London Navigates Cavaliers' QB Conundrum
By Eric Russell
After Virginia released its post-spring depth chart, the quarterback position was still up for grabs and head coach Mike London didn't plan on making a decision anytime in the near future.
"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 who's going to emerge as leaders after 15 practices," London said in a release once the depth chart came out. "What happens now is there’s no coach intervention."
Little did he know Phillip Sims would eliminate himself from the competition. Sims was ruled academically ineligible late last month, making Greyson Lambert, David Watford and Matt Johns the only options available. The hand London has been dealt isn't favorable, but he'll have to make it work.
At this point, London has to be wishing he hadn't jerked Michael Rocco around last season, moving him from starter to backup and back to starter. The college football landscape has shown that student-athletes are impatient when it comes to playing time. The Danny O'Briens and Clint Tricketts of the world have shown when playing time doesn't come a quarterback's way, they have no problem jumping ship. London found that out when Rocco decided to go play for his uncle at Richmond.
The downside of that for the Cavaliers: Rocco likely was their best option at quarterback. Sure Sims was expected to come in and be a major factor in the Virginia offense, but he never produced when given opportunities last season. Furthermore, many questioned his work ethic during his time with the team. Lambert has no playing experience at the college level and Watford saw limited action in his freshman season.
London, a third-year coach, must now navigate a tricky quarterback situation. He has a trio of untested quarterbacks and a schedule that features four of the top six pass defenses in the conference from last season. One thing is certain: He needs to handle it better than he did last season. One year after being named ACC Coach of the Year, London and the Cavaliers regressed and finished as they did in his first season with a 4-8 record and in last place in the Coastal Division. However, returning to the success of the 2011 season might be a bit difficult considering the team also will be adjusting to the scheme of new offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild.
Fairchild has said from day one that he wanted to run a pro-style offense. Sims may not have been the long-term answer anyway. Most of the reports out of Charlottesvile are that Watford spent more time studying the game than Sims did. Also, Sims was not listed ahead of either Watford or Lambert on the depth chart, so it's hard to know how much of an impact his departure represents. Nonetheless, London and crew will need Watford's study time to pay off early should he be named the starter. The Cavaliers open the season against the stingy BYU defense, which had the third-ranked scoring defense in the nation last season. That game is followed up by a matchup with Oregon, which also boasted a Top-25 defense last year.
Whether it be Watford or Lambert, the Cavaliers' starter this season will have their work cut out for them. Last year at this time London was working his way to having the problem of too many quarterbacks. A year later he finds himself with the opposite issue — limited options and limited experience at the position entering a season the Cavaliers were looking to as a recovery from the disaster last year turned out to be.
Perhaps London will play his hand differently this time. He certainly isn't letting on to his plans at this point.