The buzz around the Virginia program picked up noticeably with Wednesday's news that former Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims would be eligible to play for the Cavaliers immediately. And rightfully so. Sims is the real deal. He was barely edged out for the starting job on a Crimson Tide team that won the national championship. Rivals listed him as the #2 quarterback in the nation coming out of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake. Yes, that's the same high school as current Cavalier starters Perry Jones and Tim Smith.
So it's fairly apparent to me what most of the chatter will be about as we head into fall practice: Who will be the starting quarterback? Can Sims beat out Rocco? Can Rocco hold off Sims? Will Watford switch positions? Who carries the clipboard? Does anyone transfer? What about Greyson Lambert, who is already in Charlottesville with the team? Where does he fit in? And Matt Johns when he arrives? Does this mean anything for commits Corwin Cutler and Brendan Marshall? Which way will Dex be wearing his visor on day one of fall camp? What music will they play over the speakers to annoy the elderly donors who come to watch practice?
Make no mistake, quarterback is a hugely important part of a football team and I recognize that this discussion has a lot of intrigue and potential impact. But let's also recognize that there are some other positions on the team where the outcome of fall practice will have similar impact on the success of the team in 2012.
What positions am I referring to and why do I say that? Find out after the jump (and make sure to let us know what you think in the comments).
There's one part of my argument that actually pertains directly to the quarterback position. And that is that we already have an established, experienced starter under center who had a successful 2011 campaign leading the team to its first bowl game in several years. If this whole Sims thing hadn't happened, we would all be sitting here content with Michael Rocco as the starter knowing that he did well in 2011 and has two more years as starter to continue improving. I think we can (almost) all agree that we expect him to look even better this year after another spring/summer/fall with Lazor and his playbook.
That's a stark contrast to last year when Watford, Rocco and Metheny were battling for the starting spot. We basically knew nothing about any of them. Whoever won, there'd be second-guessing (ok, there's always second-guessing and Sunday morning quarterbacking) and hand-wringing and whatnot. It seemed there was even some of that among the coaches given the way they alternated signal callers during the first part of the season.
In other words: while there is a lot of intrigue in a QB battle, I personally think that we're in good hands regardless of who wins. Rocco wins, I'm happy. Sims wins, he had to beat out Rocco, so I'm happy. Watford wins, he had to beat out both of them, so I'm happy. I guess maybe if Greyson Lambert wins I'm not happy. He should get a redshirt to go along with his greyshirt. Red and grey used to be our team colors, after all!
So what about those other positions I mentioned? I'm not going to go through the entire squad - I'll leave that for someone like Tiki who has more in-depth knowledge of the positions. But let's dig into a couple of them:
How many people actually realize that we lost three of our four starters in the defensive backfield? How many of those people also realized that the one returning starer will be just a true sophomore this year? Well, that's the case. Starting cornerback Chase Minnifield and starting safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley all graduated this year. Beyond that, long-time reserve Dom Joseph also graduated. That leaves only true sophomore cornerback Demetrious Nicholson with significant experience.
To be fair, there's a lot of talent in the younger ranks of the secondary. Rijo Walker, Anthony Harris, Drequan Hoskey and Brandon Phelps all saw good minutes through the season (especially Walker). Coming in this year, there's several people of interest: Demeitre Brim, Maurice Canady, C.J. Moore, Kelvin Rainey, Divante Walker and possibly Will Wahee (what a great name for a Wahoo). So its not like we're lacking in talent. We're just lacking in known talent.
Not exactly the most glamorous position on the offense, but one that is definitely a necessity. We lost both Terrence Fells-Danzer and Max Milien to graduation. Former safety LoVante Battle has moved over to the fullback position, which gives its ranks some age, but not really experience. Junior Billy Skrobacz (who didn't appear in any games last year) and Sophomore Zach Swanson (who didn't touch the ball in 2011) are the young guns already in the program.
Like the secondary, three of the four starters on the defensive line are gone. Matt Conrath, Nick Jenkins and Cam Johnson all exhausted their eligibility. Once again, we've got some younger talent behind them. Will Hill and Jake Snyder were both in the top 10 on the team in tackles last year. Ausar Walcott, who has played seemingly everywhere on the field, is now at defensive end. And then of course you've got some rookies coming in with names you might recognize from the headlines: Eli Harold, Michael Moore, Courtney Wynn and Tyrell Chavis. So much like the safety position, we're not lacking in talent; we're just lacking in known talent.
Those are the three positions I'll be looking at most closely in 2012. How about you? Let us know in the comments.