Coach Mike London and the Virginia football team were up and on the practice field this morning at 6 a.m. to kick off the 2011 spring practice schedule. While some of us mere mortals aren’t even fully conscious until at least 7, the team was out running drills and improving skills in the wee hours of the morning without the aid of copious amounts of coffee. With fog rolling over the fields and the temperatures hovering in the 30s, it certainly didn’t feel like spring. However, the Cavaliers are ready to get a jump on next season, and the coaching staff is taking full advantage of the spring practice sessions.
“It started out kind of slow, but these guys kind of picked it up as we went on. We do lifting at 6 o’clock in the morning. There was no lack of energy out here, these guys have been up early in the morning before and had to perform,” Coach London said. “The thing I was really pleased about was, last year, the first practice the ball was on the ground, there were interceptions, miscommunications. The thing about going into the second year is the familiarity with the offense and the potential to get better and move forward was key this morning.”
This year, the team is in a much better place progress-wise, as the coaching staff is familiar with the players and their separate personalities and tendencies. Rather than the spring being a “getting to know you” session, the team can focus on improving from last season and implementing fresh looks rather than having a completely new scheme.
“That’s the key. Now the offensive and defensive schemes are similar. There’s a lot of repeat, but we’ll add some things,” London said. “The more times you do things, the more comfortable you get with it. You saw today the defense communicating.”
This spring is something of a fresh start for a few members of the team and staff. Scott Wachenheim takes over coaching the offensive line after the departure of graduate assistant/OL coach Ron Mattes (Wachenheim worked with the tackles last season in addition to tight ends), while long-time fan favorite Marques Hagans starts his tenure as UVa’s newest GA.
“Marques is going to help with the tight ends and the wide receivers. He has the knowledge of this offense, he’s been exposed to it,” London said. “His ability and what he knows offers a lot for us. We’re going to keep on trying to expand his role.”
On the field, incoming freshmen David Watford and Daquan Romero elected to begin their Virginia careers early by enrolling in January.They got their first taste of college football this morning. Watford worked out with Michael Strauss, Ross Metheny, and Michael Rocco, and all four saw plenty of reps.
“Welcome to college football, to both of them. David, taking snaps, he’s got to call the cadence so everybody hears it; we want it so loud that over on the other field they can hear him. We’ve got to work on that a bit, command of the huddle. For the first time taking a snap in college, I think he did okay,” London said. “Romero, he’s gong to be a good player. He’s got to figure out some things. The learning curve for them is high also, but they’ve been in school, they’ve heard the jargon, they’ve been around our players, so they’re going to be much more advanced as practice moves on.”
As far as veteran players, a couple of guys are getting looks at new spots. Jeremiah Mathis, who saw time at both tight end and defensive end last year, has made the permanent move to the TE/H-Back spot. LoVante Battle, a linebacker on last year’s roster, is now listed at safety. He’s had experience at the position before, and he seems to be a solid addition to the secondary.
Quarterback is once again a big question mark (it seems like this happens a lot, doesn’t it?), one that London wants to clear up as soon as possible. As of right now, and it’s still VERY early, no one man has distanced himself from the others, and they all have a long way to go to be game ready.
“We’re looking for No. 1 and No. 2, or No. 1 A and 1 B, and that number 3 quarterback,” London said. “We want to see who has the skills and can run the offense and execute. The guy that can do that, we’d like to have that coming out of spring practice.”
The Cavaliers will be back at it again early Friday morning before taking a short road trip to Hampton for Saturday’s open practice. Junior RB Perry Jones, a Chesapeake native, is excited to head toward home for practice. “I have a lot of family and friends who can’t make it to all my games, so it will be nice to have them come out on Saturday and watch.”