ACC: Khalek Shepherd
See our previous projections here.
Second-year star: Mizzell (5-foot-10, 190 pounds)
Recruiting stock: Mizzell was the only member of Virginia's class who was in the ESPN 300. He was the nation's No. 9 running back and No. 75 overall prospect, and he starred in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, returning a kickoff 72 yards to set up the winning score for the East team. Nicknamed "Smoke," Mizzell rushed for more than 3,500 yards during his high school career and accounted for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards during his senior season.
2013 in review: Mizzell played in 10 of 12 games, rushing 45 times for 184 yards and a touchdown. He caught 29 passes for 164 yards and another score. He also tallied 347 yards on 21 kickoff returns. Mizzell missed two games with a lower extremity injury.
2014 potential: Potential is the perfect word to use when talking about Mizzell. He embraced comparisons to Miami's star tailback, Duke Johnson. Things didn't go so smoothly for Mizzell early on, but he is optimistic that he can take off in 2014, especially now that he is healthy. He ran track this spring, and the football staff raved about his attitude. Can he become one of the best running backs in the ACC? Life could be a little bit more difficult without tackle Morgan Moses, whom the Washington Redskins drafted in the third round last week. And with the Cavaliers returning their top-two rushers from last season in Kevin Parks (1,031 yards) and Khalek Shepherd (304 yards), the big numbers might not be as easy to come by. But Mizzell has taken all of the right steps going into his second season, and is, by all accounts, well on his way to reaching his potential.
Also watch for: You cannot overlook Johnson, who had a reception in all eight games he played in last season and had the most receiving yards by a Virginia true freshman in 14 years. Three-star receiver Andre Levrone could also see some opportunities after redshirting last year, as he impressed on the scout team. Also keep an eye on three-star, 6-foot-6 offensive lineman Eric Tetlow, who appeared in five games in 2013 and emerged this spring as Virginia's front-runner to start at center.
Mizzell, nicknamed “Smoke” for his raw speed, was still learning how to run.
One of Virginia’s fastest recruits, though, was forced to slow down. He had to learn the playbook. He had to adjust to life as a college student. He had to compete against veterans. And he had to overcome the first injury to ever sideline him.
Now, finally healthy again and more knowledgeable in the playbook, Mizzell is primed and eager to show why he was widely considered one of the nation's top running backs in the 2013 recruiting class. For Mizzell, his desire to be the best isn’t about bravado, recruiting rankings or hype. (His coaches gush about his genuine modesty.) Instead, the former four-star, ESPN 300 prospect is simply trying to reach his ceiling -- which is why it was all the more devastating when his rookie season was derailed by an ankle injury. It was a hurdle he had to clear both mentally and physically, but also one that has helped him mature into a more complete player.
And a faster one, too.
“I can’t even ... it’s so exciting,” he said, searching for the right words to describe his return. “Sometimes you might not want to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning for practice, but every morning I wake up, I’m so anxious to get on the field. As soon as I felt myself -- even after the season -- the moment I felt myself back 100 percent, I was ready to go. That’s why I started running track. I’m trying to get myself better right now. I don’t want to wait until August or September to get better. I want to get better right now. So I started running track, and now my opportunity to get back on the field, I’m going to take advantage of it and play to the best of my ability.”
This offseason, Mizzell, who never ran track in high school, has competed in the 60-meter dash during indoor track and the 100-meter dash in outdoor track. He’s also taking reps with the first and second teams at spring football practices and has been used in the return game. He’s in good company, as Virginia returns senior starter Kevin Parks and senior Khalek Shepherd, the Cavaliers’ two leading rushers from a year ago. Parks ran for 1,031 yards last year and started all 12 games, while Shepherd had 304 yards.
There doesn’t seem to be any concern within the program, though, about a shortage of snaps for Mizzell. Coach Mike London said the staff has made sure to evaluate Mizzell with the first-team offense in an effort to get him as many touches as possible.
“It’s about the maturation process,” London said. “He’s bigger, he’s stronger, his knowledge of the offense both in running the ball and pass protection and running routes, all of those things have really materialized. He’s back there catching punts now. He caught some kickoffs last year. There are some things we do in the backfield exclusively for him, but he’s also a running back. He’s learned the gamut from A-Z about how to be a complete player.”
