It was no surprise Monday afternoon when Virginia Coach Mike London announced that sophomore Michael Rocco will be the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback Saturday in the season opener against William & Mary. Rocco has been taking a majority of the reps with the first-team offense for the past two weeks.
More interesting was London’s declaration that true freshman quarterback David Watford will play this season. And while Watford is listed as interchangeable with redshirt sophomore Ross Metheny at the No. 2 quarterback slot on the depth chart Virginia released Monday, London made it clear Watford will be the second signal caller to enter the game Saturday.
“Watford will get some reps,” London said. “And if the game dictates that Ross goes in, then that’s how it happens. There’s separation in the fact that we’ve said that the first guy taking the reps is Michael. And then after that, as we see how the game goes, I’m committed to putting David Watford in the game because there’s another skill level that he has.”
London said there is no particular number of snaps or series he wants Watford to play. It seems as though Watford only will be inserted under certain circumstances.
“We’re going to put him in the game and have a, I guess you’d say, limited menu in terms of the types of plays he’s going to run and expose him to,” London said. “I want him to have success. I don’t want him to go in there and try to run everything because of his level and where he is in terms of understanding the offense.”
Watford, who enrolled at Virginia for the 2011 spring semester, was not in the mix for playing time this fall at the end of spring practice.
“David, you know, he wasn’t as much a ‘We’ve got to get this kid in the game,’” London said. “It was more so, ‘Look at his development. He’s going to be pretty good.’”
But after gaining what London estimated to be 11-12 pounds and growing what London said was half an inch over the summer, the coaching staff began taking Watford into closer consideration early on in training camp. Indeed, Watford’s comfort with his teammates and in the offensive system was noticeably advanced at the outside of training camp.
And so, 11 days in, London announced Watford would start taking more reps with the first-team offense. That was also the point at which London said Rocco would begin taking the majority of the reps with the first unit. Rocco played sparingly in six games as a true freshman last season.
The most obvious skill that Watford can offer that the other Virginia quarterbacks don’t possess to the same degree is straight-line speed. He’s a legitimate threat to gain significant yardage every time he tucks the ball and starts to run. He’s also got superior arm strength to both Rocco and Metheny.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is find athleticism, trying to find playmakers and trying to find guys that can help us win,” London said. “David has a set of skills that are still developing. But at the same time, it’s something that this team can utilize. That doesn’t put Ross Metheny out of the mix at all.”
London said Metheny has been taking “some beat-the-clock, end-of-the-game situations (with the first-team offense) because of his experience in terms of moving the team.”
Given that Rocco, Watford and Metheny each have taken some number of first-team reps in practice recently and that London said the three quarterbacks have “different gifts and abilities and talents,” the coach was asked at one point Monday whether significant separation existed between the trio in terms of a pecking order.
London responded by re-stating that Rocco would start Saturday against William & Mary. Beyond that game, the situation appears murky.
“Instead of anointing one as the sole guy, at this time, at this point in this program, we are what we are right now with the quarterback situation,” London said. “Hopefully, their play as the season goes on will separate one from another because then they’re playing in front of people. They’ve never been hit in practice. Live rushes and things like that, as much as you try and simulate lives rushes and tackling the quarterback, that hasn’t happened.
“But it’s going to happen real quick. It’s going to happen this Saturday. Who can handle it and how they handle it has got to be evaluated also on who will continue to keep taking the snaps.”