By Blair Capps
Virginia's Campus Correspondent
Improvement is the name of the game for the Virginia Cavaliers in 2010. After a 2009 season in which the team only won three games, head coach Mike London took the helm and has been busy implementing his new regime. He hired a whole staff of new coaches, and spent the summer blazing new recruiting trails all over the state of Virginia and making numerous publicity stops. London is doing his part to make sure Cavalier fans know that this is a new era of Virginia football, but the best way to get fan support and usher in that new era is by winning games.
Coach London has brought in former NFL coach Bill Lazor as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to rework the pieces left from last year's spread offense experiment. Virginia's quarterbacks are in excellent hands, as Lazor has an excellent track record and has worked with the likes of Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell.
As far as who the Cavaliers' quarterback is going to be this season, the issue was settled quickly. Senior Marc Verica, the only quarterback on the roster with any game experience, solidified his starting role during spring practice. He has made 17 appearances for Virginia, including an up-and-down stint as the starter in 2008. After UVa dropped a pair of games in his first two starts, Verica led the Cavs on a six-game winning streak, finishing second in the ACC in completion percentage (63.8). During the streak, Verica recorded six consecutive games with at least 200 passing yards, matching only current Houston Texans and former UVa QB Matt Schaub in the school record books.
Behind him on the depth chart sit several promising freshmen. True freshman Michael Strauss enrolled early last January to get a jump-start on his football education. However Strauss is still inexperienced, and many of his mistakes are due to happy feet and poor command of the offense. Both of those issues can be resolved with time, so look for Strauss to compete with redshirt freshman Ross Metheny for the backup job. Metheny has an edge on Strauss, as he served as the scout team's quarterback last season. It remains to be seen how many snaps he will take in a game, but Coach Lazor has to be preparing an heir to his offense, as well as a capable backup who can step in at a moments notice. Metheny and Strauss have been joined by a trio of true freshmen in Jake McGee, Mike Rocco, and Miles Gooch who are likely to be redshirted.
Verica has an accurate arm and an aptitude for the game. However, during the 2008 season, he finished with 8 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Many of his mistakes came from hurried decisions rather than bad reads or poor throws. It will be up to the offensive line to make sure he has adequate time and protection.
UVa's offensive front, which will be looking to show marked improvement, will be led by veteran guards Austin Paztor and B.J. Cabbell. The Cavaliers also return starting left tackle Landon Bradley, but will have a new center this season in junior Anthony Mihota and a new right tackle in sophomore Oday Boushi. With a few poor snaps early in fall camp, the quarterbacks and Mihota still have some communication issues to resolve. Fans are excited about incoming freshman Morgan Moses, a 6'6", 350lb behemoth who spent last year at Fork Union Military Academy improving his grades. Although Moses may not see much time this season, his presence on the team gives the offensive line hope for the future.
One of the issues Virginia had last year was the under utilization of Virginia's traditionally stellar tight end corps. UVa has been a breeding ground for NFL-caliber tight ends, so it was probably a mistake to leave them out of the equation last year. In 2010, the Cavaliers are all about getting back to doing what they do best, and that includes having a couple of go-to tight ends. Senior Joe Torchia is returning after a shoulder injury and looks healthy this fall. Sophomore Colter Phillips has good size and good hands; he should be a welcome target in short yardage situations.
The Cavalier wide receivers are a young bunch anchored by a few returning veterans. Junior Kris Burd, who finished last season with a team-best 31 catches for 413 yards, has looked the best out of the old guard so far in fall camp. Sophomore Tim Smith has the speed and elusiveness to have a breakout season this year. At 6'5", 205lb, redshirt freshman Bobby Smith looks like a prototype wide receiver. His height and leaping ability make him a welcome addition to the offense.
The biggest question mark on offense this season is in the backfield. It isn't that Virginia doesn't have any running backs; it is that the team has so many different guys, each with a different set of skills. Torrey Mack, Dominique Wallace, and Keith Payne have all had their own separate issues preventing their full participation this offseason. Wallace has been rehabbing an injury, Payne has been struggling with grades, and Mack has had, as Coach London put it, "an issue with personal decisions." Payne is a big, bruiser of a back; something Virginia has been missing the past few seasons. Watch out for sophomore Perry Jones, who has great speed and agility. The Cavaliers will be fine at running back once they settle on a go-to guy. For now, the team has a "running back by committee" situation.
Along with a new pro-style offense, Coach London has brought in a new defense. Virginia will move from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3 defense which is better suited for its personnel. The defense isn't particularly large, but both the line and the linebackers have a respectable amount of speed. Junior defensive end Matt Conrath has moved inside to defensive tackle, and linebacker Cam Johnson has moved up front to defensive end. His speed and athleticism should bring a real boost to the pass rush from up front. Junior defensive tackle Nick Jenkins, has emerged as a vocal leader who also sets a great example for his teammates.
Sophomore Steve Greer, who led the team with 92 tackles last season en route to Freshman All-America honors, leads Virginia's linebackers. Greer missed all of spring practice and is just returning from injury. In his absence, junior Aaron Taliaferro has been playing well enough to challenge for playing time at the middle linebacker position. Taliaferro has impressed his teammates and coaches alike this off-season, and should continue to push Greer into the season. It's a shame that two motivated guys have to play the same position!
One area in which the Cavaliers are solid across the board is in the secondary. All of this season's starters are returning guys from last year who saw significant playing time, even if they weren't the designated starter. Senior Ras-I Dowling opted to stay in school one more year to finish his education, and the Cavaliers are glad to have him back. Dowling is one of the top corners in the ACC. He had three interceptions last season, and his counterpart, junior Chase Minnifield, had two. Free safeties Corey Moseley and Dom Joseph both had an interception each last year. On the strong side, junior Rodney McLeod and senior Trey Womack ensure that Virginia is stacked throughout the secondary. Quarterbacks, beware! The Cavalier defense is hungry for some more interceptions this season, and they have the guys to get it done.
"We're going to kick the ball down the field, then tackle the guy," Virginia's special team's coordinator Anthony Poindexter said. It sounds like a solid plan. Coach 'Dex has a whole host of placekickers at his disposal, and all signs point to Coach London possibly giving sophomore Drew Jarrett, who handled extra-point conversions last season, a redshirt. Juniors Chris Hinkebein and Robert Randolph each have different skill sets and are capable of handling any placekicking situation. Hinkebein has a lot of power, and has mostly been handling kickoff duties. Coach London has said that he might try Hinkebein in some long field goal situations. Randolph doesn't have the sheer power of Hinkebein, but what he lacks in distance he makes up for in finesse. Randolph is accurate and his kicks have a lot of height. Punter Jimmy Howell was the most consistent player on the entire team last season. He averaged 40 yards per punt in 2009 and looks to be in great shape to continue his currently level of production.
On the other side of things, it's not entirely clear who will be the designated kick returner. Chase Minnifield handled the majority of kicks last season, and, while he was definitely fearless, he sometimes showed a lack of good judgment. During the early part of fall camp, there were a ton of guys taking practice returns, so fans will have to wait and see who lines up to return on September, 4th .
New coach, new offense, new defense, new team. Mike London has brought an air of excitement back to Charlottesville. No player on the current roster has ever won a home opener, so the game against Richmond (Coach London's alma mater and former team) will be an important matchup. It will be first game of the new era of Virginia Football and one, which could set the tone for the rest of the season.
|Head Coach Mike London|
Named Virginia's 39th head football coach on
December 7, 2009, Mike London returns to
head up a Cavalier program where he twice
previously served stints as an assistant coach.
He comes most recently from his first head
coaching position at the University of Richmond.
In two seasons at Richmond, London
led the Spiders to a 24-5 record. His first year
at the helm, his team went 13-3 and won the
Football Championship Series national title.
This year's Spider team, ranked nine consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the FCS
polls, went 11-2 and reached the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. His teams
were 13-4 in the Colonial Athletic Conference during the 2008 and 2009
campaigns. London's efforts in 2008 earned him FCS National Coach of the
Year honors from both the American Football Coaches Association and Schutt
Sports/ American Football Monthly magazine. London was also honored as
the Black Coaches Association Male Coach of the Year in 2008, beating out
Mike Tomlin of the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers for the award.
