different than a lot of other college teams that are going to be playing freshmen for the first time.
It’s in their development. They’ve gone through early camp. We just say, ‘listen, the guy came to here to play, we’re going to put him in a position to try to help us play and win.’ We’ll see. Like I said, the first college game is coming up here pretty soon.
QUESTION: Chase Minnifield returned punts and Perry Jones returned kicks in the past, but they are not on the depth chart. Can you please discuss that decision?
COACH LONDON: They are always an option because of the experience they’ve had doing it. Again, it refers back to the ability of Dominique Terrell being a punt catcher. I think he’s a dynamic punt catcher. Kickoff return guys, Darius Jennings and Kevin Parks, are pretty good at that also.
Perry is going to carry the ball. If you have a way to take some hits off of him and to avoid guys running full speed trying to tackle him, we’re going to do that. In practice, he’s catching kickoffs, punts. It’s the same thing with Chase [Minnifield]. Every time we punt, he’s out there catching punts. We’ll see what happens with Dominique. Everybody will hold their breath on that first punt-‘please catch it, please catch it.’ If he catches it and he runs with it and does a good job, it’s a great move. If he doesn’t, then everybody’s upset.
Again, we’re going to utilize his talents and we’ll go from there. If things happen where we have to make changes, we can always go back to those guys. But starting out, I’m going to give these young players an opportunity.
QUESTION: What does it mean to have linebacker depth with Ausar Walcott, a guy who started 11 games last year?
COACH LONDON: The other thing is that Ausar [Walcott] has done a nice job. We’ve all talked about him before in telephone conference calls of getting himself back in position to be a relevant player. I think he’s now doing that. He was over there watching film. He’ll be in third-down packages coming off with his hand in the ground. He can play both linebacker positions because of his knowledge playing that position last year.
I’m pleased where Ausar is right now. At first I wasn’t talking about him much. But I think that he’s come a long way. Now it’s an opportunity for him to shine both on the field and in the classroom and in the community.
QUESTION: How many snaps do you expect for David Watford Saturday?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know about number of snaps, but we’re going to put him in the game and have what I guess you’d say is a limited menu in the type of plays he’s going to run. I want him to have success. I don’t want him to go in there and run everything because of his level and where he is in understanding the level. There will be a menu of things and plays that he can do and that we’ll look for using his talents in.
QUESTION: A lot of emphasis in the spring was placed on defense and attempting to correct last year’s flaws. What excites you most about the defense heading into the season and what are you anxious to see?
COACH LONDON: I’m fired up for the fact that the unit is a year older, and that the unit is stronger and more experienced. I’m fired up about that fact. Usually it should translate into playing better. It’s no secret that you look on the depth chart and you see that there’s a true freshman corner. I’m quite sure that the football will be thrown that way. I also feel good about it, and the staff feels good about the way this young man, Tra¢, carries himself. His approach to studying the game – he is a smart player. In summer school, he had a 3.5 GPA. He’s going to be a future captain of this team. He’s very mature. He’s a fast player. You know, he’s got a skill level to play. That’s why we put him there.
There’s always anxiousness about anybody that plays. But I’m quite sure that there will be no hiding the corner when he’s in press coverage or man coverage. Everybody will see.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on William and Mary after scouting the team?
COACH LONDON: Defensively they’re a zone pressure team. You go back and you look at the game against Virginia a couple years ago-that was a different style of offense with the big splits and all that. If you go back and look at their game against North Carolina, they’re a front that moves. They’re very active. They’ll zone pressure you, three-deep. They keep the ball in front of them. They don’t let you throw the ball behind them. They got guys that run. They play hard. That’s a style of defense that I know Coach Shoop was running before he left and went to Vanderbilt, and Coach Boone who I know also has picked up the same philosophy, same style of play.
I think offensively we expect a lot of shifts in motions. Again, Coach Laycock is one of the best offensive minds I know with formations and shifts. Little subtle movements and motions to see whether you’re playing man or whether you’re playing zone. Quarterbacks do a great job of leading the coverage, pre-snap, then post-snap. They have skilled wide receivers. Although I believe they’re missing No. 9-one of their best wide receivers. I don’t believe he’s in the mix right now. But their receiver group is a group that’s reflective of Coach Laycock’s offensive philosophy about, ‘Hey, read this coverage. You sit down, you’re out right here. You convert your route into this type of route.’
They’re an experienced team. They have a veteran quarterback with Paulus. He was recruited and went to North Carolina. I’m pretty sure they feel good about his skill level and his ability.
Then with their kicking game, Jonathan Grimes was the player of the year on special teams. They do a great job on all three facets of the football.