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Aug. 27, 2012

Q. Looking at the depth chart, you have Paul Freedman over last year’s starter Colter Phillips. What has he done in the last year to get that bump?

COACH LONDON: I think when you look at the tight ends, Paul has done a nice job, a great job. You could consider him a starter. It could easily have been written out as Paul Freedman OR Colter Phillips. Colter is coming back from an ankle injury that slowed him a little bit in camp.

I think when you look at how we plan on utilizing those guys, you could say either/or.

Then there’s Jake McGee and Jeremiah Mathis. I think the tight end position is one that has more versatility in it than in the past. We’re excited about using them as part of an arsenal to stretch the field, point-of-attack blocking, do some things we haven’t been able to do before.

Q. Was it an easy decision to tab Michael Rocco as the No. 1 guy?

COACH LONDON: Every day in practice we always talk about evaluating the quarterbacks, how they’re playing while we were putting in our schemes and systems. We kept talking about how much progress, how much of a move forward these guys have made, particularly Michael and David.

It became apparent that Michael has the best grasp of the offense right now. To start a game, he’s the guy we feel most comfortable with right now because of what he knows – knowing the systems, the schemes, and knowing the players that he’ll be throwing the ball to or handing the ball off to.

He’s done nothing to lose his position. He’s improved. We talked earlier about his leadership, his knowledge of the offense. He’s put himself in the position to be the guy right now. I’m quite sure he’ll work hard at it. He takes pride in that, so that’s how it worked out.

I think with respect to Phillip and David -Phillip has a big arm, strong arm, been in college games as well. He’s a guy that’s learning our offense. To expect him to know the whole offense by the time the season started, I don’t think that would be fair to him.

He knows enough of the offense – enough of the concepts that we use that to understand his situation will be kind of on-the-job training as the season goes on – how much he picks up, the communication, all those different things.

He’s had a chance to do that in the early part of camp, but not enough of a chance to really continue. We want to see if he can continue on and improve to where we think he could be a pretty good quarterback. We feel pretty good about those two guys.

With David, it was a tough call. David has done everything that we’ve asked and some. He’s matured tremendously. His physical talents and skills have improved greatly.

I think with him, and I had a chance to talk with all three of them, what’s amazing about it, we talked about being selfless. I mean, they’re three selfless players. They want what’s best for the team. The conversation didn’t go into who should be No. 1 – it’s what’s best for the team. That was amazing to hear all three talk like that.

I have the right to reserve whether or not we’ll use David or not through the year but my plans are to redshirt him. For me to sit here and say we’re going to play three – this is one and two, it’s hard to do. I am reminded of the Maryland quarterback, non-contact, blew out his ACL. In the NFL – Seattle quarterback, first throw, first play, he’s out for the year. So many things can happen during the course of a game. I’m cognizant of the fact that after a couple games you want to settle into one and two.

David will be in practice, taking some reps. I just want to make sure as we’re moving forward that the decision with Michael and Phil does not exclude David. But as the season goes on, it will be evaluated, reevaluated. I think that’s the best answer, the honest and truest answer I can give you.

Q. A lot of coaches don’t really like to play games like these where you have a lot of connections, friends with the opponent. Now it seems like there’s even more with the head coach and all that. Do you like these kind of games, does it make much difference to you at all?

COACH LONDON: I like them after the fact when we win them.

But it’s true, we talk about a staff, Wayne Lineburg has ties, Levern Belin, Coach Trott, Fontel Mines was a player here, Byron Thweatt was a player here. Danny Rocco is the uncle of Michael, who was on the coaching staff when I was here at UVa as an assistant coach.

A lot of the players that are still there, the fourth-, fifth-year guys were guys that I recruited when I was at Richmond. They were younger players that had an experience of winning the 2008 national championship.

They’re guys like Kerry Wynn, Kendall Gaskins, preseason All-Americans, (Darius) McMillan a preseason All-American. So there are so many different ties. From the Richmond staff, Jeff Hanson and Vince Brown – Mike Faragalli, they come to Virginia with me, it is kind of weird to be on the opposite side, knowing you have friends on the other side. You have players that you sat in their homes and talked to them about the education and experience they’ll have at Richmond.

It will be a good game. Guys are excited about playing the game. We haven’t won a game in two games, last two games. Looking to get that feel that comes with victory again and kind of start off with what we hopefully feel will be a productive season.

Q. Talk about how Hoskey is in front of Maurice Canady at corner and I see no Khalek Shepherd in the return game.

COACH LONDON: Drequan and Maurice were going back and forth in camp a little bit. That’s another position – both those guys will play. Drequan has the edge slightly because he’s been in the college game before. Maurice will be used. We will use him in a lot of special teams, particularly the run-and-cover teams.

