<
>

Lambert's turn to step up for Virginia

Quarterback has been a black hole of inconsistency at Virginia for years now, a huge reason why coach Mike London faces a critical season in 2014.

He cannot afford another year when he is unsure what he is getting out of the position, not after two straight losing seasons and his seat growing hotter. So perhaps naming a starter right after spring practice will help change the dynamic.

For the first time in four springs, Virginia knows who will lead it going into the offseason. London named Greyson Lambert his starter Monday, choosing the redshirt sophomore over incumbent David Watford. The move is hardly a surprise, considering all the signs that pointed in Lambert’s direction throughout the spring.

Not only did he have the best spring game among the three quarterbacks in competition for the job, teammates voted Lambert one of four team captains. And London put Lambert on his 13-player leadership council.

"I don’t think it’s a huge surprise how things worked out," London said on a conference call with reporters. "Greyson did a very good job with his on-the-field performance, his off-the-field performance, the things we’ve asked him to do. He’s done them and he put himself in position to come out of the spring as the guy being named as the starter at this point.”

“At that position you have to have a leader, and in a lot of respects, huddle command, presence -- it was all those things that added up coming out of it that we thought Greyson did a pretty good job at it."

Not once under London has Virginia had a starting quarterback with zero questions surrounding him. When London came in, he inherited a senior that was essentially the starter by default. The following year, he went with Michael Rocco but also played Watford. Then in 2012, Rocco shared time with Phillip Sims. Rocco transferred after the season; Sims had academic troubles and also transferred.

Last year, Watford got his turn as the starter and was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the ACC. Not only did he throw more interceptions than touchdowns, Virginia ranked No. 119 in the nation in pass efficiency offense.

The Hoos had to make a change.

So now Lambert gets his chance. No. 1 on his priority list is accuracy and efficiency. In four seasons, Virginia quarterbacks have combined to throw 69 touchdown passes to 65 interceptions. That is a nearly 1:1 ratio, and clearly unacceptable.

“I believe there’s a presence, whether you talk about his height in the pocket -- he’s a tall guy who can survey the field,” London said of Lambert, who is 6-foot-5. “Not very many balls got batted down at the line of scrimmage, and even the 75-plus attempts he had during his college games, so there’s something physically that’s there that allows him to do some things that can lead to completions. That’s what our need is.”

To make completions, Virginia needs its receivers to step up, especially with Jake McGee gone. Darius Jennings, the top returning receiver to the team, finds himself as a backup on the post-spring depth chart. He needs a big season. Keeon Johnson, who showed flashes as a true freshman, has his starting role secured and has the potential for a big year, too.

Virginia already has a 1,000-yard back in Kevin Parks returning. Amazing, considering how bad Virginia was passing the ball last year. If Lambert can get drives going and sustain them, Parks could be even better.

But the questions at Virginia in recent history have never surrounded the run game. Quarterback remains firmly in the spotlight until somebody takes the job and makes it undeniably his. Lambert has the support of his coaches and his teammates. Now he simply must get the job done.