GREENSBORO, N.C. — Virginia running back Perry Jones thought he was done answering questions about quarterback controversies.
The senior figured the Cavaliers would stick with junior Michael Rocco behind center after he led Virginia to its first bowl game since 2007. Turns out, though, that was only the beginning for Jones and his teammates.
After the NCAA granted redshirt sophomore Phillip Sims’s hardship waiver request last week, a move that makes him eligible to play for the Cavaliers this season after transferring from Alabama, the battle to be the team’s signal caller figures to be the center of attention when training camp opens next month.
But Jones believes Sims’s attempt to unseat Rocco will not divide the locker room.
“I don’t think it’s gonna split us up at all,” said Jones, who played with Sims at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va. “I know this because if it was, it would have happened already when he first arrived on campus. Michael Rocco has embraced him and he’s even helping him to become better. Once you have that on the team, you know you have a bunch of guys that only want one thing — to win football games.
“If it was any other way, it just wouldn’t be right.”
In 2011, Rocco emerged as a consistent force in the latter stages of the season when Virginia put itself in position to win the ACC’s Coastal division heading into its regular season finale against Virginia Tech. He finished the season with 2,671 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Sims battled classmate A.J. McCarron for the starting job at Alabama throughout training camp and the beginning of last season, but McCarron started the final five games of the year, including the BCS national championship game.
Linebacker Steve Greer, who joined Jones as Virginia’s player representatives at the annual ACC football kickoff Sunday, pointed to the team’s running backs as a prime example of how the quarterback battle could play out off the field.
Last year, Jones led Virginia in all-purpose yards, finishing with 913 rushing yards and 506 yards receiving. But those numbers could have been higher had he not split time with then-freshmen Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson.
“If you look at our running backs — three very good running backs — and they’re all best friends,” Greer said. “That just kind of describes the mentality of our team. We look at it as competition’s healthy. It makes everyone better. We all look to each other and there’s really no animosity.
“Our main thing is we want to win, so that’s gonna be the tell-all.”