By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Head coach Mike London might wish a starter had emerged by now, but UVa’s quarterback competition will continue through the end of spring practice next weekend and, in all likelihood, into training camp in August.
Redshirt sophomore David Watford came into Saturday atop the depth chart at QB, followed by redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert and then redshirt junior Phillip Sims. On a sunny afternoon, none succeeded in separating himself from the other two in the annual Orange-Blue spring scrimmage at Scott Stadium.
The Orange roster included the first-team defense, the Blue roster the first-team offense. Each quarterback saw time on both sides during the scrimmage, which the Orange won 18-15.
Watford finished 5-for-10 passing for 55 yards. Lambert completed 21 of 36 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, and Sims was 8 for 18 for 89 yards.
Of his performance, the 6-6 Lambert said, “I’ve got a lot of stuff I need to work on, and that showed today. I’ll go back in the film room and correct some things.”
Three practices remain this spring for the Cavaliers, and London said Saturday that his offensive staff, led by new coordinator Steve Fairchild, will use the time to further evaluate the accuracy, decision-making and leadership skills of the three quarterbacks.
“We’ll continue to keep finding that thing or those things that will separate them,” London said.
Had this truly been a live scrimmage, Watford’s impact probably would have been considerably greater. On the game’s first series, the former Hampton High star twice ran for 17-yard gains, the second time taking the ball into the end zone on a quarterback draw.
Under the rules of the scrimmage, however, when a defender applied a two-hand tag on a quarterback, the play was stopped, and Watford was “sacked” seven times Saturday. On one such play senior defensive tackle Brent Urban, a force all afternoon, touched only Watford’s facemask.
“I felt like there were a couple [plays] where I could have run, used my legs, but it’s all good,” Watford said. “It’s just all part of spring ball.”
London said the coaches want to see which quarterbacks can stay in the pocket and make throws under pressure. That’s not always possible in a controlled scrimmage. Led by Urban (3.5), sophomore end Trent Corney (two) and redshirt freshman linebacker Mark Hall (two), the defenses were credited with 14 “sacks” Saturday.
“It’s always tricky when you have a quick whistle,” London said, “because you don’t want them to get hit, but you want to evaluate them when you have a live rush coming at them.”
Lambert threw TD passes of 5 yards (to sophomore tight end Rob Burns) and 8 yards (to sophomore fullback Sammy MacFarlane). His longest completion was a 36-yarder to sophomore wide receiver Adrian Gamble.
Watford, who played as a true freshman in 2011, redshirted last season. Now, like Sims and Lambert, he’s adjusting to a new offensive coordinator. Fairchild was hired in January to replace Bill Lazor, who left to take a position in the NFL.
“I feel like I’ve matured a lot mentally and in my knowledge of the game,” Watford said. “Coach Fairchild has done a great job with all of us, bringing us along and helping us learn the offense, so it’s been good.”
Each team scored on its first possession Saturday, the Orange’s drive ending with Lambert’s 5-yard pass to the 6-7 Burns, who began his UVa career at defensive end. After that, however, neither team scored again until the second quarter.
“The defense, they did a good job today,” Watford said. “I’m proud of them. They really held it down over there on their side of the ball. They stopped us. They slowed us down. We just have to pick up our momentum. We started high and then lulled off a little bit. We have to keep everything high, but that’ll come with more practices.”
UVa’s tailbacks found few holes through which to run Saturday. Junior Clifton Richardson finished with 41 yards (on 11 carries), junior Kevin Parks with 20 yards (on 11 carries), junior Khalek Shepherd with 20 yards (on six carries) and redshirt freshman Kye Morgan with 18 yards (on 11 carries).
“There were good things today,” London said, “but also obviously things we need to continue to work on.”
The offensive line’s inconsistent play was a problem last season, but London said it has done some good things this spring. On Saturday, however, the defense controlled the line of scrimmage.
“I just commend the defense, really,” Watford said. “The defense did a good job stopping us.”
London said: “You want to have [an offensive line] that can be dominant … It looked like today that defensively we put pressure on the quarterback, and we got sacks, and we don’t want people in the quarterback’s face.”
At halftime, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle David Dean and redshirt junior tight end Zachary Swanson were named the Rock Weir Award winners for defense and offensive, respectively. The Rock Weir Award is given every spring to the most improved player on each side of the ball.
