“Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”—Doug Adams
It’s an annual tradition for Virginia Football Fans. The slightly cool embrace of young spring fills the Charlottesville landscape. Banners are pressed and hung on pole left dormant for fortnights. Tables and booths are filled again with the colors of orange and blue. No, I’m not talking about the Spring Game. I’m talking about the droves of people who rag of Virginia for having ONLY 8,000 people turn out to watch the Spring Game each year and think they are the first person to do so.
For the hardcore of football fan, the Spring Game is a perfect way to shake off the past few months of non-football and prepare you for the up-coming few months of non-football. It is a chance to see new systems and players in a relaxed atmosphere on your own field. There will be enough surprises and disappointments to carry on ‘til August, when fall ball comes around. But for the casual observer, this is practice. I’m talking about PRACTICE. PRACTICE. Only about 2/3 of next year’s roster is actually on the field with incoming 1st years not in school yet and players rehabbing from injuries. Additionally, they are also going about 60% speed, just slightly higher than the NFL Pro Bowl.
But somehow we will all get on twitter, read local papers the next day, and the jabs will be there. I have noticed that a few Louisville fans have gotten into the mix, as they are prepping for their “natural rival” status starting in 2014. Some are mildly interesting, but most are rehashed drivel. We will move on and get ready for the season.
Speaking of the season, the Spring Game DOES give a basic look into a few things for next year. Most importantly, we do get to look at Mike London 2.0, as all 3 phases on the game will have a new look. Here is our guide to watching the Spring Game on Saturday.
1. There is a new signal caller in town, and while Steve Fairchild has stated that he will stick to the run-first football game, which should be the only thing he has in common with his predecessor. The pace of play should be quicker, but not a hurry-up style. This is be perpetrated by the lack of multiple motions in their offensive set up. Secondly, look for some different sets, including multiple WR looks. The basic idea is that Lazor wasn’t confusing anyone with his personnel or motions, so this approach should give the defense less time to pick up on plays and to make substitutions to counter those looks.
2. Stop me if you have heard this one before, but the QBs will be on display again on Saturday. While most people will think that Sims should have been #1 coming in to the Spring, you should see Lambert and Watford split time 40/40, with Sims getting about 20%. However you want to believe the coaches came to this decision, this is what is going to play out until fall ball starts. All have had ups and downs in practice, but the Spring Game usually shows the front runner. Rocco looked very consistent in the 2012 SG and started the year under center.
3. While we will not get a look at super 1st year Taquan Mizzell, there will be 4 others getting long looks, all in different ways. Kevin Parks will (and should) be at the top of the depth chart and hopes he can keep up with the increased workload this year. Clifton Richardson is back from injury that limited him last season and hopes are he can be the up the middle/ short down back he was in 2011. Khalek Shepherd and redshirt 1st year Kye Morgan should battle for time, but how it will translate to the fall will be interesting. Keep your eyes on the fullbacks, especially Vincent Croce. The converted DE/DT moves to the fullback spot and has looked good in practice so far.
4. E.J. Scott had an amazing spring last year and it translated into 390 receiving yards and 3 TDs last season, good for 4th on the total receiving list. So who will be the next name to keep your eyes on this season outside of Jennings, Terrell, and Smith? Look for the more traditional WR numbers 84 and 87. Those belong to Cannan Severin and Kyle Dockins, both in their 2nd year in the program and both having good practices so far this year. While Severin came in with 1st year expectations as a big possession receiver, Dockins was a late reach as a McGee type tight end, a undersized TE but great hands like a WR.
5. Speaking of tight end, it will be interesting to see who will be put in the jumbo sets. With Freedman and Phillips gone and Mathis not on the roster, can McGee be inserted into the lineup to block, or will converted FB Zach Swanson or converted DE Rob Burns fill those holes. And if they can, can they both block and catch, something that was the biggest tell last year in Lazor sets.
6. Outside of Morgan Moses, the O line will be shifted around and will have plenty of room for new names to see playing time. Right tackle will be one we are watching with Cascarano moving over from guard battling Jay Whitmire, who has been groomed as the next big tackle last season.
1. Just like we will keep our eyes on what Fairchild will be doing with the offense, we should also be watching what Tenuta does with the defense. While we are staying with the 4-3 front look with cover 2 base defense, to say that Tenuta likes the blitz is saying that most UVa bloggers like ice cream cake (and we all do!). While the stunts up front will should get most of the pressure, it will be the impact from the secondary which should make life interesting this year. I equate it to the old Pittsburgh scheme, where the safeties creep up and rush the passer. Now how that works with such a young group of players will be the key to everything.
2. The top of the defensive line is pretty much set, with the 2 deep off the corners mostly done, it will be a battle in the middle. The defensive tackle position has been in flux more than Kristie Alley’s waistline. From an understaffed start to London’s tenure coming off of Groh’s 3-4, to a sizeable group of recruits, to now a line featuring only 34 tackles and 3 sacks a year ago, London must find a way to get production from the middle. Thankfully, David Dean and Brent Urban look to be the starters, but it will be the favored London rotation that will need to be sorted out. Will he stop at Justin Renfrow or can AMR (Andre Miles-Redmond) break into the mix?
3. Virginia will see a brand new linebacking core this year, and hopefully see some more rotation than past years. Granted, no one wearing orange and blue wanted Greer or Reynolds off the field at any time last year, but this year should see some more flexibility across the board. Demeitre Brim will man the Sam, but his back up might not be named until the 1st years get to grounds in the fall. The middle will be Coley’s, still, how Kwontie Moore, named the best interior linebacker in the nation coming out of high school, fits in the schemes. Weakside looks stacked with Daquan Romero, D.J. Hill, and true rookie LaChaston Smith, the problem ‘will’ be getting them all on the field.
4. For the first time in 3 years, it seems that the secondary will have some stability to it, although with the new sets brought in by Tenuta, how and when they will be used will be the key. We are looking towards the safeties to really step up this year and Harris, Phelps, and Cooper in these blitzing packages will be one to watch.
1. While the specialist are pretty much set with Vozenilek punting and Frye kicking, the return game will be under the microscope this year. Virginia went after a Special Teams Coordinator and got one, then got Larry Lewis. The immediate concern will be how the Hoos can improve on the punt return game. Outside of the 3.9 ypp last season, there were a lot of mental errors with the group as well. Virginia will need to find a way to block up field so that the return man can break a few long runs. Additionally, you might have heard about this guy Mizzell coming to UVa in the fall. Well, he is an amazing in the return game, and showed that in the US Army All American Bowl, where he had a 77 yard kick off return. One would wonder if the returners we see in the Spring Game were placeholders for Smoke come next season.
Enjoy the Spring Game, and if you go, remember a towel is about the most massively useful thing a Wahoo fan can have.