“Virginia fans are eager to see the total package.
He's bigger, he's stronger, his knowledge of the offense both in running the ball and pass protection and running routes all of those things have really materialized. ... He's learned the gamut from A-Z about how to be a complete player.” -- Virginia coach Mike London on Taquan Mizzell
On his first carry in the second game of last season against Oregon, Mizzell was taken down by two defenders and said he immediately felt the pain in his ankle when he tried to stand on it. He missed two games and never started a game but still finished with 695 all-purpose yards.
“I think he came in with a lot of high expectations,” running backs coach and special teams coordinator Larry Lewis said. “It probably didn’t go like he wanted to, but what he learned in that year has helped him to be the player he is right now, which right now I see what everybody’s expectations are. He’s healthy and knows what’s going on and has that experience from last year. It’s not like he’s a rookie player right now. It’s like he’s a veteran player stepping out on the field. You see a remarkable difference right now.”
Credit UVa track coach Bryan Fetzer with some of the change.
Through track, Mizzell has learned how to create power through his legs and properly accelerate, zeroing in on biomechanics and techniques that can make the difference of a fraction of a second -- or a first down.
“I tried to make it so he can relate it towards football,” said Fetzer, who has four other football players on his roster this spring. “I was a football-track athlete in college myself, so I understand the reason. He’s not coming out to be a track star. He’s coming out to improve his game for football and hopefully have some fun and get faster.
“We’ve talked about the process of it, that his first year he’s not going to see this incredible improvement. It’s going to take a little bit of time. It’s going to take him learning how to do things before he really sees the results.”
Just like it did in football.
But that hardly mattered.
Virginia was gritty -- and that is what the Hoos needed to beat BYU 19-16 on Saturday.
In a game delayed for over 2 hours because of bad weather, Virginia showed a toughness on defense that was thoroughly missing a season ago. That defense put the Hoos in position to get a hugely significant win, considering Oregon looms next on the schedule. The last six minutes provided some of the wildest action of opening weekend.
Virginia led 12-7 midway through the fourth quarter, but BYU finally was able to put together a solid drive and took a 13-12 lead. Khalek Shepherd fumbled the ensuing kickoff and BYU recovered. The Hoos looked like they were imploding as BYU stretched its lead to 16-12. Virginia, so inconsistent on offense all game, did nothing on its ensuing possession.
It was the defense that came up big when it mattered. Anthony Harris intercepted Hill with 2:41 to go, giving the Hoos' offense one last chance to do something. Kevin Parks scored on a 13-yard run one play later to put Virginia back ahead. The defense, so strong for a majority of the game, held on to the lead this time.
Given all the restructuring coach Mike London did this offseason, on top of the hugely challenging nonconference schedule to start, this counts as an extremely impressive win. The defense seemed to play with an edge, and kept UVa in this game because the offense, quite frankly, still has some work to do.
David Watford, who won the quarterback competition this fall, was not at his best, going 18-of-32 for 118 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while adding 10 yards on the ground. Virginia managed 230 total yards. BYU has a heck of a defense, so that certainly had a role in the way the Hoos played. But as it stands, the offense has a ways to go to catch up to where the defense is right now.
After a 4-8 season, UVa will take a win any way it can get it.
A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.
A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.
Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:
- Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
- Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
- Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
- Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
- NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.
Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.
Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.
But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.
Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.
- Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
- Percent carries returning: 87 percent
- What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.
- Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
- Percent carries returning: 82 percent
- What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.
- Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
- Percent carries returning: 75 percent
- What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.
- Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
- Percent returning carries: 70 percent
- What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.
- Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
- Percent returning carries: 68 percent
- What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.
- Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
- Percent carries returning: 63 percent
- What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.
- Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
- Percent returning carries: 62 percent
- What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.
- Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
- Percent returning carries: 59 percent
- What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.
- Top returner: Deandre Martin
- Percent returning carries: 57 percent
- What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.
- Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
- Percent returning carries: 56 percent
- What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
- Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
- Percent returning carries: 48 percent
- What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.
- Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
- Percent Returning carries:45 percent
- What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.
- Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
- Percent carries returning: 44 percent
- What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.
- Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
- Percent returning carries: 9 percent
- What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.