I would look to see both those guys playing an equal amount of reps.

Q. And kick returns?

COACH LONDON: Khalek is not 100 percent. He’s going to play in the game. There are three or four other names I could add to the list as far as by the time game day shows up, they’ll be back there as well.

We feel good about who’s back there. It may change on game day. You may see a couple other players that may be back there, as well.

Q. Any true freshman on the depth chart who you might try to redshirt?

COACH LONDON: There are a few. Obviously I’ve always talked about with your linemen, particularly your interior guys, its kind of tough sometimes to play them because they’re going against fourth-year and fifth-year guys who played games.

I would like to hold off and not play a guy like Michael Mooney. Michael has done a fantastic job in showing that he’s going to be a very good player. I want to be smart about him, particularly.

I think everyone else that’s on there, C.J. Moore, all the other guys, they’ve been included with special teams plays, but they may play some scrimmage plays, first- and third-down plays as well.

Michael is probably the only one that I may be a little skeptical about. We’ll see how that goes as the season moves on.

The other reason for that is Kelby Johnson is suspended for the first two games because of a team rules violation.

Q. Last year there was all kind of confusion about the running back position, who went out, who came in. They said they substituted on their own. Could you explain how that’s going to work?

COACH LONDON: I don’t think it was quite like that – where they made their own tag-team substitutions.

I think as the season went on, as we started playing, it was evident there were certain plays, play-making abilities, that these guys had. Clifton Richardson, big back, power runner. Perry and Kevin Parks can run your zone plays – you put them in the game at the same time and use them as pass-rushing threats. Khalek was kind of the same way.

Our play-calling abilities are closely related to the guys that can get it done. Running back is a deep position where you have a lot of guys that can get it done. We try to be more specific about what menu of plays they have to be more successful at. You would see a lot of that shuffling in and out, sometimes two tailbacks, sometimes one, a variation of things based on their ability.

I think this year you’ll see more of the same. A guy like Clifton, he’s learned the offense, his knowledge of the offense has increased. You have Perry and Kevin Parks that are two really good backs in their own right – our guy Perry being one of the better backs in the league.

Again, those guys are like the quarterback situation. They’re selfless guys. It’s amazing. They’re not worried about how many touches they had. They’re worried about who is doing well, what else can they do. When they come off the field you hear other running backs talking about the linebacker distance based on blitzes, what kind of block would be applicable to a blitzing linebacker. It’s neat to be on the sidelines and listen to guys who don’t care about who gets the credit.

We’ll find the role for each guy and try to utilize them to the best of our abilities.

Q. Will Drew Jarrett do PAT and FG attempts, what was the competition like?

COACH LONDON: We tracked every kick, who was the snapper, who was the holder, the time, the yardage, wide, left, right, down the middle. So many different ways we tried to evaluate these guys.

In the end, as you started looking at everything, it boiled down to Jarrett had been in games before and kicked before. Ian (Frye) has a strong leg, which is probably why he will be our kickoff guy. I think he’ll be very good at doing that. Just kind of settle him on doing one thing. We thought instead of going back and forth with kickers, we decided to go with a guy that’s been in a game, had some good practices.

Our approach this year will be with Alec Vozenilek as our punter. We’ll travel with those three guys, knowing also that Ian can be a place kicker and punter because he’s done all of that. We narrow the focus on each one having a specific job to do, and hopefully they perform well at those jobs.

Q. Big question marks going into training camp was the defense. How do you feel about that going into the season?

COACH LONDON: You’re always looking at how you can evaluate your team, the players that are playing in the positions.

The obvious – you look at the youth that will be back in there. But one of the things we think is a strength is you look at our linebackers, defensive line, the guys up front, in particular our pass-rushers. I would tie our ability to cover back there with the amount of time the quarterback has to throw the ball. You put that on the pass-rushers. There’s a learning curve those guys are going to have to have. Drequan has been in a game as a corner. Anthony Harris who has played quietly in every game as a true freshman. You have the safety position back there.

We’ve taken a lot of spring practice, summer, camp here, to get these guys accelerated, caught up as much as possible. The reality when they’re playing a game, it counts in a game. We’ll have to watch and see how they’re doing. I think they’ve demonstrated ability in practice of doing well. So we’ll see come Saturday.

Q. Talk about the battle at SLB between Henry Coley and Daquan Romero.

COACH LONDON: As I expected, as Henry transitioned from the Mike linebacker position after the bowl game to the Sam linebacker position, he did a pretty good job of becoming a better football player, a better student of the game off the field – because of the amount of film he watched, just different things, his approach.

