The initial hint of a quarterback change came on the first day of Virginia’s spring practice, when redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert took more snaps with the first team offense than incumbent starter David Watford. That notion was only reinforced last month after Lambert was named one of the team’s four captains for this season and out-performed Watford in Virginia’s spring game.
On Monday, though, Coach Mike London finally made it official with the release of his post-spring practice depth chart. Lambert is the program’s No. 1 quarterback heading into August training camp and it appears increasingly likely he will be under center when the Cavaliers open the 2014 season against UCLA.
“I don’t think it was a huge surprise how things worked out,” London said Monday. “Our assessment and evaluation was that Greyson did a very good job with his on the field performance, his off the field performance. The things we’ve asked him to do, he’s done them and he put himself in position to come out of this spring to be the guy named the starter at this point.”
Watford, who started every game last season as Virginia stumbled to a 2-10 record, is now listed as the co-No. 2 quarterback with sophomore Matt Johns. Both London and Watford told reporters last month after Virginia’s spring game that part of his demotion, both as a starter and as one of the team’s captains, had to do with an off-the-field incident this offseason.
And while London said Watford would get a chance to compete for the starting job again when the team re-convenes in August, he was also quick to point out Lambert’s status as the program’s top quarterback option is “not a surprise and it’s something that was earned.”
London indicated accuracy was the determining factor and that Lambert’s 6-foot-5 frame gave him an added “presence” in the pocket. The Jesup, Ga., native appeared in seven games last season in relief of Watford, completing 44 percent of his passes for 340 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Watford, a rising redshirt junior, struggled throughout the 2013 season, finishing with the lowest yards per attempt (5.2), the worst efficiency rating (99.6) and the most interceptions (15) among ACC starting quarterbacks.
“I know David is disappointed,” London said of Watford, who plans to work in California this offseason. He spent spring break in San Diego with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield.
Virginia’s new depth chart also reflected its growing reliance on bigger receivers going forward. Sophomore Keoon Johnson, redshirt sophomore Kyle Dockins and senior Miles Gooch, all listed at 6-foot-3 or taller, are now the team’s No. 1 options at wide receiver. The team’s leading returning receiver, senior Darius Jennings (38 catches for 340 yards), is listed behind Gooch. Former All Met Dominique Terrell (Osbourn) is now third on the depth chart.
Along the offensive line, senior Jay Whitmire (T.C. Williams) will enter training camp as the team’s starting left tackle despite not participating in spring practice due to injury. His back-up, sophomore Sadiq Olanrewaju, will also compete for playing time there after missing spring practice. The rest of the first-team offensive line consists of senior Conner Davis (left guard), sophomore Eric Tetlow (center), junior Ross Burbank (right guard) and sophomore Eric Smith (right tackle).
At tight end, Virginia now has just two players on the depth chart after senior Jake McGee announced he would transfer to another school following his graduation later this month. But London remained emphatic there would be no leadership void without him, noting safety Anthony Harris, linebacker Henry Coley, tailback Kevin Parks and Lambert were “by far” the leading vote getters when the team elected captains.
“Jake McGee made a decision for Jake McGee, and what’s left for our team, this team, [is] to galvanize and get re-focused on the guys that stay,” London said. “The leadership is sound. We’re looking forward and that’s all we’re doing.”
On defense, there were few surprises. Junior Mike Moore (DeMatha) emerged as the team’s other defensive end opposite standout Eli Harold. Freshman Andrew Brown, a five-star recruit who enrolled early, is listed as the co-starter at defensive tackle along with Donte Wilkins, despite missing a majority of spring practice with a turf toe injury. Senior Chris Brathwaite, who led the team’s defensive linemen in tackles in 2012 before missing last season for academic reasons, is fourth on the depth chart at defensive tackle.
London also said Quin Blanding, the program’s other incoming five-star recruit, will be given the chance to start immediately at free safety, where senior Brandon Phelps (Damascus) is currently atop the depth chart.