By Jeff White (email@example.com)
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Inside a conference room at the Grandover Resort, UVa football coach Mike London sat at a table and fielded questions from media members for 70 minutes Monday afternoon. Many of those questions, not surprisingly, were about a position at which two players no longer in the program — Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims — split time last season.
The candidates to start at quarterback for the Cavaliers in their Aug. 31 opener against BYU are sophomore David Watford and redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert. Another redshirt freshman, Matt Johns, is expected to be the No. 3 QB.
“I think going into this season there is no quarterback controversy,” London told reporters at ACC Football Kickoff. “Early on in August camp you’ll know definitively who the starting quarterback is.”
The coaching staff’s attitude, London said, is: “Let’s pick a guy early, let’s get it established and let’s go.”
That guy is likely to be Watford, a Hampton High graduate who redshirted last season. Watford played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2011, and that experience gives him an edge over Lambert heading into training camp.
The other Cavaliers have lauded the leadership skills of Watford and Lambert, London said, “and knowing that there are guys on our team that respect these two guys immensely, that bodes well for us.”
Senior offensive tackle Morgan Moses, an All-ACC candidate, said Sunday that the two-quarterback system Virginia used last year “definitely hindered the team just a little bit, not knowing who’s going to play, those guys’ confidence rising and dropping.”
Moses lives with Watford and considers his roommate something of a little brother. Moses said Watford has changed significantly since enrolling at UVa in January 2011.
“From a physical standpoint, the guy’s gotten faster, stronger,” Moses said. “He’s more mature. I think the way he looks at things is different now.”
That Watford didn’t complain about redshirting last season “after playing his true freshman year says a lot about his character, how humble he is,” Moses said. “When you have somebody like that, man, you want to play for him. Those guys, a guy like that in your huddle, that’s a true leader right there.”
London said: “The ultimate evaluation for anybody that plays is going to be that first game, and the first game’s going to be against a very good team: BYU. But I think [Watford’s] ability to throw and run, use his legs, presents a formidable challenge for defenses. And he’s a great teammate.”
In 2011, as Rocco’s backup, Watford completed 30 of 74 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns, with four interceptions. He ran 21 times for 42 yards.
AT THE POLLS: In 2012, the Wahoos’ third season under London, they finished 4-8 overall and, with a 2-6 conference record, last in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Since then, the league has grown from 12 to 14 teams for football, adding Pittsburgh and Louisville. In the poll of media members conducted at ACC Football Kickoff, Virginia was picked to finish sixth in the Coastal this year, ahead of only Duke. That doesn’t bother London.
“I don’t get caught up in where we’re picked and things like that,” he said. “Obviously, it is what it is. I can’t change that. The only thing that will change that is the play on the field … Where we are now is not as important to me as, when it’s over, where we end up.”
EARLY IMPACT? In 2010, London played three true freshmen, including Moses. Twelve true freshmen played for the `Hoos in 2011 and nine last season.
Among the newcomers expected to see action this fall is Taquan Mizzell, a 5-10, 185-pound tailback from Virginia Beach’s Bayside High School.
Mizzell, who’s called “Smoke” because of his elusiveness on the field, could be used on punt and kickoff returns as well as on offense.
“We’ll know his learning curve as he gets into camp,” London said. “As much as he can take, we’ll try to put him in position to be successful. Don’t want to take the whole playbook and make him learn it or know it, but we’re going to try to do as much as we can.”
At a recent cookout he hosted for his freshmen, London said, he defeated Mizzell in a game of one-on-one basketball.
“So his nickname is not Smoke anymore — it’s Mist,” London said, laughing.
ROLE REVERSAL: For four seasons (1997 to 2000), London was one of Tom O’Brien’s assistants at Boston College. O’Brien, who later had a successful run as NC State’s head coach, is in his first year as Virginia’s associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach.
This is O’Brien’s second stint as a UVa assistant. He spent 15 seasons on George Welsh’s staff before leaving to become head coach at BC.
“He gives you another way to look at how you do things,” London said of O’Brien.
“I’ve worked for Tom, and now the situation has turned, and he and I have had [lengthy] conversations … He offers something up, because he’s been there, done that.
“I think he knows where we are, the vision for the program that I have, how we want to get there. I think he knows he can [help] make this successful. His opinions, his suggestions, are always welcome, they’re always listened to. And now it’s my job to take the information and make sure it marries with how we want to move forward.”
O’Brien is one of three former college head coaches on the Cavaliers’ offensive staff, along with Steve Fairchild and Larry Lewis, who also were hired after the 2012 season. Fairchild is offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Lewis coaches the running backs and coordinates special teams.
“I don’t have an ego,” London said. “I’m a humble guy, and I appreciate the fact that you when you put a staff together, there’s guys that have strong opinions, there’s guys that have had a level of success that you need to listen to. But also it all has to come back to what I believe in running the team.”
London added: “It’s good to have a diverse group of coaches with strong opinions, successful men that have done it before. Like I said, we check our egos at the door. This is about moving the program forward.”
SHORT-HANDED: A hip injury may have ended the football career of fifth-year senior Sean Cascarano, UVa’s starting right offensive guard last season.
If Cascarano isn’t available this fall, don’t be surprised if at least one true freshman gets pressed into service on the offensive line. UVa’s first-year class includes George Adeosun, Jack McDonald, Sadiq Olanrewaju, Eric Smith and Eric Tetlow.
“Obviously you don’t want to play freshman offensive linemen, but you may have to,” London said.
The newcomers are “pretty good, they’re pretty talented, but again, they gotta block somebody,” London said. “They’re freshmen. We’ll find out early on in camp whether or not one of them can provide a role to be a backup or provide some depth for us. That’s another early question for us to find out [in training camp].”
BACK IN THE DAY: The players representing UVa at ACC Football Kickoff were Moses and senior defensive end Jake Snyder.
The 6-6, 335-pound Moses is projected to be picked in the early rounds of next year’s NFL draft.
“He’s a tremendous player, he’s a tremendous competitor, and obviously he’s got all the talent in the world,” Snyder said. “But above that he’s a great guy and he’s a hard worker, and that’s the kind of guy you want on your team, that’s the kind of guy you want leading your team, and I love going against him. I love trying to beat him, because I know if I’m beating him, I’m beating one of the best tackles in the ACC, and that’s a big deal.”
In 2008, they were two of the Richmond area’s premier high school players, Snyder at Deep Run and Moses, on the other side of the James River, at Meadowbrook. As the playoffs neared, it appeared Deep Run and Meadowbrook would meet in the first round, and so Snyder began watching film of Moses, who played on both sides of the ball.
“And that would have been the biggest challenge of my high school career, for sure,” Snyder said. “It was exciting. I knew how great of a player he was, obviously.”
Alas, Deep Run, its 9-1 record notwithstanding, did not qualify for playoffs that season, so the much-anticipated Snyder-Moses matchup never materialized. That Deep Run team also included Conner Davis and Billy Skrobacz, who are now `Hoos too.
“I think that would have definitely been a great showdown on a playoff weekend to see us guys that came to Virginia, on the field together playing each other,” Moses said.