2012 Virginia Preview – Offense
Virgini RB Perry Jones
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Virginia Cavalier Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: You have to crawl before you walk. The Virginia offense plans to start moving at a brisker pace this fall. The Cavaliers took a marked step forward in 2011, but still lacked the efficiency that coordinator Bill Lazor is seeking. Too many turnovers. Not enough red zone conversions. Hope for improvement comes in the form of QB Michael Rocco, a returning starter who has performed in the offseason as if he plans to keep his growing number of competitors at a comfortable distance. The junior’s best assets will be a deep, Perry Jones-led backfield and the bookend of tackles Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses. Rocco should be able to make the next move in his evolution provided someone other than Tim Smith emerges at wide receiver, and a shaky interior of the line holds up. The Cavs are getting close to being dangerous on offense, but still have plenty of room for growth entering the 2012 season.
Star of the offense: Senior LT Oday Aboushi
Passing: Michael Rocco
222-366, 2,671 yds, 13 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Perry Jones
184 carries, 915 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: Perry Jones
48 catches, 506 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Michael Rocco
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Tim Smith
Best pro prospect: Aboushi
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Aboushi, 2) Senior RB Perry Jones, 3) Junior RT Morgan Moses
Strength of the offense: Backfield depth, the offensive tackles, tight end, pass protection
Weakness of the offense: Inconsistency behind center, the interior of the line, wide receiver, reaching the end zone, turnovers
Oh, what a difference a season makes. At this time last year, the quarterback situation was a complete mystery for the Cavaliers. Now, they have a much firmer grasp on the position. Junior Michael Rocco won a heated competition in the summer, and went on to start all 13 games. Predictably inconsistent after having so much thrown in his direction, he went a marginal 222-of-366 for 2,671 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during a season-long apprenticeship. However, the game has started to slow down for the strong-armed 6-3, 225-pounder, who has held on to his job so far this offseason. The staff is hopeful he can take the next step in his evolution in 2012.
Firmly entrenched behind Rocco is 6-1, 190-pound 2011 blue-chipper David Watford , who shed his redshirt last season to appear in 10 games for the Cavaliers. The coveted dual-threat set the stage by going 30-of-74 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and four picks. Elusive and poised beyond his years, he also has a rifle that belies his average size.
The Cavs have kept the recent trend of strong recruiting at the position going in February with the signing of the nation’s ninth-ranked quarterback, 6-5, 215-pound Georgia native Greyson Lambert . A terrific passer, he’s risen to No. 3 on the depth chart, but is likely to redshirt.
Watch Out For .... the availability of Alabama transfer Phillip Sims . At the end of April, Virginia landed yet another gem, Sims, the nation’s second-ranked high school quarterback of 2010. He’s returning to his home state to either be closer to an ailing family member, or to get out of the shadow of AJ McCarron, depending on what you believe. It might be a longshot, but the Cavs are seeking a waiver that could make the sophomore immediately eligible.
Strength: The future. Virginia has never had as much talent at quarterback as it does at this very moment. Period. With the addition of Sims, the Cavaliers now boast an incredible four former heralded recruits at the position. If the staff can prevent defections, the program could be set behind center through the 2016 season.
Weakness: The present. The future may be bright, but the Cavs remain raw and unfinished at quarterback. Watford and Lambert are in the early stages of their development, and there’s a good chance Sims won’t be available until 2013. Rocco is in charge for now, but he’s the same quarterback who threw nearly as many picks as touchdowns a year ago.
Outlook: Virginia is now home to a tremendous stable of young quarterbacks, a stark contrast to where the program stood just a year ago. The onus falls on the staff to manage its kids in such a way that everyone grows together, without becoming frustrated by a lack of playing time. The Sims situation certainly bears watching, but Rocco is the key. For the sake of the 2012 team, he needs to take the next step forward in his maturation as the starting quarterback.
The Cavs are loaded in the backfield, welcoming back all three players who rushed for more than 300 yards a year ago. The feature back will again be senior Perry Jones who set the tone on the ground with 915 yards and five scores on 184 carries. Not one to be typecasted, he also finished second on the team with 48 catches for 506 yards and three more touchdowns. Heck, he even tossed a 37-yard scoring strike on his only pass. The dynamic 5-8, 185-pounder plays much bigger than his stature, exploding through holes, and cutting quickly into daylight when he finds a hold.
Jones’ complement in the backfield is 5-8, 195-pound sophomore Kevin Parks , the author of a terrific first season in the backfield. The first option off the bench ran 152 times for 709 yards and a school-record nine touchdowns. While he may not be tall, he certainly isn’t small, using excellent leverage, lower body strength and vision to plow ahead for extra yardage.
Not to be forgotten in the rotation is sophomore Clifton Richardson, the biggest of the Virginia backs. The 6-0, 215-pound runs with good power and surprising speed, rumbling for 366 yards and two scores on 72 carries in his first season on campus. He’ll remain somewhat buried this fall, but has earned the right to continue getting five or six touches a game.
The Cavs plan to employ one of the tallest fullbacks in recent memory, 6-6, 235-pound sophomore Zach Swanson . The former tight end will be an asset as a blocker, but also has the hands and experience to slip out of the backfield and become a receiver.
Watch Out For .... the distribution of the touches. Perry is the undisputed most valuable player of the offense, if not the entire team. However, he’s not built to be a prototypical workhorse, which creates more opportunities for the backups. The staff must decide how best to divvy up the carries so that the skills of Parks, Richardson and even sophomore Khalek Shepherd are maximized.
