Technically, the battle to be Virginia’s starting quarterback began on the practice fields Monday afternoon when the Cavaliers held their first practice of training camp. But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor developed a sense of the passion this competition could inspire as soon as he stepped into the quarterback meeting room earlier that morning.
“I got five guys in there burning holes in my head with their eyes and taking notes,” he said. “We got five intense guys.”
But while the initial buzz was all about the debut of Alabama transfer Phillip Sims and his bid to unseat starting quarterback Michael Rocco, once the Cavaliers’ battle under center got underway, sophomore David Watford made sure nobody forgot about the third contender in the race.
The Hampton native was the most impressive of the Cavaliers’ five quarterbacks, providing one of the highlights of the afternoon when he connected on a long bomb to freshman wide receiver Adrian Gamble near the end of the session. After Watford was done, he then clarified what Sims’s arrival on the depth chart has done for his mindset.
While he’s open to taking a redshirt this season if Coach Mike London deems it appropriate, Watford was adamant that he has no plans to change positions because “I came here to play quarterback.”
“I have to just come out here every day and be consistent. I think that was a big thing with me last year,” Watford said. “I really wasn’t consistent every day in practice. Sometimes I had my up days, my down days, and to be a starting quarterback in college you can’t let that get to you. You have to be consistent in games because not everything is gonna go your way. Sometimes it’s gonna go downhill, but you’ve got to be able to stay consistent.
“The guys have to believe in you and I think I have to build my confidence more to show that the guys can trust me, the guys can believe I can get the job done.”
Watford appeared in 10 games as a true freshman last year, completing 40.5 percent of his passes for 346 yards. He also threw three touchdowns and four interceptions, but his role progressively diminished as the season wore on.
But even though some observers have already anointed Rocco and Sims the frontrunners to win the starting quarterback job this year, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has yet to rule out Watford because of his steady improvement since arriving on campus for spring practice in 2011.
Watford said Sims’s presence on the roster has ramped up the competition, but that any pressure he feels comes from within. Heading into this training camp Watford made accuracy a priority.
“A lot of times last year I would just throw the ball on a line,” he said. “I wouldn’t really use too much touch.”
At least on Monday, the work paid dividends. Watford threw a beautiful 50-yard pass on the run to wide receiver Tim Scott, threading the ball between two converging defenders to make the completion.
He’ll need more of that if he hopes to beat out Rocco and Sims.
“I really think I put the pressure on myself, not from the coaches or anybody,” Watford said. “I put pressure on myself because you know as a player coming from [the] beginning through starting in high school, you want to play in college so you push yourself in the summer. You do the extra stuff that you have to do to show that you’ve improved and show that you’re ready for the job. I think that has to do a lot with it and just building my confidence, trying to become more confident in my game, my ability and my arm.”
More news and notes from day one
***Rocco also had his moments Monday, working almost exclusively with Virginia’s first team offense. His best completion of the day was a dart over the middle to wide receiver Darius Jennings during 11-on-11 drills. He also connected on a 50-yard bomb to wide receiver E.J. Scott. Rocco’s one bad sequence came early in 11-on-11 work, when he telegraphed an out pattern that cornerback Demetrious Nicholson nearly intercepted.
And even though Rocco, Sims and Watford are beginning what promises to be a spirited competition, all three are trying their best to get along.
“There’s no hatred towards anybody,” Sims said. “We’re competing but … whoever has to be called on September 1st is who all of us have to support. There’s no running away from it. There’s no beating around the bush. We have to be friends. We have to be teammates. This is a family. So we’re competing, but we also have to love each other at the same time.”
***Training camp didn’t get off to a resounding start for cornerback Drequan Hoskey, who earned an early spot in Coach Mike London’s doghouse when he was beat down the sideline by wide receiver Anthony Cooper in a 7-on-7 drill. London didn’t like that Hoskey quit on the play, yelling “Finish the drill,” as Hoskey walked back upfield. Soon thereafter, though, Hoskey gave up a long completion to wide receiver Darius Jennings.
***More on this in a blog post for Wednesday morning, but the other big secondary story was Brandon Phelps, who has been moved from cornerback to free safety to begin training camp.
I’ll be back at Virginia’s training camp again on Wednesday afternoon, when the Cavaliers hold their first practice in pads.