ACC: Phillip Sims

Can the two-year slide in the Virginia football program be directly tied to a piece of paper?

Quite possibly.

Let us start back in spring 2012. Quarterback Michael Rocco had just taken UVa to an 8-5 season and bowl appearance. Mike London won ACC Coach of the Year honors. The Cavaliers became the first program to ever win road games at Florida State and Miami.

The trajectory pointed up.

[+] EnlargeGreyson Lambert
Dannie Walls/Icon SMIVirginia will be looking for Greyson Lambert to provide stability at quarterback this fall.
Rocco had made strides in the second half of the 2011 season, throwing only four interceptions in his final six games. Though London said in the spring the quarterback competition was open, it seemed pretty clear Rocco was the best, most solid choice to start. Then came word after spring practice ended that Phillip Sims had transferred to Virginia.

Two months later, that piece of paper came into play. The NCAA granted Sims a waiver for immediate eligibility. Now, Rocco not only had to hold off David Watford to keep his starting job, he had to hold off the former ESPN150 prospect, too. Sims was too tantalizing a player to keep on the bench, so London decided both Rocco and Sims would play. The plan worked briefly before completely collapsing. Rocco took a step back, perhaps because he felt he could not truly lead his teammates. Sims, for all his talent and athleticism, was largely ineffective.

Frustrated with his role and the way London managed the quarterbacks, Rocco decided to transfer after the season ended. He clearly had enough, calling it an "unhealthy situation" on his way out the door.

Sims appeared to be the next man up. Except he landed in the doghouse before spring practice ever began and never won the starting job. He flunked out of school, leaving few viable options for the 2013 season.

After another quarterback competition, Watford won the starting job. Virginia won two games, and Watford threw eight touchdowns to 15 interceptions while completing just 57 percent of his passes.

Heading into 2014, Virginia will start yet another quarterback: Greyson Lambert. During ACC Kickoff, London was asked why he believes Lambert will bring consistency to a position that has been a weakness at UVa for years.

"You look around, every team has a quarterback that can distribute the ball, be accurate and make good decisions, it makes the team go,” London said. “Greyson can be that. I think he’s smart enough; he’s got the skill and ability to do that. Now, he’s got to do it on the field. He’s shown it in spring practice."

Now back to that waiver. What if Sims was not granted immediate eligibility and had to sit out a year? Rocco would have been the definitive starter, bringing a known commodity to quarterback. Rocco was not without his flaws, but at least UVa would have had much-needed consistency at the position. Virginia lost three games that season by a touchdown or less. Wins in two of those games (say Wake Forest and Maryland, two non-bowl teams) would have meant bowl eligibility. Sims would have had a year to learn the system, to learn from Rocco, figure out how to balance football and academics and be groomed to take over as the starter.

Instead, Virginia has won six games in two years and still has no true identity at quarterback. Perhaps the search for a solid, unquestioned starter ends in 2014.
Former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer will head to Virginia Tech in the summer and join the competition to win the starting job. But his addition to the group does not necessarily mean he becomes the front-runner to be the starter when the season kicks off.

While the Hokies do not have an obvious heir apparent to Logan Thomas, they will have several quarterbacks competing against each other when spring practice opens later this month. Based on experience alone, senior Mark Leal has an advantage. Coach Frank Beamer has said as much. But freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley will be getting plenty of looks this spring, and freshman Chris Durkin and Brewer arrive in the summer to add more fuel to the competition.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Orlando Ramirez/ Icon SMITexas Tech transfer Michael Brewer will not be guaranteed the starting quarterback position at Virginia Tech.
And that is all that can be definitively said at this point. There will be a competition to win this starting job. Period. Brewer will be given a shot just like everybody else. But at this point, he remains a wild card. He will have to play catch up with the playbook when he arrives. He will have to prove he is completely over a back injury that cost him a shot to start with the Red Raiders. He will have to prove he is best capable of improving an ineffective offense.

Will he be able to answer those questions? After he returned to practice from the injury last year, he could not unseat the two freshmen who jumped ahead of him on the depth chart. Does that speak more to Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, or more to the limitations Brewer might possess? We will find out soon enough.

