Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Time for a trip in the wayback machine. We go back three years - just a little over exactly three years to be exact - to the spring of 2009. Al Groh was still coach. UVA had just signed a very solid recruiting class in February. Lot of current starters in that class, including four of five offensive linemen. The 2010 class wasn't off to a fast start, but it did already have Kevin Parks, who'd absolutely lit up the North Carolina high school record book. Included in that 2009 haul was a pair of gentlemen from Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, which at the time was a national top-10, maybe top-5 powerhouse. That gave UVA fans a ton of optimism that UVA could also land Oscar Smith artillery-armed quarterback, who would sign in 2010 and had offers from everywhere in the Southeast.

In April of '09, Phillip Sims disappointed the whole state (Tech fans wanted him too, obviously) by making a surprise early commitment to Alabama. This was just a few days after saying he "couldn't be more wide open than he is now," hence the disappointment. Three years and two weeks after his affiliation with the Tide, Sims is on his way back to his home state, to play for Virginia.

It's a big deal. Sims is something of a local hero. When he walks past you, the lingering aroma of potential is intoxicating. It oozes from his pores. Naturally, when something big like this happens, we're UVA fans so nobody can agree what to think about it. Most opinions fall into one of three categories:

A) 10% think Sims is so goddam good he ought to start from Day 1, and have quite probably already forgotten the names of our other quarterbacks let alone think they were ever any good.

B) 80% think Mike Rocco will be defending his job in fall camp in an open competition and probably won't keep it.

C) 10% think this whole thing is gonna cause such a hassle that it's not worth it, and wish Sims would just transfer to Richmond instead.

As with anything, the people on either far end of the issue are wack jobs. Consider me somewhere between B and C, I guess, except don't label me crazy enough to think we should actually turn down a talent like Phillip Sims. The benefits to adding him to the team are blindingly obvious: the decent chance that he really is better than anyone on the roster, perhaps by a lot, not to mention the recruiting benefits of having a 757 legend here and not in Blacksburg. If he's as good as his star ratings he'll have NFL scouts hanging out in Charlottesville, with most of them wasting their time because their team isn't bad enough to draft him.

That said, neither should anyone be quick to dismiss Rocco. Rocco was a better quarterback in his second year on the team than Matt Schaub was. (He was also a better quarterback in his second year than Phillip Sims was.) After he was named the outright starter for the Miami game and the second half of the season, his QB rating was 141, which would've been 36th in the country over the whole season. That's not awesome or anything, but neither are there very many sophomores any higher than that.

This is different than bringing in a big-named guy at any other position. Like, if Curtis Grant were to decide he didn't like Ohio State any more and shuffled on back to Charlottesville as well. With a linebacker, or a wide receiver or something, the number of good ones you have dictates how many you can put on the field. You can - nay, you must - rotate them to keep them fresh, so the second guy on the depth chart isn't gonna miss out on a lot of playing time. At quarterback, you can only have one, and the second guy on the depth chart won't ever play if things are going right.

So there's a lot of touchiness and chemistry risk that has to be overcome. With a guy like Mike Rocco, you throw him into the mix with all the other QBs, demand that the winner of the competition assert his leadership and imprint his personality onto the offense, so it's unrealistic not to expect a little annoyance when he does that and you tell him he's gotta show you again. It's also unfair to David Watford - the current backup - if you go into fall camp and you let Sims leapfrog Watford and start taking first-team reps in a starters' competition from Day 1.

See, even Sims's most ardent apostles can only point to high school accolades and achievements so far. It's true that in practice he went against the best defense in the country, but when he got his first taste of live action he threw two picks against Kent State, which kind of nullifies any SEC-based arguments. If Sims comes into camp and holy shit you guys he's chucking laser-guided bazookas out there, that's different, but you don't start camp with anything handed to Sims based on what he did in high school. Jared Green just last week spouted an enormous fountain of bullshit about 757 preferences that was conclusively proven retarded, and there wouldn't be a much better way to lend credence to that idea than to anoint Phillip Sims with anything. He's thrown a few more college passes but has less time in the UVA system than Greyson Lambert, has thrown way fewer passes than Watford, and his experience is miniscule compared to Rocco, and the reps should reflect that at first. If he's as good as advertised - and I damn sure ain't betting against it - he'll climb the depth chart accordingly.

I'm just not looking forward to starting the quarterback battles again. As long as Rocco remains the starter there'll be a group of people demanding a switch to Sims after every interception and every third incompletion, and their ranks will double after every loss.

I'm assuming, by the way, that Sims gets his hardship waiver. If he does, he's got three years remaining, having redshirted at Alabama. If he doesn't - that could make things tricky, as Rocco will spend another full year as the starter and then go into his senior season probably as a team captain and the two-year starter. I don't know how you tell a team captain he's not the starting quarterback any more, but if Sims outplays Rocco in practice during his sit-out year, London might have to.

I'm not ballsy enough to make any predictions about who'll be the starting quarterback when fall camp breaks in September and the games start counting. Either way, it'll be someone pretty good. The only mandate, then: win, a lot. It covers up and/or gets rid of any potential chemistry problems.


Anonymous said...

I'm of the belief that you always take in quality talent if it's there. Thus, I think you have to accept Phillip Sims.

That said, if Sims comes, I expect Michael Rocco to go into fall camp as the clear-cut starter ... and I expect Rocco to be the starter on 9/1 against Richmond. I think it's going to be quite hard for Sims to come in, learn the playbook and be a superior player to Rocco for the system in one year ... unless London is really playing favorites and not playing the best player. I expect London to have learned his lesson with his foolish QB switching last year (boy, redshirting Watford would look a lot better for his future right now, huh, rather than wasting a year that delayed the team's development under Rocco).

If Rocco is forced into a camp battle against Sims, shame on London for playing favorites. Rocco has earned the right to be the clear-cut starter. This doesn't mean he can't lose the job, although, as noted, I don't expect him to. It just means that he would be the clearly defined 1, with the other guys battling it out for 2. (I can't say that it hasn't crossed my mind that London and Co. might've promised Sims a more open competition - just saying that wouldn't be fair to Rocco after what he's shown).

If Sims gets his waiver and comes, I expect something to happen with Watford, sooner or later. Sims probably isn't going to transfer a 2nd time, so if he comes and is the backup to Rocco for 2 years, it'll be his job as a senior. I would expect Watford to transfer at some point, unless he agrees to a position switch. Tbh, I've never been all that sold that Watford was a D-1 starting QB, so a transfer to a D2 squad may be best for him anyways, at least, not in our system.

Unknown said...

This coaching staff has gained my trust. They seem to be able to have players do what is BEST for the team. I think choice (B) makes the most sense. Healthy competition is good for all.