Peter Casey-US PRESSWIRE
With spring practice open today, we take a look at some of the most intriguing story lines and position battles. Obviously, first and foremost is the QB. We take a look at the position. After the spring game, we'll look back and see if we've answered any of these questions.
There are a number of questions for the Virginia football team as they enter spring practice. With a great deal of turnover on the coaching staff, fans will want to see how the new staff operates. The Hoos lost their top two LBs and top two DTs (one to graduation and one to grades). Still, by far the top question on everybody's mind is the QB position.
The staff has made it clear that there is no leader coming into camp. Everybody will have an equal opportunity to win the job. Last season, the Hoos used two QBs. Michael Rocco began the season as the unquestioned starter, but struggled and was eventually replaced by Phillip Sims. Sims wasn't any better than Rocco, so they ended up switching back and forth. This is generally not good for an offense, and the numbers show it.
Now Rocco is gone, which leaves Sims as the proverbial "leader of the pack". Sims, however, is not the only QB on the team with game action. Redshirt sophomore David Watford played in 2011 as a true freshman, completing just 40% of his passes, and throwing 4 INTs versus 3 TDs. For the most part, Watford looked lost. This is not surprising for a true freshman QB. Watford's redshirt season should've been a growing experience for him, as he was able to learn and build on his experience.
There are two other QBs on the roster who will fight with Sims and Watford during spring practice. These are Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns. Lambert is the more highly regarded player, but Johns should not be discounted simply because he was a lower ranked high school player.
Chances are we won't have an answer after spring practice. The coaching staff hopes to narrow the choice, but it is likely that we will enter the spring with at least 2 players fighting for the starting gig.
Who will step up at LB?
The Hoos lost two very good LBs in LaRoy Reynolds and Steve Greer. In their stead are a number of possibilities, but not much experience. The most experienced LB returning is junior Henry Coley. Coley has moved from MLB to OLB and back, based on need. Word is that he is back in the middle, and will be the odds-on favorite to replace Greer. However, perhaps the top LB prospect on the team, K'wontie Moore is also at MLB. The two will fight for that role during the spring.
The battle to replace Reynolds on the weak side is less interesting. Junior D.J. Hill subbed in admirably for Reynolds while Reynolds dealt with a hand injury this season. Barring something unforeseen, Hill will be the starting OLB. Junior DaQuan Romero seems likely to reprise his role on the strong side.
The depth chart, however, is much less set. Frankly, there isn't much at all behind the 3 guys I've mentioned. Sophomore Demeitre Brim, redshirt freshman Mark Hall and early enrollee freshman LaChaston Smith are the only other scholarship LBs on the roster this spring.
What will our OL look like?
The offensive line was arguably our weakest unit this past season. From that unit, we lose LT Oday Aboushi, who is likely to be picked in the first half of the NFL draft. That leaves 4 returning starters: RT Morgan Moses, RG Sean Cascarano, C Luke Bowanko and LG Connor Davis. None of those guys are locked into their spot for 2013.
Let's start in the middle. Luke Bowanko was never comfortable at OC, and has reportedly been moved back to OG. He's better there, and is arguably our best guard. That move, however, means sophomore Ross Burbank must step in at C. Burbank will get a chance to hold that position during the spring, but if he struggles, Bowanko will be forced back to C.
The two guards struggled mightily last season. Davis actually split time at LG with Cody Wallace. Bowanko will see some time at G, along with the 3 aforementioned OGs and redshirt freshman Ryan Doull. Hopefully, the competition will improve the overall play of the OGs.
At OT, Moses may move over to the left side to replace Aboushi. That is far from definite though, as he struggled last year as well. If Bowanko moved to RG, Cascarano could end up on the outside (probably on the right side). Sophomore Jay Whitmire has the measurables to be a solid OT, but he has very little playing experience.
How will the DL rotations play out?
The loss of DT Chris Brathwaite is a big one. By the end of the season, he was probably the best DL on the team. With him out, the only interior DLs with any playing time are Brent Urban, Justin Renfrow and David Dean. Urban and Renfrow are big guys who could be solid against the run, but Dean is the only DT with the potential to really create disturbances in the offensive backfield. Dean, however, had only minimal playing time last year. He'll have to get up to speed quickly.
The depth chart at DE is much more impressive. Senior Jake Snyder is a solid presence against the run. Sophomores Eli Harold and Mike Moore were both impressive as true freshmen, and look ready to be dominant forces. Fellow sophomores Diamonte Bailey and Trent Corney have the makings of true playmakers as well. With the depth and playmaking ability on the outside, we may see some of these guys slide inside on passing downs to provide a real pass rush.
I've covered some of the more up-in-the-air positions on the team, but some of the other positions have different questions. We are so deep, for example, at RB, that we have to wonder how carries are going to be split up. And that is before Smoke ever steps on grounds.
Wide receiver is in a similar position. The starters are fairly well determined (Darius Jennings and Tim Smith, in case you didn't know), but there are so many other playmakers at the position, that divvying up the snaps could be a real challenge.
Another question mark is at Safety. The Hoos really struggled at safety last season, but I think we should expect to see Brandon Phelps and Anthony Harris as the starters again. I still think Rijo Walker deserves a look, and incoming freshman Malcolm Cook may also push for playing time. In fact, watching the development of Phelps and Harris may be my biggest interest this spring.
Wahoo fans, what are you most interested in seeing this spring?