Brewer, of course, is not the first quarterback to transfer into a school, nor will he be the last. We have seen an increase in quarterback transfers over the last few years, as players look for the best opportunity to advance themselves. We saw Russell Wilson leave NC State for Wisconsin in 2011 to major success. Jacob Coker left Florida State for Alabama earlier this year, Vad Lee left Georgia Tech for James Madison, and Pete Thomas also decided to transfer out of NC State -- the second transfer of his career.

We also have seen transfers come in to the ACC over the last few years. Some did not quite pan out. Phillip Sims came to UVa in 2012 from Alabama and was gone a year later; Drew Allen went from Oklahoma to Syracuse last year and lost his starting job after three games. Tom Savage had to transfer twice, but ultimately started every game for Pittsburgh last season.

The trend is not slowing down. Brewer now becomes the fourth quarterback transfer in the ACC looking to start in 2014. Of the four, Jacoby Brissett at NC State is the only lock to start. Florida transfer Tyler Murphy will try to win the starting job at Boston College, while former Memphis quarterback Ryan Williams appears to be the front-runner to start for Miami.

What will happen in the case of Virginia Tech? We probably will not have an answer until August.

ACC QB battles in final rounds

August, 27, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher said the decision was agonizing, but the truth is, the Florida State coach had it easy.

Fisher may have debated the merits of both of his quarterback prospects for months before finally tabbing redshirt freshman Jameis Winston over sophomore Jacob Coker as FSU's starter, but any ambivalence was a result of the Seminoles having two strong options. Fisher couldn't go wrong.

"You’re splitting hairs when you really get down to it," Fisher said. "That’s not coach talk or anything else. That’s the truth. That was a great competition."

If Fisher reveled in the quarterback drama, however, he wasn't alone. More than half the ACC's coaches are getting used to life with a first-year starter at QB, and not everyone has enjoyed the same luxury as Florida State when it comes to picking a winner.

While the preseason favorites -- Clemson and Miami -- share the common thread of stable quarterbacking situations, there's no shortage of question marks across the ACC. Look no further than NC State and Syracuse. Both schools are looking to replace immensely successful quarterbacks, and neither has officially tabbed a starter for the season opener yet.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mitchell
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireIs Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell the answer for NC State at QB? We won't know until game day.
This spring, NC State coach Dave Doeren wasn't entirely satisfied with his options, so when fifth-year senior Brandon Mitchell transferred from Arkansas, the Wolfpack's quarterback carousel took get another turn. Mitchell is a versatile athlete who probably fits Doeren's offense better than Pete Thomas, but that doesn't mean it's an open-and-shut case. Doeren said he's not planning to announce a starter until game day.

At Syracuse, new coach Scott Shafer is planning to let the drama simmer a bit longer, too. Drew Allen and Terrel Hunt have been battling for the starter's job throughout camp as the Orange look to replace Ryan Nassib, and Shafer won't announce a decision until Saturday when Syracuse takes on Penn State.

Life is a bit simpler at Pittsburgh, where Tom Savage officially won the job last week. He'll get an up-close look at Winston when the Panthers host Florida State on Labor Day, making the job of preparing a bit more challenging on both sides.

“You know there’s some stuff you won’t be prepared for, but you try to do the best you can,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “As a coach you try to prepare for the unknown — but how do you do that? I don’t know.”

At Duke and Georgia Tech, there isn't nearly so much mystery. Yes, Sean Renfree and Tevin Washington are gone, but their replacements have already offered extended sneak peeks.

The Blue Devils turn their offense over to Anthony Boone, who appeared in 12 games last season and made one start against Virginia when Renfree was sidelined. Replacing Renfree's big numbers from 2012 won't be an easy task, but the athletic Boone figures to slide into the new role with ease. The same is true for Vad Lee at Georgia Tech. Washington was a key contributor in 2012, rushing for an ACC-best 20 touchdowns, but Lee may be an even better fit in Paul Johnson's triple-option offense. The sophomore appeared in 12 games last season, racking up over 100 yards on the ground against both Presbyterian and North Carolina.

Virginia is excited about its quarterbacking situation, too, which comes as something of a surprise after months of drama. Last season saw a two-man QB battle play out throughout the year, with both Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims getting turns as the starter, and when the season ended, both left the program. But this summer, sophomore David Watford emerged as the clear favorite, and coach Mike London made it official just two weeks into fall camp.