2012 conference record: 2-6 (sixth in the Coastal Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 1
QB David Watford, QB Phillip Sims, RT Morgan Moses, TE Jake McGee, TB Kevin Parks, C Luke Bowanko, WR Tim Smith, WR Darius Jennings, DE Jake Snider, CB Demetrious Nicholson
LT Oday Aboushi, QB Michael Rocco, TB Perry Jones, LB Steve Greer, LB LaRoy Reynolds
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Kevin Parks* (734 yards)
Passing: Michael Rocco (1,917 yards)
Receiving: Darius Jennings* (568 yards)
Tackles: Steve Greer (122)
Sacks: Chris Brathwaite* (3.5)
Interceptions: Maurice Canady*(2)
1. Born to blitz. The defense embraced first-year defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s aggressive style with enthusiasm. There were 14 sacks in the spring game. Senior Brent Urban seemed to flourish at defensive tackle. At 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, he was disrupting the run and creating havoc in the passing lanes with his long reach.
2. Reshuffling the O-line. The staff made some changes up front in order to give the running game a much-needed boost. UVa moved walk-on center Jackson Matteo to the starting spot for the week of practices following the spring game and slid last year's center, Luke Bowanko, to left guard. Sean Cascarano moved from right tackle to right guard and Jay Whitmire took over at right tackle.
3. Morgan Moses is The Man. He decided to return for his senior season, and if this spring was any indication, Moses is on the way to a monster of a finale. The coaching staff was very pleased with his play at left tackle, and he’ll be the anchor of the line.
1. Quarterbacks (again). David Watford, Phillip Sims and Greyson Lambert continue to battle it out. Coach Mike London has said the staff will decide upon a starter in early August. Lambert is more of a drop-back passer, and Sims and Watford are more dual-threat quarterbacks.
2. Linebackers. The loss of Steve Greer, who finished his career with 376 tackles, looms large, but LaRoy Reynolds was also a big-play linebacker who will be missed. Henry Coley switched from the outside to the middle and will be responsible for more line calls. He has big shoes to fill in the tackle department.
3. The running backs. Can Clifton Richardson stay healthy and give UVa a big-back option? UVa lost versatile tailback Perry Jones. Parks returns, along with Khalek Shepherd, but UVa ranked No. 96 in the country in rushing offense last season.
The following information is according to Jeff White's report:
- The Orange roster included the first-team defense, the Blue roster the first-team offense. Each quarterback saw time on both sides during the scrimmage, which the Orange won 18-15.
- Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Watford entered the spring game atop the depth chart, followed by redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert and then redshirt junior Phillip Sims. Watford finished 5-for-10 for 55 yards. Lambert completed 21 of 36 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, and Sims was 8-for-18 for 89 yards.
- Junior running back Clifton Richardson finished with 41 yards (on 11 carries), junior Kevin Parks with 20 yards (on 11 carries), junior Khalek Shepherd with 20 yards (on six carries) and redshirt freshman Kye Morgan with 18 yards (on 11 carries).
- Led by Brent Urban (3.5), sophomore end Trent Corney (two) and redshirt freshman linebacker Mark Hall (two), the defenses were credited with 14 "sacks" Saturday.
- The Terps held a scrimmage at Middletown High School in Middletown, Md., Saturday.
- Taking handoffs from quarterback Dustin Dailey, running back Joe Riddle rushed for more than 100 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run.
- The Hurricanes held a 90-minute scrimmage on Friday night that included goal-line and red zone scenarios, and two-minute drills, in front of 3,000 fans at Naples High School. The first-team offense went 60 plays and the second team had 55 plays.
- Quarterbacks Stephen Morris, Ryan Williams and Gray Crow combined to throw five touchdown passes to three different receivers. The Canes were without receiver Phillip Dorsett, who was in Gainesville with the track team at the Florida Relays.
- Dallas Crawford had two receiving touchdowns, while Rashawn Scott and Allen Hurns combined for three scores.
- Anthony Chickillo, Tyriq McCord and Kelvin Cain led the defense with a sack each.
- BC held its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday in Alumni Stadium. The team practiced for the first half hour and then ran through a number of series with rotating quarterbacks. All four quarterbacks -- Chase Rettig, Josh Bordner, Mike Marscovetra and Christian Suntrup -- saw time.
