- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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The stock of Greyson Lambert made a rapid rise this spring, as the redshirt sophomore was voted by teammates as one of four captains, named to the squad's 13-man leadership council and declared starter following a three-way quarterback battle.
Now it is Lambert's turn to help turn around a Cavaliers program that has been plagued by quarterback issues throughout the Mike London era, one year after the signal-caller appeared in seven games during a 2-10 campaign.
ESPN.com caught up with Lambert recently to talk about his expectations for 2014.
You were named captain and to the leadership council this past spring. What allowed you to seize this opportunity?
Greyson Lambert: That's a good question. I guess with me personally being more comfortable with the system and already having been under it for a year, I just kind of said to myself that I have nothing really against me but myself. And so, if I just kind of put forth the effort to ... prepare every day like I did last year, but just kind of play more with a confidence that I might not have necessarily had last year. ... You're just kind of going out there and playing football, getting back to the basics. Mentally, just preparing myself to say, 'Hey, you've prepared all you can prepare, now just go out and have fun in practice.' And that kind of helps me when it comes to playing quarterback for us.
How validating was it to have the starter label put on you going into camp?
Lambert: Right now that is all it is; it's just a label. It's awesome. It's why I came here. It's why everybody comes and tries to play college, it's why everybody goes to a university to play college football, is to be named the starter and play and help contribute and play with guys that you love and see every day on the football team. That was definitely awesome and it's definitely an honor to be named that, but like you said, right now that is all it is.
What did you take away from your time last season?
Lambert: When it comes to last year, all of the time that I got in the games was very valuable to me. I probably learned just as much on the field between the white lines as I did on the practice field, just because I treated practice — because I didn't necessarily get a lot of time during the game — so I treated practice every week as my game. So every day I was competing against myself to try to better the numbers that I put up in practice the day before. So I was just trying to raise my own ceiling that much higher, and so when it comes to on the field, with every game, that experience helped me just understand not only the speed of the game, but just the ins and outs of what you're going to have to do in a game to really be successful. And so putting that together with what I learned in practice and treating every day in practice like a game, that preparation and the execution that I was trying to do on the field kind of came together in certain spots last year, and so, I guess, trying to build off of that is what I'm going to be doing and what I have been doing this offseason and going into next year.
Where do you think you're better now? Where do you think you still need to get better to have the kind of success on the field you want to have this year?
GL: Well, I think I'm better physically. I've added weight and muscle and that sort of thing that comes with every player every offseason. Mentally I've gotten definitely better, and that came with a lot of that experience that I got last year and also being in the position [coming out of] spring and going over things this summer with Coach and kind of putting together some of the first 7-on-7 stuff that we've been doing this summer, and that's helped me understand even more of the dos and don'ts of certain plays and certain situations and that kind of thing. ... No matter if you're Peyton [Manning] or Tom [Brady]; they're always in the film room, they're always talking with their coaches and trying to learn that much more because this game is always evolving and always changing. So trying to understand all of the defensive tendencies and what they're trying to do in these situations. All teams are different, so it's just kind of fun to see the differences of the defense and all the different teams that we'll be facing this year, trying to understand those.
What has the offseason work been like with the receiving corps?
GL: We have a pretty busy schedule. So on Mondays we're throwing and going through the routes. And then on Tuesdays and Thursdays we're doing the 7-on-7 stuff with the defense, on top of, we all have a meeting, the offense does, at 5 o'clock — before we go out and do team and 7-on-7 that night — with the coaches. And that time has really helped us to all be on the same page, because it's one of the ... few times the offense meets and goes over a certain play on all parts. So instead of breaking up and the offensive line going over the protection and their blocking scheme, we're all in there together. So the receivers, the running backs, the quarterbacks, we all understand their point of view on that play. And same thing with all the other positions; we're able to understand everyone's task at hand, and that kind of helps us to just understand to play better as a whole. And that time has been spent really well in those meetings to a point where we're jelling more on offense. So that time with the coaches and then the time we've had on the field has been all player-led stuff because the coaches aren't allowed to be with us with a football this summer. The player-led things have kind of fed off those meetings and we've gone out and executed pretty well.
Losing Jake McGee is obviously a big blow. How do you see that production being made up?
GL: It's definitely a big blow when you lose somebody that has his talent. I guess you could say that this spring we were able to put some things together with some other people, mainly because Jake was injured for part of the spring, and we had other guys still in that role and produce day-in and day-out. So it's kind of that next-man-up mentality. But the big inside receivers were Kyle Dockins and Canaan Severin, those were bigger guys on the inside, along with Zach Swanson, they've had a great spring and summer as the starting tight end. He kind of guess jumped up and filled that void at that position and filled that role I guess. He's shown that he's got some playmaking ability that, I guess, everybody saw in Jake but didn't necessarily see from Zach, so he's excited about his opportunity there. But yeah, the bigger guys on the inside, Canaan and Kyle, filled that role all spring when they were in there. So with this group of receivers and tight ends, we've got some guys that can definitely fill that role.
Going back a bit here, but I read about "Spaghetti Thursdays" in high school, which sounded awesome. Can you take me back to what those were like?
GL: My senior year of high school, I wanted to kind of ... get the guys together — and it was mainly my receivers and some running backs — but get some guys together and spend those Thursday nights. My mom wanted to cook pasta with the carbs and all that stuff. She wanted to make spaghetti, she'd make cupcakes and all that kind of stuff. But we just wanted to get together and watch some film of the opposing team, and I really wanted to go over the defense with the receivers. It's kind of like we're doing with these meetings with the coaches, to allow for us understand things better. If you watch those old NFL films, there was one point that Peyton made that he said he and Marvin Harrison could look at each other and kind of understand what they were thinking by seeing the defensive coverage and seeing how the cornerback was spread up, and that's I guess kind of the things that I was trying to be able to do with those guys in high school. And it really helped us become tougher. By the end of the year we were understanding each other more on the field, playing with each other better. So after that film session, then we'd play Xbox and have a little "NCAA Football" tournament or play pingpong and all that kind of stuff, and it ended up being a really fun night. But yeah, it was just trying to build that camaraderie between guys to help us out a little bit.
Any plans for something similar at Virginia?
GL: Yeah, yeah. With it being the last month before camp, I live with Zach Swanson and Miles Gooch. Zach has a grill, and so we're going to try to get the team over and grill out. My house isn't necessarily the biggest, [we'll see if] we're able to do it somewhere else, but I'd like to try to get the whole team at least together once to ... build that community that might not have been here the past couple of years. That's another thing that this team has kind of really taken on, is being that one team and not — there are no separate entities in this team. There's just one team with one heartbeat right now. And honestly if you came around and kind of spent a day with us, I don't think you would've thought that we had the type of season that we had last year, with the mentality that we've kind of embodied this offseason. It's pretty special. So I'm looking forward to the season.
1dMatt Fortuna and Andrea Adelson