And if Virginia is happy to have a stable starter for the first time in a long time, Maryland is downright elated just to have a cache of healthy bodies. The Terps' 2012 campaign was sunk by a rash of injuries to its quarterbacks, with four different players lost for the year. Eventually, coach Randy Edsall was forced to turn to linebacker Shawn Petty as his only remaining option.

Things are looking much better for Maryland now, where C.J. Brown is finally healthy. Brown tore his ACL during fall camp last year, but the injury is completely healed and the athletic senior is eager to get back to work.

Of course, the Terps' trials and tribulations last season offer an easy reminder that even the most settled quarterback situations can unravel quickly. That's a big reason why Fisher was so pleased to see FSU's QB battle remain so close throughout fall camp.

“No matter what you say, you’ve got to have two guys ready to play,” Fisher said. “And I think both guys have shown they can go in and play.”
Let's face it: Not too many preseason Heisman lists in recent years featured Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton. And while there are plenty of returning stars among this year's Heisman hopefuls, it's always safe to bet on at least one or two unfamiliar faces ending up in New York in December.

Who could rise out of nowhere this year? Let's take a look at some candidates in the ACC.

Jameis Winston, Florida State QB: There is an awful lot of hype for a guy who has yet to take a college football snap. Then again, Winston was the No. 1 quarterback recruit from the Class of 2012, eclipses 100 mph on the baseball diamond as a Seminoles reliever, throws footballs over fraternity houses and starred in FSU's spring game. The redshirt freshman steps into an ideal situation, surrounded by experienced guys on an offense that is coming off an Orange Bowl win. And, well, he absolutely owned FSU's media day Sunday.

Taquan Mizzell, Virginia RB: The Cavaliers struggled running the ball last season, finishing 96th nationally in rushing yards per game (128.5). They have also said goodbye to Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims. Enter "Smoke" -- or, as coach Mike London has called him since a victorious 1-on-1 hoops game, "Mist." ESPN's No. 9 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 notched 1,231 yards and 39 total touchdowns last season at Bayside (Va.) High, and he figures to make his presence felt early at Virginia.

Anthony Boone, Duke QB: Yes, Boone is a redshirt junior. But he was behind school record-setter Sean Renfree the past two seasons, as he watched Renfree take Duke to a bowl game last year while receiving spot duty here and there. He relived an injured Renfree and rushed for a go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown in a win at Wake Forest, then started a week later in a rout of Virginia. For his career, Boone has completed 53.4 percent of his passes in 22 games for 839 yards with six touchdowns and three picks. He also adds another dimension on the ground, having rushed for 211 yards and six more scores. Boone now has the starting job to himself, and teammates have said there is little indication that they are playing with a first-year starter.
David Watford has won the Virginia starting quarterback job and will make his first career start against BYU in the season opener, coach Mike London announced Monday.

Watford had been the favorite to win the job after the Cavs lost both starters from a year ago -- Michael Rocco decided to transfer to Richmond and Phillip Sims was dismissed from the program following spring practice. Though Watford has not taken a snap in a game since 2011, he is the most experienced quarterback on the roster. Greyson Lambert, the player Watford beat out, is a redshirt freshman.

Watford played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2011, but redshirted last year as London decided to go with both Rocco and Sims at quarterback. Virginia has not had much stability at quarterback over the past several seasons, but London wants to change that heading into 2013. He said at ACC media days he wants to pick a starter and go with him as opposed to constantly rotating.

London pointed to a few factors that allowed Watford to emerge as his starter. The biggest factors in the decision were Watford's overall development and game experience. Watford also is mobile, another important factor.

But it seems as if Watford has some intangibles that London also is looking for out of his starting quarterback. London said Watford has the respect of his teammates. "He can be the face of the program," London said.

Watford has an opportunity to become just that in the first two games. After BYU, the Cavs get to take on Oregon in Week 2. There won't be any easing into the starting job.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 30, 2013
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ACC coaches wrapping up at ESPN today.
We’ve got less than two weeks until our planes take off for Greensboro, N.C., the site of this year’s ACC Football Kickoff, where members of the media meet with players and coaches for two days of interviews. In order to help us get to the unofficial start of the season, we’re counting down 10 of the most interesting storylines in the ACC this fall:

No. 8: How will the new quarterbacks fare?

