Virginia football players report to training camp next week, and there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the makeup of this year’s team before it takes the field in hopes of building off a resurgent 8-5 campaign in 2011.
As is the case across the country, there are position battles on both sides of the ball. But here are three training camp battles that could play a large role in just how successful the Cavaliers can be this season.
QB – Michael Rocco vs. Phillip Sims
In the weeks since Sims was granted a waiver to play for Virginia this season, Coach Mike London has tried his best to play down the competition between Sims and the incumbent starter Rocco that will begin with the start of preseason practice next week. In reality, though, there’s a good chance it will define Virginia’s training camp because of the long-term implications it has on the program.
Rocco enters training camp as the starter after emerging as a viable threat under center once given full reins of the offense last November, but his overall numbers (2,671 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) showed room for improvement. Sims, meanwhile, never could grab hold of the starting job at Alabama and passed for just 163 yards in eight appearances.
Many eyes will be on London to see how he handles the competition and whether it could cause division within the team, especially if Sims manages to unseat Rocco. London indicated last week that the first two weeks of training camp will be especially important for Sims, who must show the coaching staff he has digested the new playbook. The battle could also impact sophomore quarterback David Watford, who may take a redshirt or switch positions this year because of the number of signal callers on the roster now.
CB – Drequan Hoskey vs. Brandon Phelps
Quarterback will dominate discussions this summer, but the secondary is probably the biggest question mark for Virginia this season. Three starters from last year are gone, and the only “veteran” returning is sophomore Demetrious Nicholson. Who will start across from him at the other cornerback spot should be an intriguing battle of gifted athletes who mostly played on special teams a year ago.
Hoskey, a 6-foot, 175-pound redshirt sophomore from Richmond, is best known for a dramatic fourth-quarter pass break-up in the end zone that helped Virginia upset Florida State last season. Phelps, an All-Met from Damascus, is the son of former Virginia football player Gary Phelps.
No matter who wins the battle to be a starter, the other will get plenty of playing time as Virginia’s nickel cornerback. But both should improve from the competition they’ll go through over the next month.
WR — Darius Jennings vs. Dominique Terrell
Senior Tim Smith finished with a career-high 33 catches last season, but the battle to be his counterpart on the other side of the field should be the most entertaining of training camp. Both Jennings (5-11, 165 pounds) and Terrell (5-11, 170 pounds) are former high school quarterbacks who displayed flashes of becoming dynamic playmakers last season, showing off the sort of breathtaking speed that can turn ordinary routes into long touchdowns.
Jennings, who also served as a kickoff returner in 2011, would seem to have the inside track after finishing with 20 catches a year ago. Terrell, a former All-Met from Osbourn, struggled with fumbles as the team’s punt returner. The tiebreaker could be how each does blocking in the run game, although both should be big parts of the Virginia offense regardless of how their battle turns out.