And so it begins. Today and tomorrow, we look at the questions that need answering in fall camp, which is right around the calendar's corner. Yes, it's the official start of football season as far as FOV is concerned. After this weekend, there are four weeks that'll be filled with previews of the eleven other ACC teams (holy crap, I just realized - I don't always time these very well and sometimes find myself rushing to get these done by the time I've reached Miami, and next year it gets even harder) as well as a pair of posts dedicated to our OOC opponents. This year, that's Richmond, Penn State, TCU, and Louisiana Tech. Man, that PSU one is gonna be weird.
After those four weeks, believe it or not, it'll be Game Week, and thus, the fall football rhythm begins. That week will contain the honest-to-goodness UVA season preview, split into offense and defense just as these are here. It'll be later than everyone else's previews, but damn if it won't be worth it.
For now, we have a look at fall camp's most pressing questions. These are the ones you hope to see an answer to in the next month.....and often don't get one. (You know it's a good question if you have to wait til October to find out the answer for sure.) Today, the offense, and tomorrow, the defense.
Also, the depth chart is updated for your perusal and referral, with presumptive starters and backups listed, at least to some extent.
1. Who's going to play quarterback?
I was really looking forward to a camp without this question. Don't get me wrong: it's a lot of fun, adding a potential talent like Phillip Sims. At least this year, it's a win-win question. Mike Rocco played well enough last year that if Sims beats him out, you know Sims is the real deal. And Sims has enough raw talent on display that if Rocco keeps the job, you know he's only going to build on his successes in the second half of last year.
It's just that quarterback battles are wearisome. But then, even the most worn-out cynic can't fail to appreciate the exciting potential of finally having a real star under center again, such as hasn't been the case for a decade.
The other point is this: there are competitions and then there are competitions. Last year's was the latter. This year, the coaching staff says "competition" but I also expect that there'll be first-team reps and second-team reps and so on, and initially at least, Rocco will be running with the first team. He's earned that. He has the knowledge, the savvy, and the experience. He's going into his junior year, where quarterbacks tend to make their biggest leap. And yet there won't be a UVA fan anywhere who isn't going to have their eye on Sims's progress.
2. Is this the year Tim Smith puts it all together?
Smith has tantalized with his potential so far, but he's also never had the pressure of being the #1 guy. Never had to go against the other team's Thorpe Award candidate cornerback. He was OK in 2009 when the team was miserably bad, hurt in 2010, and reasonably productive last year. "Reasonably productive" isn't going to cut it anymore; Smith is the senior man of the wide receiver corps, and will be expected to have a big season.
3. Are we going to have center issues?
Anthony Mihota was a very pleasant surprise, and his play and health turned a potential disaster zone into a strength after backup center Mike Price was kicked off the team in January of 2011 for actin' a fool in Harrisonburg. Mihota and his steadying influence have graduated, though, leaving behind nothing resembling an heir apparent. Matt Mihalik worked out at center in the spring, and was apparently pretty underwhelming; Mike London has talked about starting Luke Bowanko there instead.
Ross Burbank is apparently being groomed for the position eventually, but he's a redshirt freshman and center is a very, very demanding position. It requires leadership, and is the foundation of your run-blocking. Burbank isn't ready. Mihalik is a fifth-year senior, but he was very lightly recruited out of high school and his career has reflected that; the vast majority of his snaps have been on field-goal and extra-point blocking. Mihalik will likely begin the year as a starter, but whether it's at center or guard is the question. Bowanko seems like the probable center, and the real butterflies come when you realize neither he nor Mihalik have any game experience there. Hopefully someone steps up with a Mihota-like year, and truth be told I hope it's Bowanko, who can also play next year and help assure a smoother transition to Burbank in the future.
4. Is David Watford going to redshirt?
I guess we can't technically find out the answer to this question til the end of the year, but we should have a pretty good idea by the end of camp.
I put this question here, though, not because I care. I put it here because a lot of people do; I really don't think it makes a difference. It's not because I don't think Watford has what it takes to start; given the time and development, he probably could. I won't be terribly uneasy if he's forced to play this year. That said - he's probably already been passed over. Sims will be here until 2014; if Watford redshirts, he'll stay until 2015, and could theoretically be the starter that year, but he'd have to fend off Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns, both of whom have a world of potential and will likely be redshirt juniors in 2015 and chomping at the bit for their chance.
But.....fall camp this year should do a pretty good job of sorting out quarterbacks, and Watford may just find a way on the field. But the truth is, it's Watford and not Mike Rocco that Sims's arrival has the most effect on.
5. Is this the year UVA returns to being Tight End U?
The short answer is "probably not" and our de-emphasis of the tight end under London and Bill Lazor has probably hurt recruiting at that position. Lord knows we tried for some big ones this year and didn't get 'em. Recruited as a tight end, Zach Swanson has moved to fullback, which is probably more of an H-back deal, and both he and LoVante' Battle will probably catch a pass or two out of the backfield. Perry Jones is a big pass-catching threat (metaphorically speaking.) The receiver has returned as a position after appearing only occasionally under Groh; Tim Smith, the Wondertwins, E.J. Scott, and others, are all expected to vie for catches.
That doesn't leave much for the tight ends. Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman are more on the blocking end of the spectrum, especially Freedman who checks in at 260 pounds. Jeremiah Mathis is a red-zone guy. If anyone is going to breathe life into the pass-catching hopes of tight ends, it falls to Jake McGee, who has drawn some pretty nice reviews for his offseason work. Recruited as a 210-pound quarterback (who everyone assumed would end up at TE), he now looks the part of a tight end, having added 25 pounds. But only 25 pounds - he's quite a bit lighter than the other tight ends, and if he goes in the game it's not going to be to block. We'll see if Lazor has anything up his sleeve for tight ends this year.
Tomorrow - the defense. Topics will include but not be limited to Eli Harold, Steve Greer, and Brandon Phelps. Bring your readin' eyes.