We haven't paid very much attention to Virginia spring football practice around here. That's partially due to the basketball team's run and partially due to the football team's performance over the past couple of years. There simply isn't much interest.
Nonetheless, the team will be hosting its annual spring football festival this Saturday at Scott Stadium. Gates open at 11AM and the game starts at 1PM. Entry is free.
Unlike past years, it appears there is no TV coverage for the game, and that includes internet coverage. This is likely related to the above comment about the lack of interest. In past years, the Hoos have drawn up to 10 thousand fans for the spring game. That's still a far cry from some SEC teams that fill up their 80 thousand seat stadiums for a scrimmage. This year, I think the Hoos would be happy with 2500 fans.
So, with very few people interested, and even fewer actually attending, a viewing guide may not make much sense. Nonetheless, we're going to ask and answer a few questions for the few people who care.
Will any of the QBs (other than Watford) take the lead in the QB race?
In last year's spring game, Greyon Lambert stole the show with 248 yards and 2 TDs. Still, David Watford looked dangerous running the read-option and he ended up as the starting quarterback to open the season and remained that way for the rest of the season. All he did was put together probably the worst QB season in all of college football.
So fans are dreading the possibility of Watford leading the team again next season. Watford didn't appear to grow at all during the season. His mistakes in game 1 mimicked his mistakes in game 11. Obviously, the job of the coaching staff is to pick the player who gives the team the best chance to win. If that player is Watford, then he should start. (Of course, if that player is Watford, there's a larger problem at hand.) But for the sake of the program, they need somebody other than Watford to step up. Fans are tired of Watford. We've seen what he can do and we don't like it. Maybe Lambert isn't better. Maybe Johns isn't better. Maybe Turtle won't be better. But it would be hard for all of them to be worse. And if you want to get fans interested and draw them to the stadium in the fall, you gotta find somebody else to play QB. Here's hoping that player is Lambert.
Can anybody on the OL block?
In last year's spring game, the two defenses combined for something like 100 sacks. Fans were torn about this. Does this mean that the DL is great? Or does this mean that the OL is terrible? As it turned out, it was a little bit of both. The team averaged well over 2 sacks per game, good enough for 39th in the nation (and not far behind some of the best defenses in the country). The team also gave up over 2 sacks per game (60th in the nation). On the other hand, the defense gave up over 400 yards and 30 points per game. And the OL was good enough for Kevin Parks to rush for over 1000 yards, even with the complete and utter lack of a passing game.
That OL lost Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko, easily its two most consistent performers. Add to that the injuries that have kept Sadiq Olanrewaju, Jay Whitmire, George Adeosun and John Pond out, and the OL this spring is thin. Can that patchwork OL hold off what should still be a solid front 7? Can guys like Sean Karl and Ryan Doull, who've been passed by younger players, fill in the gaps and maybe push the incumbents for a spot on the 2-deep.
Which WRs will step up?
The Hoos are very deep at WR. There are 8 scholarship WRs on the spring roster, including 3 seniors. Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell and Miles Gooch all came into the program with a great deal of hype (Gooch largely as a QB prospect), and all 3 have been disappointments overall. A couple of youngsters in Kyle Dockins, Keeon Johnson and Canaan Severin have impressed in small doses and look like the next batch of UVA WRs. Which group will have the better performance? And will any of them be able to hold off newcomer Jamil Kamara?
Will special teams improve?
I don't know what format the game will entail, and if there will be much special teams player. In years past, the game was pretty standard and included punts, kickoffs and FGs. Hopefully, that remains the case. There are still a lot of question marks about the Hoos special teams.
These question marks include a 94th ranked punt coverage unit, 89th ranked kick coverage unit, 78th ranked punt return unit and 110th ranked kick return unit. Alex Vozenilek returns after a solid year both punting and placekicking. But he will be better if he can concentrate on just one facet of the kicking game. And, perhaps most importantly, long-snapper Matt Fortin left the team to join the Navy and pursue a career with the SEALS. Best of luck to him, but the Hoos need to find a replacement for him.
(Note: The format has been announced and there will be no kickoffs and while there will be punts, there will be no punt returns. Because why would you want to work on something that you've been terrible at for the better part of a decade?)
Will the team be balanced?
As mentioned above, the defenses dominated last year's spring game with tons of sacks including 3 safeties. They also forced an intentional grounding penatly on Watford. They were relentless, and there was nothing the offenses could do to stop them. If the Hoos are going to have any success this year, the offense needs to be better. Starting Saturday, we'll get to see if they can move the ball consistently and maybe even come up with a few big plays of their own.
How is the team viewing Mike London?
This one will be much more difficult to discern from the stands. Many fans wanted London ousted after last season's debacle. The administration decided that London deserved another season. Another season like last, though, and he's history. Are the players behind him? Are they going to fight for him? Are they listening to him? These are probably the most important questions of the spring, summer and fall for the Virginia football team.