Again, we talk about a maturity level. There are a lot of these guys that played last year. You develop that over the course of time with lifting, understanding the academic obligations. You grow up a little bit.

I think this approach for him this year had the benefit of all those things. There’s a skill level that matches that as well. I imagine that to be an ongoing battle during the year and it’s a good thing for both of them, no one gets complacent. I think in some other packages we have, you’ll see Daquan involved in some other packages, dime, nickel, something else.

Q. Do you tell Michael that he’s not allowed to speak to his uncle this week? How do you handle that connection?

COACH LONDON: No. All I said is, let your talking be through your play. I’m quite sure before the game, it’s only natural, human nature he’d want to acknowledge his uncle. But all of us know he’s going to try to do the best job he can for us to win a game.

Then after the game, I’m quite sure the families will meet before the game and after the game. I haven’t banned him from talking to his uncle. I don’t think he’ll give away any secrets.

Q. When Drequan came here, did you think you would end up sharing him with the track program?

COACH LONDON: He was an excellent track runner, high hurdles in high school. We had offered him at Richmond. When he got here, didn’t have the full scholarship offer at that time. But our track people knew about him, very much interested in him. That’s how he started out. That’s how he got into school.

As things worked out, the scholarship became open, was able to put him on aid I believe at the end of the year. He’s got the vertical speed. He’s got the quickness. He’s playing behind some pretty good corners that we had last year.

Now, over the course of spring, over the course of this camp, he’s demonstrated an ability that lends itself to, Hey, you’re going to be the starter on day one. As I said, we’re young at that position, but at the same time very competitive. Drequan has been in games, made some good plays for us. We’ll see how he responds.

He’s confident. That’s a good thing about any corner that plays back there, being confident, as all those guys are.

Q. Talk about kickoff strategy, if you would.

COACH LONDON: Without getting into any game strategies, I have talked to several coaches. Kind of the idea, if you have a strong-leg kicker that can kick it out of the back, I’m reminded of the kicker from Auburn, he was making field goals with it, the ball will automatically go to the 25.

Part of the strategy, if your kicker can place it, right corner, left corner, if he can bloop it, allows your guys to get downfield. If you can make plays at the 20 or the 18, obviously that’s a good strategy. If he kicks it out of bounds because you want to try to pin it to a sideline, then penalty, they got the ball, they have a decided field advantage.

I think for us, without talking specifics about strategy, Ian has a strong leg. There are other alternate kicks we’ve worked with him on to do that would help us cover these kicks and try to keep the ball inside the 25.

The last strategy with that would be, what do you tell your returners if the ball is kicked five yards deep into the end zone? At the goal line we’ll have to return it. One, three yards deep, we’ll have to return it. It gets tricky where you go five, six yards deep. You have to make up the other 25 yards to get out of there.

That will be a strategy that people will probably find out as they start playing. You can practice it. But when you start going against your competition, you can start making those decisions when those kicks occur five yards deep into the end zone.

Q. Do you have any packages designed to get Phillip in the game at QB?

COACH LONDON: The plan is to get him ready to play as Michael is ready to play. The good thing about what’s happening now with the scheme and the system is that now we’re game planning. During camp we were installing, putting a bunch of things in. Now when you start honing in on your specific game plan, you can cut back some of the things that you were putting in in the early part of camp.

Now the game plan will be specific to how we can attack Richmond with a running game or throwing game, you know, what our quarterbacks can do. So I think Phillip’s part in this, whatever the game plan is, it’s more narrowed and more focused on.

Not having a wide variety of things for him to do. That might actually play out in his favor preparation-wise just because of the type of coverage we’ll see, the type of look we’ll see. His process of learning, as Michael and David has been in the past, will all be very similar. The skill set is there, but now they’re learning and getting ready for the game. That will be the most important.

Q. You and Danny Rocco were here at UVa together – is he a coach you toss ideas off of?

COACH LONDON: We coached together here from 2001-2004, five seasons.

I do value the friendship that Danny and I have had over the years when he left and went to Liberty, I was at Richmond, we weren’t playing each other. But just philosophical things about your approach to the game, about personnel, about practices, things like that. So we had a chance to talk on a few occasions about that.

I have a lot of respect for Danny because when he was here as a coach, he was detailed, organized, coached his position well. Didn’t surprise me that when he went to Liberty, he’ll do well. I think he’ll do well at Richmond.

He and I’s relationship has been, prior to getting to play each other, we don’t call and ask each other what we’re doing, but after the game, if there’s common opponents, something that we need to pick up a phone for to call, we’d take each other’s call again.