There are plenty of them in the conference to watch this fall, and several schools -- like Pitt, Syracuse and NC State -- who still don’t know who their starter will be. No rookie will face more scrutiny, though, than Florida State’s Jameis Winston. He has been hailed as The Answer by many, the team’s preseason offensive MVP, but he has yet to take a snap in a collegiate game. Life after EJ Manuel begins with more hype than hardware. At Georgia Tech, the Jackets might have gotten an upgrade in first-year starter Vad Lee, but will we see what his arm can really do if there aren’t any dependable receivers to throw it to? Duke was impressed with the leadership and skills of first-year starter Anthony Boone this past spring, and those within the program have said he has a stronger arm than his predecessor, Sean Renfree, and is more mobile. Does he have what it takes, though, to get Duke back to a bowl game for a second straight season? Who knows what’s going on at Virginia since the departures of Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims, the top two options from a year ago. At Pitt, Tom Savage, who transferred from Rutgers and Arizona, hasn’t taken a snap in a game since 2010. Veteran quarterbacks will highlight the ACC this fall, but it’s the unproven ones who could be X factors in the ACC race.

The countdown:
  • No. 10: Can Duke get back to a bowl game?
  • No. 9: Can UNC earn a real ring?
Our “most important game” series continues today with Virginia:

Virginia

Most important game: Nov. 30 vs. Virginia Tech.

SportsNation

Which game will be most important to Virginia in 2013?

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    8%
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    4%
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    8%
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    74%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,829)

Why it’s important: The Commonwealth Cup doesn’t even know where Charlottesville is anymore. Look, few if any outside the program are expecting this to be a banner year for Virginia. The Hoos just lost another quarterback in Phillip Sims, they have new offensive and defensive coordinators and the schedule is simply brutal. One goal Virginia must continue to cling onto, though, is beating its in-state rival and starting to turn the table on this lopsided series. Last year’s 17-14 win over UVa was Virginia Tech’s ninth straight win in the series. The Hokies have won 13 of the last 14 games against Virginia, and UVa coach Mike London has yet to have the upper hand in the game. While the division title probably won't be at stake in this game this year, bragging rights, pride and in-state recruiting will be -- especially since it's a home game for UVa this year. If Virginia is ever going to make a move in the Coastal Division standings, the balance of power first has to shift within the state.

More in this series

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 4, 2013
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RIP, Deacon Jones.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 3, 2013
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Who you got: Heat or Pacers?

More quarterback drama for UVa

May, 31, 2013
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First Michael Rocco decided to transfer.

Now Phillip Sims is ineligible.

So, here is where things stand for the Cavs: A program that has struggled to find consistency at quarterback enters 2013 without either player who made a start a year ago.

[+] EnlargePhillip Sims
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsPhillip Sims is the latest Virginia quarterback to leave the program.
Perhaps most telling? Neither move came as a terrible shock. Both players were frustrated with their roles last year, when coach Mike London played musical quarterbacks -- first starting Rocco, then Sims, then having them both split time. Rocco high-tailed it out after the season ended. On his way out, he had some choice words for London, telling Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times, "It's an unhealthy environment for any quarterback at UVa. It was hard on all the quarterbacks, not just me."

With Rocco gone, Sims became the favorite to win the starting job. But he opened the spring No. 3 on the depth chart, and let his frustrations be known in cryptic statements to several local reporters. When he was asked if he was starting to feel more like himself on the field, Sims replied, "It really looks like it's headed in the opposite direction, but I'm here to play football, man" -- then refused to elaborate.

Sims did not grab a hold of the starting job in the spring. When the post-spring depth chart was released, Sims, David Watford and Greyson Lambert remained in competition. As much as he wanted to see Sims succeed, London did not hold back in a harshly worded statement Friday, calling Sims out for failing to adhere to basic guidelines.

"The thing we tell the young men who come to the University of Virginia to receive a world-class education and play for our football program is pretty simple,” London said. “Go to class. Show class and treat people with dignity and respect. Those directions are pretty easy to follow and they will lead you on a path of success.