- Rettig started and led the team to the only touchdown on a 5-yard pass to C.J. Parsons. Bordner played in five series and rushed for 33 yards.
- Defensively, junior Sean Sylvia returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown.
- Running back Rolandan Finch has left the team for personal reasons.
- Sophomore quarterback Vad Lee ran for a pair of touchdowns, including one 60-yard touchdown. Redshirt freshman Justin Thomas rushed for a touchdown, set up by his own electrifying 40-yard run.
- Redshirt freshman Beau Hankins had an interception on a pass thrown by Thomas.
- Senior Jeremiah Attaochu had a tackle for loss and Coray Carlson had a fumble recovery.
- The catch of the day actually belonged to walk-on Marty Alcala, who had an acrobatic reception on a 30-yard pass from Thomas.
- Matt Connors rushed for a 12-yard touchdown.
- Junior wide receiver Darren Waller, who was injured, was cleared to play.
- The Deacs continued to emphasize takeaways at their scrimmage on Saturday.
- According to the Winston-Salem Journal, linebacker Mike Olson was sidelined while recovering from shoulder surgery. Nose tackle Nikita Whitlock missed the scrimmage because he was back home in Wylie, Texas, attending the funeral of a member of his family. Cornerback Merrill Noel was in uniform, but did not play because of a sore shoulder.
Perry Jones is gone from the running backs, a deep and talented group remains with Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd and Clifton Richardson having all played significant minutes in games. Then there is the much-anticipated arrival of five-star running back Taquan Mizzell. The receivers should be better, too, with the top five players from a year ago all returning. Yes, there are questions at quarterback, but there is some major talent on this team. A new coordinator in Steve Fairchild should help them put up more than 396 yards of total offense per game. Defensively, the secondary should turn into an area of strength with four returners. The defensive line has an opportunity to build on some of the progress it made toward the end of last season with Jake Snyder back at one end and Eli Harold set to start on the other side after a promising freshman season.
Why they're pretenders: OK, so I downplayed the quarterback questions in the first category. The Hoos have to pick one starter and go with him instead of playing musical quarterbacks if they want to try to find any semblance of consistency at this position. Easier said than done for sure. David Watford, Phillip Sims and Greyson Lambert are all competing for the starting job. Quarterback questions aside, this offense is not going to function the way it wants without a solid running game. The offensive line was not an area of strength last year. With Jones and Oday Aboushi gone, can the Hoos get back to the production they had on the ground in 2011? Defensively, losing Steve Greer in the middle is a huge blow, considering how sure of a tackler he was for this team throughout the course of his career. The pre-spring depth chart has strongside linebacker Henry Coley moving back to the middle. At least the Hoos will have an experienced player there. But linebacker is definitely a question mark heading into the season. Depth at defensive tackle also is an issue, particularly after the loss of Chris Brathwaite, who is no longer on the team.
Final verdict: I expect the Hoos to be much improved this year, but they remain a pretender. First, there are too many unknowns at quarterback. Second, the schedule is difficult. And third, there has been an overhaul to the entire coaching staff. How will this impact the offense and defense?
More in this series
The Deacs got three field goals from Chad Hedlund in his first career start and held on to win 16-10, handing the Hoos their sixth straight loss. Virginia hit a new low point on the season, scoring a season low for points while turning the ball over way too much once again.
Anybody who tuned in knows this game was unwatchable at times. Virginia had plenty of opportunities to win, but Wake Forest came up big time and again. Down 16-10, Phillip Sims had the Hoos driving early in the fourth quarter. But he threw an ill-advised pass down the field that was intercepted by Kevin Johnson near the goal line.
Later in the period, Virginia (2-6, 0-4) had the ball down to the Wake 36, but the Deacs defense came up with back-to-back plays behind the line of scrimmage. The first was a tackle on Clifton Richardson for a 6-yard loss. Nikita Whitlock was forced out of the game because he lost his helmet. His replacement, Tylor Harris, came up with a huge sack on Sims on third down.
Virginia nearly had one final attempt to win, but Khalek Shepherd fumbled a punt with two minutes to go, and Wake Forest recovered.
