Beginning with Monday’s practice, Virginia sophomore Michael Rocco will receive “the majority of the reps” at quarterback, Cavaliers Coach Mike London said in a teleconference Monday morning.
London said true freshman quarterback David Watford also will take an ample amount of reps so that he can be further evaluated. For at least the next few days, it would appear redshirt sophomore Ross Metheny and redshirt freshman Michael Strauss – the other two players who entered training camp vying for the starting job – will take a backseat in the quarterback competition.
“We’re going to look at, with the extended amount of reps for Michael (Rocco), and then making sure David gets his opportunities also,” London said. “Not to say anything about what Ross is doing or what Michael Strauss is doing, but we’re just going to start picking the spots in the practices that we’re going to get more looks for guys we want to get a strong, strong evaluation.”
Entering Virginia’s training camp, no question was more pertinent than who would succeed fifth-year senior Marc Verica – last season’s starter – as the Cavaliers’ No. 1 quarterback. The post-spring practice depth chart listed Rocco and Metheny as interchangeable at the top, and Metheny took most of the reps with the first-team offense at the outset of training camp.
But after Saturday’s scrimmage – the first of this year’s training camp – it appears the blocks on the figurative totem pole have been re-arranged. London said Watford “did some nice things” in the scrimmage.
London said he was the only coach on the field during the scrimmage – the rest of the coaches were on the sidelines – and took particular note of how each quarterback commanded the huddle, which ones had happy feet and how each responded when plays resulted positively or negatively.
The result of his first-hand look: “I think I need to evaluate David more in that situation,” London said. “He’s a talented player, so we’ll see. All these guys know that every day is a practice of evaluating where you are and where you need to be. I think we are now in a position to look at those two guys (Rocco and Watford) getting the reps that they need.”
Watford enrolled at Virginia for the spring 2011 semester after graduating early from Hampton High. There were many times during spring practice when Watford seemed overwhelmed by the speed of the college game and lost amid the complexity of Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor’s timing-based schemes.
But during the first few days of training camp, Watford looked exponentially more comfortable executing the offense. Consequently, his performance improved.
“In order to be fair to give a quarterback that hasn’t had the amount of reps that Ross Metheny, or even Michael Strauss has had, to give David an opportunity to have some of those reps,” London said. “You can’t divide reps up equally between four quarterbacks, and so what we want to do is find out if the development of David with more reps will put him or will rise to the level of competing for a position to play. So I think that’s kind of the concentration.”
But London made it clear – even if he wouldn’t explicitly say so – that Rocco has established himself as the front-runner to win the starting job.
Rocco appeared in six games last season, completing 13 of 25 passes (52 percent) for one touchdown and two interceptions. He has acknowledged that he was a bit timid in dealing with his teammates last season, given his inexperience and the respect he had for Verica.
But during the spring, Rocco carried himself differently, more confidently. And that has carried over into training camp, where he has demonstrated a strong grasp of the types of decisions Lazor wants to see his quarterbacks make.
“Michael Rocco is going to get the majority of the reps,” London said. “He’s put himself in position to do that.”
London would not go so far as to say Rocco and Watford have performed the best of the four quarterbacks to this point. But Monday marks the 11th day of training camp, the season opener is 19 days away and this is the first time this month London publicly has acknowledged certain quarterbacks on his roster have earned more reps than others.
“All the guys have done a nice job,” London said. “But now the time is coming to put guys in position for Bill Lazor to call particular pass plays and concepts to see if David Watford can make the correct read, if Michael Rocco can make the correct read.”