Cavaliers looking to build on success of 2011
Michael Rocco is Virginia’s quarterback and team leader.
But he’s not the Cavaliers’ only reliable signal-caller heading
into the season.
Phillip Sims, a transfer from Alabama who was once among the
nation’s top recruiting targets, has been cleared to play. David
Watford took some snaps in key situations before the staff turned
to Rocco about midway through last season.
Coach Mike London said the quarterback confidence probably
improved with the arrival of Sims, who threw for 10,725 yards and
119 TDs in high school.
”They’re confident,” London said of his QBs, ”and probably
the biggest thing, the players we have are confident in our
quarterback position for probably the first time in a while.”
With Rocco heading the list.
”You look at last year, every game, Rocco got better,”
6-foot-6. 335-poound offensive tackle Morgan Moses said. ”He got
better and this summer, just being around this summer, he changed
his whole demeanor. He looks different. He walks around different.
He’s a leader.
”That’s a guy that you want to play for.”
Rocco said the arrival of Sims played a role in his
”I believe that I’m the starting quarterback and the leader of
this team,” Rocco said. ”When he came in, it just kind of fueled
me even more to be a competitor and win the job outright.”
Rocco led the Cavaliers to an 8-5 record and their first bowl
game since 2007. Now they want more.
This season, he’s got six fellow starters back on offense,
including tackles Moses and the 6-6, 310-pound Oday Aboushi,
tailback Perry Jones, wide receiver Tim Smith and tight end Colter
There are also plenty of other options to look for
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said receivers like Darius
Jennings and Dominique Terrell, both of whom gained experience last
season, can make some exciting things happen with more chances to
get their hands on the ball.
”I feel like we have more players that we know can contribute
with the ball in their hands than we have the last two years,”
Lazor said. ”We know because we’ve seen them do it on the practice
field over and over.”
A trio of tight ends – Phillips, Paul Freedman and Jeremiah
Mathis – will be bolstered this year by the addition of Jake McGee,
a 6-5, 235-pounder with wide receiver speed who repeatedly gave the
Virginia secondary problems during fall workouts.
Jones, the leader of a logjam at tailback that includes Kevin
Parks, Clifton Richardson and Khalek Shepherd, enjoyed the
turnaround last season – but not the way the season ended.
Virginia played rival Virginia Tech with a chance to represent
the Coastal Division in the ACC championship, but lost 38-0. The
Cavaliers lost 43-24 to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
”You never want to end a season on two losses,” Jones
Or think one turnaround season – Virginia won four games in 2010
– proves anything.
Over the summer, participation in weight training, conditioning
and 7-on-7 drills was higher than at any point in recent years,
several players said, motivated by a desire to keep building.
”I think the commitment level was through the roof,”
linebacker LaRoy Reynolds said. ”We got a new weight room and
after the season … we really looked forward to just getting after
Reynolds and fellow linebacker Steve Greer return to anchor the
middle of the defense, along with linebacker Henry Coley. They will
play behind a defensive front that has four players back with
significant experience, and several younger players that will push
to be in the mix.
The area of chief concern on defense is in the secondary, where
sophomore Demetrious Nicholson is the veteran, having started all
last season. He’s likely to be joined in the backfield by fellow
sophomores Drequan Hoskey, Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps, all
of whom gained some experience last season, but have yet to show
they can hold down fulltime roles.
”I think talent-wise, they have the skill and the talent to do
it. What’s missing is the experience of playing defensive back in a
game and they’ll get it early on,” London said.
Virginia opens against Richmond and Penn State before playing at
Georgia Tech and TCU. Its closing stretch has home games against
Miami and North Carolina and a visit to Virginia Tech.