So on the day, the Hoos had three turnovers and finished minus-3 in turnover ratio, with just 301 yards of total offense.
They actually outgained Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3), which had 215 yards of total offense and only converted one of 14 third-down opportunities. Tanner Price only had 102 yards passing (7-of-19). Its only touchdown of the day was set up because of a terrific return on special teams by Lovell Jackson. But that is a fine formula to win: solid special teams, solid defense and limit your own mistakes.
Repeat: Maryland is 2-0 in the Atlantic Division -- ahead of Florida State and Clemson in the ACC standings.
Only in the ACC.
One year after an abysmal 2-10 finish in Randy Edsall's first season, Maryland is leading the division standings after Saturday's 27-20 win over Virginia. And the Terps have done it with a true freshman at quarterback in Perry Hills and the worst rushing offense in the ACC. Good thing for that D.
Maryland's defense did it again, holding Virginia to three straight incompletions on its final possession to seal the win. Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco came off the bench to relieve Phillip Sims, and he looked capable of orchestrating the comeback, but an errant pass to a wide-open Khalek Shepherd is going to haunt the Hoos.
With four wins, Maryland looks much more capable of playing in a bowl game this year -- something that seemed like a far-fetched goal this summer when starting quarterback C.J. Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury. Virginia, meanwhile, has now lost five straight games and is almost out of chances to reach the postseason.
Maryland won with minus-2 rushing yards. It should savor its place in the standings while it can.
Rocco started all 13 games last season, throwing for 2,671 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But London opened up the competition once Sims arrived and was granted his immediate eligibility. Rocco, Sims and David Watford were involved in an open quarterback competition during preseason practice, but London always maintained that Rocco had the edge over the other two quarterbacks in the race to win the job.
He confirmed that Monday.
"It just became apparent that Michael has the best grasp of the offense right now," London said during his weekly news conference. "He’s the guy that we feel most comfortable with right now because of what he knows, knowing the system and the schemes and knowing the players he’ll be throwing the ball to or handing the ball off to. He’s done nothing to lose his position. We talked about his leadership, his knowledge of the offense, and so he’s put himself in a position to be the guy right now and I’m quite sure he’ll work hard at it, he takes pride in it. That’s how it worked out."
"I believe that I was the starter throughout the spring and the summer," Rocco said. "It was my job to lose. I root for Phil and David as hard as I can. I would never want anything bad to happen in their career and their life. But I believe I’m here to play quarterback at a high level. I was excited when I heard Coach London was going with me, but in my mind I was preparing to be the starting quarterback. I was excited, but I had a confidence in my mind, too."
London added that he knew it would be a tall order for Sims to overtake Rocco while learning a new offensive system.
"With respect to Phillip, he has a big arm, strong arm, been in college games as well. He’s a guy that’s learning our offense," London said. "To expect him to know our whole offense by the time the season started, I don’t think that would be fair on him. He knows enough of the offense that we understand his situation will be on-the-job training as the season goes on, how much he picks up, the communication, all those things."
London also said he would try to redshirt Watford, who served as the backup to Rocco last season.
"With David, it was a tough call," London said. "David has done everything that we’ve asked and then some. He’s matured tremendously, his physical talents and skills improved greatly. They are three selfless players. They want what’s best for the team. My plan is to try to redshirt him."
A few other UVa notes:
- Drequan Hoskey will start at cornerback over true freshman Maurice Canady. London said Canady will see plenty of playing time in nickel and dime packages and on special teams.
- Offensive tackle Kelby Johnson has been suspended for the first two games of the season for a violation of team rules.
- Drew Jarrett has won the starting place-kicker job. Ian Frye will handle kickoffs, while Alec Vozenilek will be the punter.
- Khalek Shepherd is a little banged up, so he won't return kicks. Darius Jennings, Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are listed as kickoff returners, while Dominique Terrell and Demetrious Nicholson are listed as the punt returners.
If Jones was the lone featured back for the Cavs, running backs coach Mike Faragalli estimates his star player probably would have had 1,500 yards rushing.
But given the wealth of talent and depth in the backfield, Virginia does all it can to get as many rushers involved. Last season, the Cavs were one of two ACC teams and one of 10 teams among the automatic qualifying conferences to have three running backs with 72 or more carries. Maryland was the other from the ACC.
