- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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At this time last year, Virginia’s quarterbacks were involved in one of the better offseason competitions in the ACC. This spring, it’s a different story, as Michael Rocco has asserted himself as the leader of the offense and is looking to build upon a strong debut in 2011. Last year Rocco completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,485 yards, with just four interceptions, nine touchdowns and a 141.00 pass efficiency rating. I spoke with Rocco recently about his outlook on 2012. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
What’s the next step for you? What can you build on and get better at next season?
Michael Rocco: My first priority really has been lifting and being a leader in the offseason, just getting down what I need to work on through film. I’ve been doing that the past couple of weeks. And then really just going out and working on that in my spare time with other quarterbacks and receivers, just making sure I’m a leader during our offseason workouts.
How much more enjoyable has this offseason been because there haven’t been questions about who’s going to be Virginia’s quarterback and the uncertainty of the position and your role in it?
MR: I think it’s just more enjoyable that I’m going to be the leader I knew I could be this whole time and people are looking to me for leadership and accountability. Last year I was trying to develop my leadership and this year, I am a leader now. I need to watch my step and make sure I’m leading through example.
What was the most important lesson you learned from last season?
MR: Really that it’s a team game, and that I have to rely on my playmakers to make plays for me, and I can’t get it all done alone from the quarterback position. I have great players around me. I just have to do my part in leading the offense and good things will happen. Our offense really got better towards the end of the year and throughout the year.
How big of a deal is it from your perspective that coach [Bill] Lazor ended the speculation about him going to the NFL and he’ll be your coordinator again this year?
MR: It’s huge, especially having a coordinator for three years in a row now. This offense is really taking off, and I know I have become a way better quarterback, just from being under his tutelage, and making sure that I’m using all of his information. I meet with him weekly, and just knowing that he’s here and having him for another year in this offense is really something special.
As a group, where do you guys think you made the most progress offensively last year?
MR: I know we ran the ball respectively for most of our games, and in just another year in the offense, we knew that we were going to excel and get better and I believe our offensive line took a huge step forward this past year. The running backs did a great job of running through those holes they opened up. This next year we’re really looking to take our passing game to get to the level of the running game we had this past year.
Are you going to be able to do that without Mr. [Kris] Burd?
MR: It’s going to be tough. He is a really good receiver, but we have good receivers coming back, and we have a good recruiting class of receivers coming in. It’s exciting to work with our receivers right now in the offseason and I look forward to the guys coming in this summer to see who can play right away. It’s going to take a little time to progress, but it’s going to be a great experience and we’re ready for it.
You guys totally jumped the gun on expectations last year by getting to a bowl game and contending for the Coastal Division title. What do you think are realistic expectations for Virginia fans for you guys for this season?
MR: Our expectations on ourselves are really all that matters, and I know all of our guys are expecting us to improve upon last year. Our record was 8-5 last year. That’s not all we look at is our record, but improving as players and teammates, and we know we have the players and the playmakers to do something special next year, even though we lost a lot. We have the guys in place, the recruits in place to take this program to the next level. I know I’m working as hard as I can to be the leader I need to be this offseason and I know other leaders on the team are, too. We’re expecting a lot out of this season and not looking to skip a beat.
2dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna