Thursday, May 3, 2012

the transfer: Phillip Sims

He leaps tall buildings in a single bound.  When he throws a football, the target explodes.  Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, he is a legend of the 757, and he'll suit up this fall for a University of Virginia near you: Phillip Sims.

Well, at a minimum he'll suit up in practice anyway.  And maybe not every word of the above paragraph is true.  (Especially, I hope, the part about exploding targets; it'd decimate our receiving corps.)  We also don't know - yet - whether or not Sims will receive his hardship waiver from the NCAA.  He'd have to get one in order to play for us this fall; otherwise, he'll skip a year of eligibility, the standard transfer penalty.  Sims is, however, the first elitely talented quarterback in five-plus years to announce his arrival at UVA, the last being Peter Lalich.  The fact that he's coming to UVA two years after we originally wanted him to has dampened the enthusiasm not one tiny bit.

As a recruit, Sims is usually referred to as "five-star" and that's technically true, as that's how Scout rated him, though they were the only ones.  Depending on who you ask, though, Sims was either the best or second-best QB prospect in the country (if second, behind Jake Heaps) and earned every accolade common to the country's best quarterbacks: Under Armour game, Elite 11 QB camp, you name it.  He played his high school ball at Oscar Smith, where as a mere sophomore he threw for 3,100 yards and 33 touchdowns, many of them to current UVA receiver Tim Smith.  Oscar Smith was a national powerhouse while he was under center for them.

Sims's greatest asset is his arm strength; both ESPN and Rivals mention it in their scouting reports.  Physically speaking, he's got all the tools of the prototypical strong-armed NFL quarterback - arm strength, accuracy, consistent delivery.  He's not fast, though; I won't go so far as to say he's your basic cannon-armed statue, but he's not going to be one of those Vince Young types that make a mockery of any attempt to rush the quarterback.  At best he'll use his feet to buy time, but I don't expect any 15-yard scrambles.

As it stands, though, we're making all these comparisons and evaluations and everything based on his high school career.  Two years of college ball haven't given us much to go on.  Sims redshirted his first season at Alabama (which means that if he doesn't get his waiver, he loses a year of eligibility.)  Last year, he and A.J. McCarron dueled throughout the spring, summer, fall, and into the season for the starting job.  Alabama's season opener against Kent State turned out to be the final exam; Sims split that game with McCarron, threw 7-of-14 for 73 yards and two picks, and didn't get off the bench at all in the next week's game against Penn State.  The following week against North Texas, Sims got one drive; he moved the ball OK, not great, and Alabama settled for a field goal.  Later on when the game was out of hand, he fumbled the snap on the second play of the drive and turned the ball over.  From then on it was mop-up duty only; McCarron effectively won the competition in the Kent State game, despite not playing all that amazingly well himself.

So Sims's college game experience is undistinguished but far too small to draw any conclusions from.  Hence the unquenched excitement; we're basically getting a still-clean slate, albeit one with less room for any writing as Sims has used up a year.  Also because, I've said before that UVA fans tend to overrate our talent especially if it comes from the state of Virginia and especially especially if it comes from the Tidewater area.  I don't think there's any denying that's the case, but Sims reached basically the upper limit of the accolades and awards you can receive out of high school so it'd be hard to overrate him unless you start using Mike Scott-isms.  Also, Sims is probably the most-hyped player to come out of the 757 since Percy Harvin, so there's more than a grain of truth to the idea that he's a recruiting chip.  You wonder, for example, if the appearance of the Sims rumors and the timing of Zack Jones's commitment have any connection.

I was really pleased about the idea of having a settled quarterback depth chart, but that's no longer the case.  Prepare thyself for another autumn of controversy.  Sims will almost certainly be better at throwing the deep ball than Mike Rocco; the limit of Rocco's consistency range is about 20, 25 yards in the air.  Any more and he usually misses.  I think another thing fans always overrate - and this isn't specific to UVA fans at all - is the importance of the deep ball, but Sims's likely superiority in this regard is something that a lot of people will hang their hats, and their arguments, on.  If Rocco is the starting quarterback it'll mean two things: his experience won out, and that it won't matter because people will still expect Sims to take over soon, especially after Rocco throws a pick.

When handicapping the quarterback race, though, keep in mind this: Michael Strauss was the best last year at zinging the ball around.  He still finished fourth in the derby.  Rocco's consistency and knowledge of the system won him the race.  And that was against someone who had half a year on him; Strauss was a 2010 early enrollee.  Rocco's comfort level is likely to be very noticeable this year, in comparison to Sims.

It'll be interesting to see how long he can ride that.  Peter Lalich bombed out because he was a head case.  That's the reason for most elite quarterback flameouts - guys like Mitch Mustain and Tate Forcier come to mind.  Sims is not a head case.  I don't know who will start on September 1 or who'll take more snaps this season, but I can say two things with a pretty good level of confidence: Mike Rocco hasn't started his last game for UVA, and Phillip Sims will start quite a few before he's done.

The potentially unfortunate thing: it doesn't leave a lot of room for David Watford.  Most people are clamoring for him to redshirt.  Sims's presence makes it easier to do so.  It might be better for him, but I'm not convinced it's best for the program.  I'm not worried about Sims's impact on Greyson Lambert or Matt Johns - as long as they redshirt, which they should, they'll have a year of space between them and Sims.  At worst, it means an extra year that LambertJohns has to wait before taking the reins (NOT "REIGNS") - and if neither of them were going to beat out Watford in the future, then Sims has no impact on them at all.

I just don't get the impression Watford will redshirt, though.  It was highly unlikely he would before - you don't go through the year only ever playing one quarterback.  Any hopes he would redshirt were misguided.  Now?  He just might - it's highly unlikely he'll be anything higher than the third-string guy.  But I still don't feel he will.  Just a gut feeling.  I don't think it'll matter much - let's say he does, I don't know that Watford can hold off Lambert and Johns, and even if he can, the quarterback progression would look like this:

2014: Sims (Rocco will have graduated)
2015: Watford
2016: Lambert/Johns
2017: someone else (Marshall?)

I don't think that's healthy.  Before Sims, it looked possible Watford would basically be skipped over; now it seems close to certain.  So the idea of a Watford redshirt is kind of moot, and I think he'll play just enough this year to piss off the people who want him not to.

As for the subject of this post - like I said, the starting job is in his future.  Whether for three years or for one, it's too soon to say.  I worry that his presence means that no matter how good or bad Rocco is, there'll be a segment of the fanbase that wants Sims and wants him yesterday.  The backup quarterback is always the most popular guy on the team; when that guy is legend of the best recruiting grounds in the state, even more so.  But his presence also means this: between the uber-talented high school legend and the experienced guy who had the best sophomore year in UVA quarterbacking history, for the next couple years we can't go wrong at quarterback.


Anonymous said...

I feel that I should be ecstatic about acquiring Sims, but for some reason his transfer has messed with our comfortable quarterback equilibrium we had going...

This is such a UVA fan thing to worry about...haha

Chief Wahoo said...

Any idea when we should hear about the hardship waiver?

Brendan said...

I would guess we won't hear anything on the waiver for at least a week, but after that I figure it could come any time between then and the start of fall camp. Best guess is that we'll know in a couple weeks, probably before June. But it's the NCAA, so don't hold me to that.

And yes, the transfer definitely messes with our QB equilibrium, and no, it's not wrong to worry about that because QB equilibrium - a nice simple succession plan that progresses from one to the next - is a sign of a healthy program. We just have to remind ourselves that this is rather extraordinary. Normally the equilibrium is broken in a bad way.