The 6-1, 280-pound Dean was credited with three tackles in the scrimmage, including a sack on a play in which, unable to stop his momentum, he rammed into Lambert and knocked him over.
“I think the surprise has been David Dean,” London said. “He’s shown an aggressiveness in practice, and out there today he was a guy that played [well].”
Urban said: “He’s had a huge spring. It’s really exciting seeing him day in and day out keep improving. I’m really happy with how he’s played.”
Senior Jake Snyder, a returning starter at defensive end, raved about Dean’s work ethic.
“He’s watching extra film, doing extra reps in the weight room and extra drills after practice, and it’s really showed,” Snyder said. “He got some experience last year playing a little bit, coming off the bench, and he wants this bad, and you can see that.”
Defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite ended last season as a projected starter for 2013. In January, however, Brathwaite was placed on academic suspension, and he’s not likely to be readmitted to the University until 2014. In Brathwaite’s absence, Dean has moved into the starting lineup, next to the 6-7, 290-pound Urban.
Brathwaite is “a great asset to the team,” Dean said Saturday, “but when the opportunity opened up, I just took advantage of it … I just wanted to focus on myself and just make myself a better player. I didn’t really feel the pressure. With or without Chris, I was going to focus on me and try to get better and help out the team.”
About four months into the Jon Tenuta era at UVa, his charges can’t say enough good things about their new defensive coordinator and his attacking schemes.
“Man, I love him,” sophomore defensive end Eli Harold said. “He’s aggressive. He fits my style of play perfectly, and a lot of our guys.”
Dean said: “Honestly, everyone loves the new defense. It’s very aggressive, and honestly we just all play as fast as possible and get upfield as a D-line and get after it.”
Urban started all 12 games in 2012, but not until late in the season did he begin to distinguish himself. In the season finale, against Virginia Tech, he made a career-high five tackles and returned a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown.
“Obviously it was a big play I was really excited about,” Urban said Saturday, “and it kind of gave me, I guess, a boost of confidence that I’m still playing with right now.”
Urban also was recognized at halftime Saturday, along with Watford. They shared the Iron Cavalier Award, which strength-and-conditioning coach Evan Marcus hands out each spring for performance and dedication in the weight room.
“Wow,” Watford said when asked about the honor. “I’m just thankful to have a guy like Coach E to be able to work out with, to train me, to help me build my body, not only physically but mentally as well.”
Urban said: “To be honest, I just found out [after the scrimmage when] my parents told me I had won. But it’s a great honor. I really appreciate Coach E for giving me that honor. He’s a great coach, and I’m just really excited about it.”
BIG-PLAY THREATS: A season ago, Smith averaged 20.2 yards per reception, the most of any UVa wideout. He was in good form again Saturday, catching five passes for 73 yards.
Junior tight end Jake McGee didn’t have a ball thrown his way until late in the scrimmage, but he finished with three receptions for 36 yards.
Other standouts in the passing game included Scott (76 yards on five receptions) and Gamble (82 yards on five receptions).
Gamble, who’s from Charlotte, N.C., was one of nine true freshmen to play for the Wahoos in 2012. At 6-1, 180 pounds, he’s bigger than many of his fellow receivers, but that’s not his only asset.
“Adrian is a down-the-field receiver type of guy,” London said. “He’s got plenty of quicks. He’s very fast. He can be and he will be special.”
HARD WORK REWARDED: Redshirt junior Matt Fortin, who’s heading into his third season as the Cavaliers’ No. 1 long-snapper, learned Friday night during a team meeting that he’ll receive a scholarship in the fall.
Fortin didn’t tell his parents, though. He wanted them to be surprised Saturday. They found out at the scrimmage, when the father of kicker Ian Frye gave them the good news.
A graduate of The Haverford School in Pennsylvania, Fortin spent a postgraduate year at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts before enrolling at UVa, where he walked on to the football team.
“It means a lot for me as a long-snapper that the coaching staff recognizes it’s an important position and rewarded me with a scholarship,” Fortin said. “I’ve been working at it for a long time. I’m really grateful.
“I came in early on with the intention of becoming the starting long-snapper and hopefully earning a scholarship, and I had a lot of great role models from the walk-on corner, especially [former wideout] Matt Snyder. I really just wanted to follow in his footsteps, in that aspect.”