“When an individual strays from those directions, it is very disappointing to me. Phillip Sims did not make the commitment he needed to succeed here."

Disappointing is probably putting it mildly. Sims was one of the most high profile recruits in the nation in 2010, ranked the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country. He could have gone anywhere. London wanted him to stay close to home.

Sims chose Alabama.

After redshirting, Sims entered into a quarterback competition with AJ McCarron in 2011. Though Sims played as a redshirt freshman, he clearly would not become the starter for the Tide, and opted to transfer to Virginia.

The move was seen as a big victory for the Cavs, as they secured a high-profile talent from the most high-profile school in the nation. He was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility. But his arrival did not exactly calm the waters, as the Cavs struggled to a 4-8 mark.

So the Cavs go into the spring now with Watford and Lambert as their top two quarterbacks. Watford has not played since 2011 after redshirting last year; Lambert is a redshirt freshman. So is Matt Johns, sure to get more reps this fall.

Sims, for all his incredible potential, goes down as yet another example of a gifted player who cannot seem to figure out how to best utilize his natural talent.

Two stops at BCS programs for Sims, and nothing to show for it. Based on the statement from London, it is reasonable to conclude Sims could not get out of his own way.
Virginia quarterback Phillip Sims is ineligible and will no longer be enrolled at the university after completion of his current summer school session, the school announced in a statement Friday.

Sims arrived last season after transferring from Alabama and was given a waiver to be eligible immediately. He played in all 12 games, with four starts, and seemed to be the favorite to win the starting job going into 2013. But Sims opened spring practice No. 3 on the depth chart and never climbed higher.

Coach Mike London said in a statement:

"The thing we tell the young men who come to the University of Virginia to receive a world-class education and play for our football program is pretty simple. Go to class. Show class and treat people with dignity and respect. Those directions are pretty easy to follow and they will lead you on a path of success.

"When an individual strays from those directions, it is very disappointing to me. Phillip Sims did not make the commitment he needed to succeed here. I appreciate his efforts last season. He is a very talented young man who is blessed with some extraordinary athletic abilities. I still believe Phillip Sims can and will be a successful person. We will do what we can to assist Phillip in continuing his academic and athletic opportunities elsewhere.

"The young men who remain with this football program are committed and have done a great job in the classroom, in the weight room and on the practice fields. Our team spring semester grade point average is the highest it has been in the past 10 years and we understand that for us to be successful on Saturdays in the fall, it will require that everyone involved in the program do what is necessary each and every day to prepare to win.”
2012 record: 4-8
2012 conference record: 2-6 (sixth in the Coastal Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners:

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

Key losses:

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)

Spring answers

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.

Fall questions

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.
Virginia released its post-spring depth chart Monday without any clarity at the quarterback position.

That is not really a surprise, considering coach Mike London has said he wants the competition to remain open during the summer between David Watford, Greyson Lambert and Phillip Sims. The three are listed with an "OR" next to their names. But London did say on a conference call with reporters Monday that he wants a starter in place by early August.

"We’re excited to see who’s going to come out of this hunt here with four months left," London said. "We all know they have the skills, we all know they have the abilities, but we’re committed to having at least the two quarterbacks going into the early part of August camp. We’re going to see whose going to emerge as leaders after 15 practices. What happens now is there’s no coach intervention.

"So a lot of these things the guys have to do, hopefully they mature and they handle the expectations of being a leader. So we’re excited about how they will handle these next four months here as far as preparing their game, getting to where they need to be physically, emotionally, mentally, and then just have the mind-set early on in August we’re going to make a decision and go with it and that will be it."

Watford seemed to grow during the spring after sitting out last year while redshirting, but Lambert ended up having the better spring game. Sims started several games last season but that does not give him an edge, London says. That is especially true since the Hoos are transitioning to a new scheme under offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild.

"They’re all unique in a way because of what they do," London said. "The challenge for us with coach Fairchild and the offensive guys is to find the guy that can do what we need on our offense and also use that for the skill level that we have in our offense. It’s a good issue to have. Phillip and everyone know what areas they need to work on."

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
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You Hokies fans cool with this lady rockin' your gear?

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