Though the distribution plan remains the same this season, with Kevin Parks, Clifton Richardson and Khalek Shepherd in the mix, the quest for a 1,000-yard rusher continues. Jones once again is the most likely candidate.
"I think we'll have a good shot at it this year," Faragalli said on a recent conference call with reporters.
Jones goes into his senior season as one of the most valued members of the offense. Not only is he the starter at running back, he is invaluable out of the backfield. Combined, he had more than 1,400 yards of offense last season. His role in the pass game will not change this year as the Cavs once again attempt to take advantage of his versatility.
"You name it, he does it," Faragalli said of Jones, who has made 24 starts over the last two seasons. "For his stature, he's probably the toughest, most physical player I've been around. They don't call him Superman for nothing. The guy can do it all."
Jones is not the biggest player on the field at 5-foot-8, 195 pounds. That may have had some schools overlooking him out of high school. Faragalli was asked to assess Jones' pro potential, given his small stature. He noted players like LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Both thrived in the right type of NFL system. As noted above, Jones is versatile like those two backs and that should make him an asset.
"He'll test out well," Faragalli said. "They'll probably look at him and say he's too short, he doesn't have 4.3 speed. But he plays 6 foot 2 and he takes a lot of pride in that."
- It's time for Virginia Tech wide receiver Marcus Davis to shine.
- Duke's Desmond Scott didn't hesitate to make the switch from running back to receiver.
- Georgia Tech checks in at No. 5 on Andrew Jones' list of ACC gameday experiences.
- Former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson is making some noise in the NFL.
- Kelvin Benjamin says FSU has the best receiving corps in the nation, and he'd like to help prove it.
- At Miami, "Chick is sick," but he's still practicing.
- UVa running back Khalek Shepherd is sometimes overlooked, but the staff would like to see that change.
- Who's on the Spazwagon? Hahaha, love that nickname, Jim Young.
- Nick Klemm will be in the spotlight even more for the Terps this year.
- Clemson QB Tajh Boyd says he learned a lot from last year.
- It looks like Georgia Tech's Louis Young will be suspended for the opener against the Hokies.
- London gave a quick update on what is happening at quarterback, with Michael Rocco, David Watford and Alabama transfer Phillip Sims. "We're at a point where Phil is now this week is going to be exposed to more things," London said. "We're going to have a couple scrimmages. The only way you can really know is when coaches are off the field and they're calling plays and have to execute. They're progressing nicely. Michael, his knowledge of the offense continues to improve, same with David. With Phillip having been in a pro-style offense before, he understands the concepts." What will they be judged on? "Accuracy, every throw they make, every situation they're in -- whether it's one-on-one, team, throwing with running backs, tight ends on air, they they they're being evaluated. This is an important week for us to see if there is going to be some separation made."
- Finding players to step up in the defensive backfield is of paramount importance this season, with only one starter returning. Though it is early in camp, one true freshman has stood out so far -- Maurice Canady, a versatile in-state athlete who played a variety of positions in high school. Canady came into Virginia and wanted to try and play defensive back first. What has helped him so far is his background as a receiver and quarterback, because he understands route running, from how deep a route goes to where a quarterback is going to throw the ball. "So far he's shown the physical and athletic skills that show promise for him," London said. "Now as we start to add more coverages, more things, we're going to see if he can handle it. But right now, he's doing a nice job."
- London also has been pleased with the way receivers Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings have started to mentor the younger players. Terrell and Jennings are not exactly veterans themselves, with Tim Smith being the elder statesman of the group, but they are actively helping out in any way they can. "What you see is more of a mature approach," London said. "They're guys that played in college games before. ... They want everybody to get it. They know our passing game is a timing game. If these young guys understand how to run their routes, it's going to help the entire team."
- There is plenty of talent and depth at the running back position, and London said the team will explore creative ways to get all of his playmakers involved. That means seeing more guys on special teams, specifically a player like Khalek Shepherd on punt returns. "People talk about two halfbacks in the game, which is very possible, very doable for us because of the matchups they present," London said. "We'll come up with creative ways, not only through offense but also through special teams. We are going to try to utilize all their skills, that's for sure. As we get the plays and the opportunities, I can guarantee each one will be cheering each other on."
