Virginia Coach Mike London need only look back at his notes from last year, filled with phrases like missed assignments and missed alignments, to determine how much more smoothly spring practice has gone this time around.
“There’s more guys that have stood out and have done well in practice. I could say their names but it would take much longer,” London said. “As opposed to last year at this time, just trying to get guys lined up.”
Coming off a disappointing 2-10 campaign in 2013, London has evaluated everything from starters to practice routines to even his own evaluation process. He believes this year’s group is bigger, faster and older, well aware another last-place finish could turn his fifth season as head coach into his last one.
But more than anything, familiarity has brought about renewed confidence heading into Saturday’s annual spring game. A year after introducing new coordinators on offense, defense and special teams, the Cavaliers are now entering year two with the same playbook.
“I think we have a better feel for who we are, what we are,” offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said.
Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta had far more success than Fairchild during his first campaign at Virginia, but even he’s more comfortable. When defensive assistants Vincent Brown and Anthony Poindexter left to become co-defensive coordinators at Connecticut, they were replaced by coaches with whom Tenuta had strong ties.
New safeties coach Mike Archer and defensive coach Jappy Oliver worked with Tenuta at his previous two coaching stops -- Archer at North Carolina State and Oliver at Notre Dame.
“They know exactly what I’m thinking,” Tenuta said. “We’re always on the same page.”
Fairchild, meanwhile, has become more accustomed to his personnel, turning tight end Jake McGee into a hybrid slot receiver, using tailback Taquan Mizzell in a variety of roles and watching wide receiver Darius Jennings have “as good a stretch of practices since I’ve been here” after being prescribed contacts to improve his vision.
The biggest issue, though, remains unsolved. The Cavaliers continue to search for a starting quarterback, although it appears to be a two-player race between last year’s incumbent, redshirt junior David Watford, and redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert.
Fairchild indicated this week the 6-foot-5 Lambert has closed the gap after improving his footwork and becoming more consistent, calling the competition “a definite quarterback battle” that may not be decided until August.
Watford even spent a couple practices this spring playing wide receiver when other players were out with injuries. London said Watford’s focus will remain behind center until a starter is named, but did not rule out re-visiting the idea this fall should Lambert emerge as the quarterback.
Saturday’s spring game will simply pit the offense against the defense with 15 to 18 players out of action, including McGee (hamstring), running back Kevin Parks (wrist), linebacker DaQuan Romero (shoulder), highly touted freshman defensive tackle Andrew Brown (turf toe) and offensive linemen Jay Whitmire (back) and Sadiq Olanrewaju (knee).