When Virginia ended spring practice back in April, Coach Mike London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor spent a considerable amount of time discussing how they wanted to utilize their speed on the outside and throw the ball downfield more this season.
Cavaliers running back Perry Jones likes the idea. Coming off a season in which he ran for 915 yards and caught 48 passes for 506 yards, the senior believes the strategy will soften up defenses.
That, though, doesn’t mean he envisions Virginia’s offense going away from its bevy of talented tailbacks too often.
“We’ll be what the offense revolves around,” Jones said with a smile.
Virginia likely has the strongest stable of running backs in the ACC this season. Along with Jones, the Cavaliers also return sophomores Kevin Parks (709 yards, 9 touchdowns) and Clifton Richardson (366 yards) to a backfield that could be in store for even bigger numbers this year.
Though injuries kept Virginia’s starting offensive line from playing together this spring, the Cavaliers are experienced up front with three returning starters. Aside from tackles Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses, London expects junior Luke Bowanko (Centreville) to start training camp as the first-team center surrounded by senior Matt Mihalik and junior Sean Cascarano at the two guard spots.
So while the passing game might dominate the offensive headlines this summer, especially now that Phillip Sims is set to battle Michael Rocco for the starting quarterback job, Virginia’s biggest strength this year should continue to be on the ground with a set of upperclassmen paving the way.
“There’s an element that lends itself to running the ball with authority,” London said last week.
The question that remains is whether splitting carries will satisfy Virginia’s running backs again this year. London calls it “a good problem to have” and he has already opened the door for Richardson, Parks and Jones to get extra touches as part of Virginia’s kickoff and punt return teams.
London and Lazor have also discussed using more two-back formations this season as a way to give each tailback more playing time. Mostly, though, London is counting on the his tailbacks remaining the same “selfless” players they were a year ago, with an understanding that they complement each other.
He certainly won’t hear any complaints from Jones, a two-time team captain.
“I’m quite sure that the other guys have the same mindset I have,” Jones said. “Everybody, all the running backs, we would all love to get 30 carries and have 200 yards. But the coaches, they’re getting paid for a reason because they know . . . that our rotation, the running back by committee, gives us the best chance to win a football game. We don’t dwell on it. We don’t sulk in our misery. We just back each other.”