Under London's watch, 16 Spiders were named to the All-CAA Football Team
in 2009 after placing 12 in 2008. His first year at UR, nine Spiders garnered 15
All-America awards and six were recognized on the Academic All-Conference
Team. Before returning to coach his alma mater, London spent six of seven
seasons coaching for Al Groh at Virginia. In 2001, London joined the UVa staff
for the first time as the defensive line coach. He took over the responsibilities as
recruiting coordinator in 2002. In 2005 London left UVa to work as the defensive
line coach for the NFL's Houston Texas. He returned to Virginia in 2006 as
the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. During his tenure with the
Cavaliers, he saw five defensive players (Chris Long, Marcus Hamilton, Chris
Canty, Andrew Hoffman and Monsanto Pope) drafted by NFL teams. A native
of Hampton, Va., London played defensive back at Richmond from 1979-82.
Under head coach Dal Shealy, he led the Spiders with six interceptions as a
senior captain in 1982. In addition to earning all-state honors, he was chosen
the team's MVP and received the Spiders' Coaches Award. London graduated
from Richmond in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in sociology and a year later
received a degree in law enforcement from the Richmond Police Academy,
serving as a detective for the street crimes unit from November of 1984 to
July of 1989.The Dallas Cowboys signed him as a free agent in 1983. London
broke into the collegiate coaching ranks in 1989, spending two seasons with
Richmond as the outside linebackers coach and admissions liaison, followed
by four seasons (1991-94) as the defensive line coach at William & Mary. He
returned to Richmond for two more years (1995-96) as the outside linebackers
coach and recruiting coordinator. London served as defensive line coach at
Boston College for the 1997-2000 seasons, where he helped lead the Eagles
to two bowl appearances. London and his wife Regina have seven children,
Michael, Jr., Brandon, Kristen, Ticynn, Korben, Jaicyn and Madicyn. The
49-year-old London was born in West Point, N.Y. in 1960. His son, Brandon,
led Massachusetts in receiving in 2006 and finished his career as the school's
second leading receiver. He was signed to the Miami Dolphins active roster
in 2008 after spending the 2007 season on the Super Bowl Champion N.Y.
Giants practice squad. One of London's daughters, Kristen, played on the UVa
women's basketball team during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. His younger
brother, Paul, was a defensive back at UVa from 1991-95.
||Richmond (ESPN3.com, 6:00 p.m.)
|Sept. 11||at Southern California (FSN, 10:30 p.m.)
| Sept. 25
| Oct. 2
| Oct. 9
||at Georgia Tech
| Oct. 16
| Oct. 23
| Oct. 30
| Nov. 6
| Nov. 13
| Nov. 20
||at Boston College
| Nov. 27
||at Virginia Tech
|2010 Preseason Information|
2009 In Review
In the ninth and final year for Al Groh as head coach at
Virginia, the Cavaliers finished with an overall 3-9 record,
2-6 in the ACC and in 6th place in the Coastal Division...
Though he posted a 59-53 record (.527) at Virginia including
five bowl trips and earned ACC Coach of the Year citations
in 2002 and 2007, UVa was just 8-16 in his final two
years...Mike London, a former Virginia assistant coach,
who guided Richmond to the 2008 FCS National Championships
and back-to-back appearances in the FCS NCAA
Playoffs, will lead the Wahoos in 2010...NT Nate Collins,
who tied for 5th in the ACC in QB sacks (6.0) and had
10.5 tackles for loss, was named to the All-ACC first-team
while CB Ras-I Dowling, who led a UVa pass defense
which ranked 23rd nationally, earned 2nd-team All-ACC
honors...FB Rashawn Jackson led Virginia in rushing
with 461 yards and a 4.8 per-carry average and was named
an Honorable Mention All-America by Pro Football Weekly...
Sophomore PK Robert Randolph, who made 17 of 19
field goal attempts, was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza
Award...Randolph and freshman LB Steve Greer were
also Honorable Mention All-ACC honorees...Greer, who
finished 6th in the ACC in tackles at 7.67 per game, was
named a 2nd-team Freshman All-America by CFN, Rivals.
com and Phil Steele...Greer finished 5th nationally in tackles
among all freshman...QB Jameel Sewell became only
the 4th player in Virginia history to have 6,000 or more
yards of total offense in a career, as he finished with 6,012
yards, trailing only Shawn Moore, Matt Schaub and Scott
For starters, Groh and most of his staff have departed as
well as 10 starters--five each on offense and defense--and
20 lettermen from last year's team...Gone from the offense
will be versatile WR-CB-KR Vic Hall, T Will Barker,
who made 49 starts during his career, C Jack Shields, QB
Jameel Sewell and FB Rashawn Jackson...Toss in TB
Mikell Simpson and Virginia will be without its top four
rushers, its leading passer and three of its top four receivers...
