This time last year, Virginia Coach Mike London entered training camp knowing that of all the questions he had to answer heading into his first season in charge of the Cavaliers football team, the identity of his starting quarterback would not be one of them.
Marc Verica, a fifth-year senior, was Virginia’s only signal caller with game experience, and so he took the podium at the team’s media day firmly entrenched in his role.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when there was not a quarterback to be found at John Paul Jones Arena for Virginia’s media day. When training camp starts on Friday, four signal callers – none of whom possess significant game experience at the collegiate level – will compete for the right to succeed Verica.
According to London, the only thing that’s clear at this point is every other member of the Cavaliers offense must raise his level of play this season, even after a starter is named.
“The surrounding cast has to be good,” said London, whose team went 4-8 in 2010. “I think in this case the surrounding cast can and will be good enough to where whoever the quarterback is, to allow the quarterback to play within the scheme and the system going through the second year” of Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor’s pro-style offense.
The quarterback options include true sophomore Michael Rocco and redshirt sophomore Ross Metheny – both of whom took a relatively minimal number of snaps in games last season – as well as redshirt freshman Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford.
Lazor said no firm timetable has been set as to when a decision on a starter must be made, though he noted he hopes it happens “fast.” Lazor said the quartet will be evaluated not just on throwing accuracy and decision-making, but also on the demeanor with which the quarterbacks enter the huddle and their volume at the line of scrimmage.
“Last year was great because Marc really took command early,” fifth-year senior wide receiver Matt Snyder said. “We knew that was our quarterback. That was going to be the guy. But honestly, I feel very comfortable with any one of these quarterbacks right now. They’ve all done a great job, and they all throw a great ball.”
Snyder is one of the experienced skill players London and the offense will rely upon for consistency as the team endures the growing pains of having a young quarterback at the helm. The receiving corps also includes senior wide receiver Kris Burd – who led the team in receptions (58) in 2010 – and three tight ends who caught touchdown passes last season.
Virginia’s offensive line returns four starters, three of which have started at least 12 games in their collegiate careers. Right tackle Morgan Moses started seven games as a true freshman last year and appeared in 11 of 12 games.
“This year we’ll have to make sure there are guys that are surrounding the quarterback that can provide plays,” London said. “Not letting the quarterback try to think he’s got to do so much to win a game or do something, but allow the players that have played in a lot of games here to take up some of that slack.”
Lazor said that in 2004, during his first season as an offensive assistant for the Washington Redskins, Coach Joe Gibbs declared an open competition at quarterback between incumbent Patrick Ramsey and newly-acquired Mark Brunell. But all along, Lazor personally felt, Gibbs knew who he wanted as the team’s starter.
When asked Wednesday whether he shared the same feeling about London in regards to Virginia’s current quarterback situation, Lazor replied: “No, not the same feeling.”