Q. First seven games last year, David played. Is it your plan to get Phillip in the game regardless of whether you’re winning or losing or by how much?

COACH LONDON: No, I think any opportunities we get a chance to play Phillip, we will. It won’t be “this or that” series he’s going in.

I just think it’s hard for me to say right now, This is what we’re going to do with regards to series and things.

Q. Nothing scripted?

COACH LONDON: No, it’s not scripted.

David had a chance when he came in here in the spring, went through a summer, went through a season. Phillip is coming in during the summer, fall part of camp. What his menu will be will be the menu we’ll have going in the game. We’re going to try to get him in the game, try to play him, and hope he does the best he can to help us win, as Michael does.

There’s no formula right now to say what series he’s going in.

Q. How important is it to build momentum on Saturday to head into the season?

COACH LONDON: We’ve been trying to prepare for that since spring practice, since early part of camp, talking about not only do you have to win your games at home, you got to be able to win tough games on the road.

Last year was last year. There was some success on the road. It’s going to have to be the same. Georgia Tech, TCU, two great teams coming up on the road.

We just keep talking about it. But it all boils down to the fundamentals of playing the game, doing the things that we know we can do, that we’re capable of doing.

Without looking too far ahead, all we’ve talked about is Richmond, not having the last two games we haven’t won, getting that taste back in your mouth is all about winning. I think that’s the driving factor right now.

Q. You talked about the quarterbacks being real team players. Did you get the sense from David that he knows there are two guys ahead of him and two guys after him – that he may have to go elsewhere?

COACH LONDON: No, not at all. I got the kind of feeling that there were different scenarios in his mind. He knew we were going to have a conversation. All of them knew we were going to have that conversation.

Again, speaking to the maturity level of David, he had answers for all those scenarios. It just so happened that the scenario I presented to him, he said, Coach, I understand.

His physical skills are such, I think David is going to be a terrific quarterback. He concedes that Michael knows the offense better than he does right now. He sees that there’s a talent that Phillip has.

There are some things I can do from the mental standpoint of being a good quarterback. He wants to be a great college quarterback. He saw some of the things that he could do to narrow that gap even further.

The conversation, Would you want to play another position? He said, I will, coach, if you want me to, whatever the team needs. I asked him what he wanted to do. He said, I’d like to be a quarterback. One of the best ways to bring his learning curve along, help him be what he wants to be, we talked about redshirting him.

Again, I told him, as I told you guys, the first couple games, the first two, three games, we have to make sure our situation at quarterback is what we need to be. He even expressed, Coach, if you need me after the first couple games, I’ll be there for you.

That’s a remarkable trait that a young guy, a sophomore now, for a guy to have. As I said before, using the word ‘selfless’, that’s the epitome of that. He’s 100 percent on board with it.

We played David early as a freshman. I knew we had to play him because we had to. He’s a guy now that, because of him giving to the team, I want to make sure that we do right by him, as well.

Q. Coming out of spring Anthony Harris was a strong safety and now he is a free safety , what is the process with that?

COACH LONDON: It’s interchangeable. Typically your strong safety is the guy nearest the ball. Eight in the box, bringing the safety down, it’s the strong safety that also is looked upon as a run guy.

The free safety, middle-of-the-field guy, deep third, deep half, calls the coverages out, things like that.

It depends on what style of team you are. Cover-two team, you have two safeties. A cover-four team, you have two safeties, depending on what happens one safety will roll down, one will roll up. A cover-three team probably will not. It’s a true middle-of-the-field safety and strong safety.

They’re interchangeable, but at the same time with Anthony, we put him in that middle of the field, you call the defenses. We want him to be in charge of doing that.

Q. Talk about the Legends being honored on Saturday.

COACH LONDON: Those guys can talk to the team any time. Two very accomplished quarterbacks. Saw Matt (Schaub) this summer, met his wife. We talked about some old times – some great memories of Matt, some great football games. Consummate pro, the way he approached things even in college, you can see the same approach that he has. A student of the game. So many great things you can say about Matt.

Brick (D’Brickashaw Ferguson) is the same. He was a great guy, playing the piano, the flute, all kind of things going on. But he’s obviously become one of the NFL’s best players, best left tackles. He came in skinny. I know Coach Marcus was here with him trying to get that weight on him. You look at him now. As the guys say, he’s a full-grown man, and he is.

I am very proud of his accomplishments in the NFL. Great student. Very personable – very articulate – kind of a model of what you look for in a Virginia graduate. I know Brick is proud of the degree he got from Virginia and the fact that he’s doing quite well in the NFL.

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