For all the changes that Virginia football went through this offseason, with new coordinators on offense, defense and special teams, the dominant story line when Coach Mike London opens training camp could very well be the same one that consumed the past two years. The departure of signal-callers Michael Rocco (transfer) and Phillip Sims (academically ineligible), the two players who took snaps under center in 2012, means the Cavaliers are once again searching for their starting quarterback.
From all indications, it’s a two-person competition between redshirt sophomore David Watford and redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert. London has made it clear he plans to make a definitive decision this August, rather than leave the battle open for debate heading into the regular season. If he needs any reminder of why that could be a prudent idea, he need only listen to some of his players.
“When you’re dealing with a two-quarterback competition, it’s hard to know who you’re really blocking for,” senior left tackle Morgan Moses said Sunday during ACC media days. “I think it definitely hindered the team just a little bit, not knowing who’s gonna play, those guys’ confidence rising and dropping.”
In 2011, Watford and Rocco split snaps until midway through the season, when Rocco took the reins for the most part. His ascension coincided with the winning streak that ultimately sent Virginia to the Chick-fil-A Bowl and an 8-5 record. Last year, Rocco was named the opening day starter, but that title wouldn’t last for long after the NCAA granted Sims immediate eligibility following his transfer from Alabama.
Sims ended up appearing in all 13 games last season, and neither he nor Rocco ever looked completely comfortable playing in a rotation. Their former teammates hope those days are over.
“It’s not my side of the ball so I can’t speak to it too much, but I do know historically, as far as football goes, it’s generally better to have one quarterback. I think that’s common sense,” defensive end Jake Snyder said. “So yeah, you do want consistency back there. I think any team would want that.”
Whether Watford or Lambert wins the starting job this year remains up for debate. They were tied atop Virginia’s depth chart, along with Sims before he was kicked off the team, coming out of the spring.
Watford, who took a redshirt last season after appearing in 10 games as a true freshman, is the more mobile option and seemed to be the front-runner this April. Lambert has the more accurate arm and performed better in the spring game, but he has yet to take a snap in an actual game.
One thing appears certain, though: Virginia’s players hope London can avoid a two-quarterback system almost as much as the Cavaliers’ fans.