By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – After making the short trip from the McCue Center to Scott Stadium, University buses unloaded their passengers late Sunday afternoon. A two-hour practice followed for the UVa football team, but by 7:30 p.m., all was silent and still again inside the 61,500-seat stadium.
That won’t be the case for long. The Cavaliers, coming off an 8-5 season, opened training camp Aug. 6. Since then, they’ve practiced nearly every day, but the time to play is almost at hand.
It’s game week at Virginia. In the season-opener for both teams, UVa hosts Richmond at 3 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium.
“It’s a good feeling, and I think my team’s ready to play,” tailback Perry Jones, one of Virginia’s captains for the second straight year, said Sunday night. “We’re going to just keep preparing the rest of this week, and we’ll be ready to go.
“We definitely have more of a sense of urgency, just to correct all the small things that we messed up during training camp. We’re doing that right now, and we’re going to be ready to go.”
When the Wahoos broke camp this weekend, it occurred to Jones, a senior, that a chapter of his college career had ended. “But I’m trying not to dwell on it too much, because there’s still a long season to go,” he said. “But when it is time for me to go, I’m going to miss these guys and this team and this program.”
For third-year coach Mike London and his staff, it sometimes seems there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the prep work they’d like to do before a season starts.
“You always feel like you wish you could have put something else in,” London said Sunday night. “But after a while it becomes overkill, and as long as you’ve given the players the plan, and they’re executing the plan, then you hope that they can rely [in games] on what they learned during those days of August camp.
“It’s about this time that players want to play other people, coaches want to test their schemes on other people. I feel good about what we have in, what we’ve done, and now it’s just up to execution.”
UVa’s depth chart for the UR game will be released Monday. Neither London nor offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has revealed who will start at quarterback against the Spiders, but junior Michael Rocco, who started every game last season, has had a strong preseason.
Through “20-some practices there are ups and downs,” Lazor said last week, “and just like everyone, Mike has experienced those. But the thing that he’s shown us is when he has his up days, when he’s on his game, he looks like a returning starting quarterback in the ACC who knows where people are. He’s playing at the right tempo. He’s able to command the huddle. If you were standing on the sideline watching, you’d say, `That’s what a quarterback is supposed to look like.’ ”
The other candidates are sophomore David Watford, who backed up Rocco last fall, and sophomore Phillip Sims, who transferred to UVa from Alabama after the 2011-12 school year. True freshmen Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are expected to redshirt this season.
A year ago, the `Hoos went into their opener with virtually no experience at quarterback. Now it appears to be a position of strength. UVa fans may be anxious to learn the identity of the opening-game starter, but the coaching staff isn’t fretting.
“People on the street say, ‘You’ve got a problem,’ ” Lazor said. “We don’t have a problem. We have five great ones.”
Virginia returned 12 starters from 2011: Jones, Rocco, tight end Colter Phillips, wide receiver Tim Smith, offensive linemen Oday Aboushi, Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko, defensive end Jake Snyder, linebackers LaRoy Reynolds and Steve Greer, cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, and Ausar Walcott, who has moved from outside linebacker to defensive end.
On the defensive line, tackle Will Hill and end Bill Schautz played extensively last season, so the `Hoos aren’t as inexperienced up front as they might initially appear. The secondary, though, is extraordinarily young after losing cornerbacks Chase Minnifield and Dom Joseph and safeties Corey Mosley and Rodney McLeod.
UVa’s defensive backs include no seniors. The only junior is safety Rijo Walker, who’s been running with the second team in practice. The likely starters are Nicholson and Drequan Hoskey at corner and Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps at safety. All are sophomores.
Virginia played 12 true freshmen last year, including Nicholson, Harris and Phelps. The total may not be as high this fall, but London won’t hesitate to play true freshmen who he believes can improve the Cavaliers’ chances of winning.
Among those who might play this season are wideouts Canaan Severin and Adrian Gamble, defensive ends Eli Harold, Michael Moore and Trent Corney, linebacker Kwontie Moore and cornerbacks Maurice Canady, Anthony Cooper and C.J. Moore. (The Moores are not related.)
“We have to make sure we put them in a situation where it’s not overwhelming,” London said of the newcomers.
Also inexperienced are the players who will kick for UVa this year. Gone are Jimmy Howell, Robert Randolph and Chris Hinkebein, who split those duties in 2010 and ’11.
Sophomore Alec Vozenilek, who has yet to play in a college game, is the new punter, and redshirt freshman Ian Frye will kick off. Junior Drew Jarrett is likely to handle extra points and field goals, and he hasn’t appeared in a college game since 2009.
Given all that, early-season breakdowns in the secondary and in the kicking game may be inevitable. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they have an offense that should rank among the ACC’s best. Virginia’s weapons include tailbacks Jones, Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson, tight ends Phillips, Paul Freedman, Jake McGee and Jeremiah Mathis, and wideouts Smith, Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell and E.J. Scott.
“We’ve got three good running backs that can also catch the ball out of the backfield,” Rocco said early this month, “we’ve got about four good tight ends — they can stretch the field and they’re big targets — and then our receivers are fast as lightning, and they get open … It’s just my job to get them the ball and make good decisions.”
In 2010, Virginia went into the season with a new head coach, new assistants (except for Anthony Poindexter, the lone holdover from Al Groh’s staff) and a new defensive scheme. Moreover, several players were at new positions. Heading into his third season, London is confident the `Hoos will reap the benefits of the stability that has marked his program.
“I think there’s progress,” London said Sunday night. “The terminology’s been the same and guys are talking about the same things that we do. The concepts are consistent, the staff is consistent, so the message is consistent, and hopefully we’re getting players that can play in this type of system.”