Defensively, the Cavaliers lose three of their top six
tacklers including NT Nate Collins, LB Darren Childs
and LB Denzell Burrell...Also gone will be two starters in
the defensive backfield in CB Chris Cook, a second round
NFL draft choice, as well as S Brandon Woods.
London welcomes back 42 returning lettermen including
14 starters--six each on offense and defense, plus P Jimmy
Howell and PK Robert Randolph...Offensively, three
of the five starters on the line return in junior G Austin
Pasztor, senior G Brian Cabbell and junior T Landon
Bradley...Completing the returning offensive starters are
TEs Joe Torchia and Colter Phillips and junior WR Kris
Burd, who led all Virginia receivers in 2009 with 31 catches...
Several young WRs also received valuable experience
last year including sophomore Tim Smith (15 catches,
13.6 avg.) and junior WR Jared Green (15 catches)...
Senior QB Marc Verica, who threw for over 2,000 yards
in 9 starts in 2008, emerged from spring as the starting
signal-caller, while sophomore TB Perry Jones and junior
FB Terence Fells-Danzer head into fall camp No. 1 on
the depth chart...Defensively, the Cavaliers do return several
playmakers in returning starters DT Matt Conrath
(45 tackles at DE) and DE Cam Johnson (40 tackles at
LB), NT Nick Jenkins (41 tackles), ILB Steve Greer (92
tackles), CB Ras-I Dowling (8 career interceptions) and
SS Rodney McLeod (62 tackles)...Greer will compete
with junior Adam Taliaferro for one LB spot, while soph
LaRoy Reynolds and senior Jared Detric ended spring
as the other LB starters...Upfront junior DE Zane Parr
is situated as the other starter, while FS Corey Moseley
and either CB Chase Minnifield or CB Devin Wallace
will join Dowling and McLeod in the secondary... Junior
PK Robert Randolph brought stability to the placekicking
position making 20 of his 23 career field goal attempts
(.869) while P Jimmy Howell showed improvement in his
second season, averaging 40.1 yards a kick, while placing
18 inside of Virginia's opponents' 20-yard line.
Numbers and Notes
5 - Redshirt freshman LB Steve Greer finish 5th nationally
among all freshmen in tackles per game, averaging
7.67 as a redshirt freshman last fall. Among ACC freshmen,
only Boston College's Luke Kuechly had more
stops than did Greer.
7 - Virginia will face seven opponents in 2010 who
made appearances in post-season bowl games in 2009
including non-conference foe Southern California
(Emerald) as well as six ACC teams in Georgia Tech
(FedEx Orange), Virginia Tech (Chick-fil-A), Florida
State (Konica Minolta Gator), Miami (Champs
Sports) North Carolina (Meineke Car Care) and Boston
8 - Rising senior CB Ras-I Dowling enters the 2009
season with 8 career pass interceptions. That places him
tied for 8th among all active returning ACC defensive
players. Dowling has been named to the pre-season
watch list for the Nagurski Award, presented annually to
the nation's top defensive player by the FWAA.
23 - Virginia finished 23rd nationally in both pass defense,
allowing 184.6 yards per game through the air,
and also 23rd nationally in pass efficiency defense, allowing
opponents only a 102.31 pass rating.
62.1 - The percentage of punts by UVa's Jimmy Howell
that could not be returned against the Cavaliers last year.
Howell, who averaged 40.1 yards per punt, placed 18
inside of the Cavaliers opponents' 20-yard line, forced
15 fair catches and boomed 8 into the end zone for
touchbacks, a total of 41 of his 66 punts which went
.828 - The winning percentage of new Virginia Head
Coach Mike London at Richmond the past two years.
London posted a 24-5 record as Head Coach of the Spiders
which included winning the 2008 FCS National
Championship and a 24-16 win over Duke in Durham
.870 - The career field goal percentage of Virginia placekicker
Robert Randolph. Randolph, a semifinalist for
last year's Lou Groza Award, has made 20 of his 23
career attempts, including 19 of his last 21.