At the end of spring practice, Virginia Coach Mike London made it clear both in his statements and in the post-spring depth chart that his team’s four quarterbacks were separated into two tiers.
Redshirt sophomore Ross Metheny and sophomore Michael Rocco were locked in the primary group competing for the starting job, and redshirt freshman Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford were tied together in a secondary group.
That depth chart remained unchanged entering training camp, which began Friday. On Tuesday, Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor was asked whether that demarcation remained an accurate reflection of where the quarterbacks stood in the race for the starting job.
“The only thing I’ll say is when we did that blitz period today … we rolled all four of them every two reps,” Lazor said. “To me, it was a huge evaluation day today, and so I wanted to make sure they all got enough reps that I could say this is how he operated under pressure.
“Hopefully soon we’ll, as coaches, be able to start cleaning that thing up. It’s still so much a growth process for all four of them. … They all have a chance.”
Lazor considered Monday’s practice – in which the offense through a period devoted to third-and-long situations – and Tuesday’s workout – in which the players wore full pads for the first time in camp, which allowed the defense to blitz – critical in his evaluation process of the quarterbacks.
No quarterback is going to be sacked during practice, but, as Lazor said, “when you’re standing in the pocket, it sounds like you might.” Lazor wanted to see how the quarterbacks each responded to such pressure.
Without having had a chance to review film of the workout, Lazor would not reveal which quarterback he thought had been most impressive in handling those blitzes. He did note that, as a group, the quarterbacks responded better to the pressure Tuesday than they had Monday during the third-and-long situations.
That, of course, isn’t very helpful in trying to get a read on which of the four quarterbacks might be the frontrunner right now in the race for the starting job, but Virginia’s season opener against William & Mary is still three and a half weeks away.
Or only three and a half weeks away, depending on your perspective.
Lazor said there will come a point in time in which – if one of the four quarterbacks has not clearly established himself as the best option to start – he and London will just make a choice and go with it in order to begin preparation for and sharpen focus on the William & Mary game.
But, Lazor said, “We don’t have that date on paper, and we’re hoping it plays itself out before we have to get to that. I think it will.”
As for whether he thought having four quarterbacks share practice reps – or rather, not having one quarterback receive a majority of the first-team practice reps – at this point in training camp might prove detrimental to the team’s preparation for the season opener, Lazor said the current situation only negatively impacts one person.
“The only detriment to rotating four guys is to the guy who’s going to start the William & Mary game,” Lazor said. “Whoever the starter is for the first game needs to start getting more reps, and that will happen soon enough.”
Believe it or not, Lazor was asked questions about a few other offensive position groups Tuesday. He said that for the Cavaliers’ top three tight ends – redshirt junior Colter Phillips, junior Paul Freedman and redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Mathis – there are packages in the offense in which each runs with the first team unit.
“They all have a package where, if we called that package and that play the first play of the game, they would be the starter,” Lazor said. “So all three of them go in knowing they’re going to play and that they have a situation where they go in with the” first team.
As for the team’s receiving corps, Lazor provided three observations on the group through the first five days of training camp.
“I try to think back to this time last year, and No. 1, we don’t have nearly as many footballs hitting that equipment shed,” Lazor said, pointing off to the side of one of the practice fields. “Last year we hit the shed a lot more. No. 2, the guys who returned have learned how to play much faster. We’re running off the ball much faster, we’re coming out of breaks much faster, they’re trying to eat up grass fast.
“No. 3, some of the new guys that have joined us or have returned from injury have more speed, so they can also add to the speed of the group. So I think we’re playing faster and we’re hitting the equipment shed less.”
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tim Smith – who is returning from an ankle injury that ended his 2010 season after the first two games – and freshmen wideouts Darrius Jennings and Dominique Terrell are the “new guys” to which Lazor referred.
The team’s returning wide receivers include Kris Burd, Matt Snyder, Miles Gooch (though he was the scout team quarterback last season), Kevin Royal, Earl Scott, Ray Keys and Johnny Pickett.