- At guard, another player who has stood out is Cody Wallace. "Cody's a tough guy, tenacious guy," London said. "Might not be the most athletic guy, but he'll try to hit you, bite you on your ankles, whatever it takes. You like that kind of attitude from a guy. He's quietly inserted himself or put him in position to battle for that guard position. Right now, Cody has that spot because of what he's done to this point."
2010 conference record: 1-7
Offense: 8, defense: 9, punter/kicker: 2
WR Kris Burd, OT Morgan Moses, G Austin Pasztor, TB Perry Jones, DT Matt Conrath, DT Nick Jenkins, DE Cam Johnson, CB Chase Minnifield, SS Rodney McLeod, LB Steve Greer
WR Dontrelle Inman, QB Marc Verica, DE Zane Parr, RB Keith Payne, LB Darnell Carter
2010 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Payne (749 yards)
Passing: Verica (2,799 yds)
Receiving: Burd* (799 yds)
Tackles: LaRoy Reynolds* (66)
Sacks: Cam Johnson* (6.5)
Interceptions: Minnifield* (6)
1. Good move for Gooch. Miles Gooch made the move from quarterback to receiver this spring, and because of the numerous injuries to the wideouts, he got significant reps. Whether that translates into game snaps remains to be seen, but with a crowded competition at quarterback, his odds are better at receiver.
2. No move for Mathis. Jeremiah Mathis moved from defensive end to tight end last year, and he stayed there this spring. Coach Mike London has said Mathis has a huge upside on the offensive side of the ball. Mathis caught three passes in 10 games last year, but that number could increase this fall with the departure of Joe Torchia.
3. Another step forward on defense. With nine starters returning in the second season in the 4-3 scheme, the Cavaliers showed improvement this spring. London said the defense is well ahead of where it was this time a year ago because of the transition and coaching change.
1. Who’s the quarterback? Michael Rocco, Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford will continue their competition in summer camp, as none of them separated themselves this spring. While it’s limited, Metheny and Rocco have the most experience, but that hasn’t guaranteed them anything, according to London.
2. Who will compensate for the loss of production with the departure of Keith Payne? Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd will likely share the carries, but the latter two are redshirt freshmen with no game experience. Jones ran for 646 yards last year.
3. Roster cuts. London needs to trim the roster to meet the NCAA’s 85-scholarship limit, and he has not determined how he plans to do that yet. If Devin Wallace does not return from his suspension, that will make one less -- and one less starter on defense. London has not yet released a number on how many fifth-year seniors will be invited back. Different scenarios could transpire in the next few months to get this question answered, as some players might not qualify and will have to attend prep school.
Rocco completed 10 of 22 passes for 95 yards for the Blue team and seven of 10 throws for 57 yards for the Orange team. Ross Metheny, who also played for both teams, combined to complete 3 of 6 passes for 60 yards. True freshman David Watford completed 1 of 5 passes for 6 yards with both teams. Michael Strauss completed 6 of 14 attempts for 85 yards.
The teams played four 10-minute quarters in a standard game format that included special-teams play. The Blue team featured the majority of the Cavaliers’ returning starters on offense while the Orange team included the returning starters on defense. The Blue team won 17-7. Veteran receivers Kris Burd, Matt Snyder, Tim Smith and Bobby Smith did not play because of injuries. Snyder, Jones, strong safety Rodney McLeod and defensive tackle Nick Jenkins were named team captains for the 2011 season.
- Perry Jones scored on a 15-yard reception from Rocco and had a game-high five receptions for 35 yards and 7 yards on 11 carries.
- Rocco threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Morgan.
- Robert Randolph made a 40-yard field goal.
- Jones Khalek Shepherd had 15 yards on 10 attempts.
- No player had a run longer than 8 yards.
- Steve Greer led all defenders with nine tackles, a pair of sacks and one pass breakup. The two teams combined for 19 sacks since quarterbacks were whistled down when touched by a defensive player. Billy Schautz accounted for three solo sacks.
- Mike Ahunamba and Henry Coley both had five tackles to lead the Blue team.
- Chase Minnifield intercepted Rocco on the opening drive when the receiver slipped while running his route.
- Dom Joseph intercepted Strauss and returned it 65 yards for a score.