By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At times this season, Mike London said Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff, UVa may play two tailbacks at the same time. The Cavaliers have a talented stable of backs, including senior Perry Jones and sophomores Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson, and that gives offensive coordinator Bill Lazor considerable flexibility.
That Jones is an accomplished receiver further expands Lazor’s options. In 2011, Jones caught 48 passes for 506 yards and three touchdowns. Among the other Wahoos, only wide receiver Kris Burd (66) had more receptions last year. Only two players — Burd (913) and wideout Tim Smith (565) — had more yards receiving than Jones, and no Cavalier had more touchdown receptions. (Burd and Smith had three each, too.)
Jones, who also rushed for a team-best 915 yards last year, had one reception (for 38 yards) as a true freshman in 2009. He caught 31 passes for 224 yards and one TD in 2010. Not surprisingly, given those numbers, Jones says he has improved dramatically as a receiver since enrolling at UVa.
“Not only from out of the backfield, but also from the slot,” Jones said Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., site of the ACC’s football media days.
“I have different packages where I run routes from the slot position. Being able to run it from the slot position has helped me running it from the backfield. It’s definitely something that I feel like I’ve improved on.”
Jones, a second-team All-ACC selection last season, was asked if he might line up more in the slot this fall, with another tailback in the backfield. “I don’t even know,” Jones said. “I’m not sure what Coach Lazor’s plans are this year, how he plans to use us. Whatever he wants to do, I’m down for.”
London would expect nothing less from Jones, a team captain for the second year in a row.
“Very selfless player,” London said. “He’ll be out at practice, and if they need a scout-team punt-returner or whatever, he’ll go out and he’ll be that guy, because he wants to give the representative look to the defense or the return team or the cover team. A lot of times I’ve had to pull him out of practice and tell him to get out of there, but he wants to give the look. That’s the epitome of a great captain that just wants to win and will do everything it takes to do so.”
In 2011, Parks ran 152 times for 709 yards and team-high nine touchdowns. Richardson added added 366 yards and two TDs on 72 carries. Sophomore Khalek Shepherd is also in the mix at tailback, but he made a bigger impact last year on special teams. Shepherd ran back 17 kickoffs for 442 yards, an average of 26 yards per return.
Richardson, who at 6-0 and 215 pounds is the Cavaliers’ largest tailback, may also see time on kickoff returns this fall.
“A lot of our backs will be involved in the kicking-game aspect of it to give them touches,” London said. “The biggest thing, as I said before, is they’re all selfless. They all want each other to do well. They hang out with each other, and when you have that and there’s no ego and animosity, then you have a pretty cohesive unit back there.”
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Among ACC teams, UVa ranked ninth in punt returns (5.8-yard average) last season. Dominique Terrell, then a true freshman, handled the job for most of the season, but Jones replaced him late in the year.
Terrell averaged only 4.4 yards per return and often struggled with his decision-making once the ball was punted. Other players will battle Terrell for the starting job during training camp, but London said Monday that he believes Terrell has the self-confidence necessary to succeed in that role.
“I think he does,” London said. “He hears the criticism and the boos and all the stuff like that. He’s a very prideful young man. He wants to get it right, he wants to do well, and he knows that the only way you do it well and get it right is through competition.”
Jones said he’s been tutoring Terrell on returning punts, one of the most challenging parts of the college game.
“At the high school level, punts are a lot of time on a line drive or just rolling down the field,” Jones said. “But when you get one that’s going 50 feet in the air, straight up and straight down, it’s hard to adjust to it. It goes into the light, you lose it for two seconds and you have to adjust to it. I think he’s done a good job. He’s watching film on what he did wrong and guys that did it right, so I think he’ll be OK this year.”
LESS IS MORE: Junior offensive tackle Morgan Moses is heading into his third season as a starter, and he’s considered an All-ACC candidate. London said Moses, who’s listed at 6-6, 335 pounds, has undergone a transformation since the end of his sophomore year.
“I think Morgan has come in and understood that last season might not have been his best season on the field, and so he changed the way his body looked,” London said. “He lost about 30 pounds.”
Now, London said, Moses has to rise “to the level of expectations that he put on himself when he said he wanted to come here. That was to be an All-American and a first-rounder [in the NFL draft]. I think he understands he has to take his game to another level. And when a big guy like that loses 30-plus pounds and can drive by McDonald’s and not go order a No. 6 and super-size it, I think he’s really getting it now.”
MAN ON A MISSION: Officially, he’s not one of the Cavaliers’ captains, but fifth-year senior Billy Schautz has set a sterling example for his teammates this offseason.
Schautz, who’s likely to start at defensive end this season, broke his left tibia and left fibula Nov. 19 in UVa’s win over Florida State and had surgery a day later. He rehabbed with a vengeance — often with classmate Steve Greer, who had a torn ACL repaired Jan. 3 — and has earned the praise of coaches and teammates alike.
“Billy, he’s one of the toughest young men that I know,” London said.
Greer said: “Schautz has been an animal through workouts right now. He’s back. You can definitely put him in the category of one of the hardest workers on the team. We’ve done a lot of extra workouts, and I’m expecting big things from him this fall. He’s just got a mentality. He’s going to be a leader on defense, and I’m really excited about what Schautz is bringing to the table.”
Brent Urban, a junior from Canada, is listed as a defensive end, but he might slide to defensive tackle, London said. With Schautz, returning starter Jake Snyder, heralded true freshman Eli Harold and converted linebacker Ausar Walcott, among others, available at end, the coaching staff may have the luxury of moving the 6-7, 290-pound Urban inside.
FAMILIAR FACES: London, a graduate of Bethel High in Hampton, has made the state’s fertile Tidewater area a recruiting priority since taking over at UVa. That’s fine with Jones, who starred at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake. He enjoys the 7-5-7’s high profile in the program.
“In the locker room, especially the younger guys, they talk about how they used to watch me play in high school,” Jones said, laughing. “So it’s kind of weird. It’s just funny. It’s just good to have a bunch of guys around that you know.”
HIGH PRAISE: When Greer arrived at UVa in 2008, Al Groh was the team’s head coach. Groh was dismissed after the 2009 season, and one of his former assistants, London, took over.
“I think when there’s a coaching change,” Greer said Sunday, “it takes a little bit for everyone to buy in. And with Coach London it wasn’t long. It’s pretty easy to buy in with him. I think we’re at the point now where everyone on the team is on board and we’re all moving in the same direction. So it’s a positive feeling.”
London “gets you jacked up to play,” Greer said, “but just as importantly, off the field we feel like he cares about us as individuals and really wants us to do well in the classroom and do stuff in the community. When you have a guy that you feel cares about you, it’s easy to play for him and buy into him.”