Strength: Depth. It took only one year to build a level of depth that will serve the program well in 2012 and beyond. The Cavaliers return three backs who carried the ball at least 72 times last fall, while averaging no fewer than 4.7 yards a carry. The deep rotation ensures that fatigue—or even an injury—will derail this running game.
Weakness: Explosiveness. While the backs averaged a healthy number on the ground last season, they struggled to really break the back of opposing defenses with long scamper through the secondary. The Cavaliers tend to be somewhat methodical, producing just one run of 35 yards or more on 496 attempts.
Outlook: The Cavs will begin the season in terrific shape in the backfield. They’ve got talent, depth and experience, the cornerstones of a tempo-setting ground game. Perry and Parks have already proven themselves to be productive, while Richardson is itching for his chance to shine. Virginia has the tools to be a run-first team that uses its runners to set up the pass.
An already average collection of receivers must forge ahead without the services of top pass-catcher Kris Burd, who is now trying to continue his career in the NFL. Hoping to take his place as the preferred target is 6-0, 185-pound junior Tim Smith . He returned from an injury-shortened 2010 to start 10 games in 2011, and catch 33 balls for 565 yards and three touchdowns. While still a little raw with the finer points of the position, he has the big-play jets to get behind the secondary.
Pulling ahead in the race for the other starting wide receiver job is 5-11, 165-pound sophomore Darius Jennings . He played in 13 games of his rookie year, including one start, making 20 receptions for 238 yards and a touchdown. He’s quick and dangerous, enticing the coaches to get him the ball in space whenever it’s possible.
Hanging very close with Jennings on the depth chart is 5-11, 170-pound sophomore Dominique Terrell . Very similar to the competition, he, too, was a four-star recruit from the 2011 class who’s working to get more comfortable as a pure wide receiver. The playmaker got his feet wet last fall by making eight receptions for 59 yards, and was named most improved offensive player of the spring.
While no one passes the eye test faster than sophomore Miles Gooch , Smith’s backup, he’s still getting acclimated to a relatively new position. The 6-3, 220-pound one-time quarterback didn’t catch a pass in 2011, and is still fine-tuning his route-running and ball skills.
Never lacking in talent at tight end, the Cavaliers are deep at the position once again. Senior Colter Phillips has started 26 career games, but was never quite 100% after injuring his foot in September. The 6-6, 245-pounder continued to be a fine blocker, but caught just three balls, and is looking to impress pro scouts in his final year. Senior Paul Freedman filled in nicely a year ago, making 11 grabs for 112 yards, and has the 6-6, 260-pound frame to also be an asset to the running game.
Watch Out For .... the development of the kids. Smith will be just fine, but the receiving corps will only go as far as Jennings and Terrell can take it in 2012. While both players possess dynamic skill sets and high ceilings, the program is hoping that they can begin approaching them right away. If Smith has to go it alone, the entire passing game will suffer.
Strength: Big-play ability. Each of the team’s top three weapons, Smith, Jennings and Terrell is more than just a speedy threat going from Point A to Point B. The trio is also elusive with the ball in their hands, using slick moves and cutbacks to turn short slants into backbreaking gallops toward the end zone.
Weakness: Inconsistency. This group of receivers of receivers is still very young, pining for leaders now that Burd has graduated. The sophomores are especially raw and prone to making the kinds of mental mistakes that derail a promising drive. There’s a general lack of experience and consistency among the receivers that’s going to impede the progress of the quarterbacks and the passing game.
Outlook: It’s going to be an interesting year at wide receiver for the Cavaliers. Smith will try to become the 2012 version of Burd, while the young kids attempt to become better editions of their rookie selves. There’s plenty of potential within the pass-catchers, including the tight ends, but it’s going to be doused with the occasional mistakes inherent to all evolving units.
Virginia will be inserting two new starters into an O-line that performed rather well a year ago. Losing LG Austin Pasztor and C Anthony Mihota hurts, but the Cavs feel they’ve got the foundation to be terrific again in 2012. The budding star of the front wall is 6-6, 310-pound senior LT Oday Aboushi who’ll spend his final year auditioning for NFL scouts. The third-year starter rose to All-ACC Second Team in 2011, showcasing the footwork and athleticism to frustrate opposing pass rushers. He could have turned pro early in January, but instead will spend the year improving his draft grade and contending for All-America honors.
While not nearly as polished as Aboushi, junior Morgan Moses is still a special talent at right tackle. He moved into the lineup in the middle of his rookie year, and hasn’t left since. At a trimmed down 6-6 and 336 pounds, he can maul opposing, enveloping them with his considerable size and strength. He could stand to lose a few pounds, and improve his agility, two reasons why he’s liable to spend the next stage of his career lining up inside at guard.
The staff feels that sophomore Kelby Johnson will be a worthy successor at tackle once Aboushi graduates. He’s an athletic 6-7, 300-pounder from the 2011 recruiting class who uses his long arms to jam oncoming pass rushers.
The line’s third returning starter is junior RG Luke Bowanko who was in the lineup for every game a year ago. The 6-6, 295-pounder is physical at the point of attack, and plays to the whistle, providing a nice push for the Cavaliers in the running game.
Over at left guard will be Sean Cascarano , a veteran letterman in each of the last two seasons. He’s mostly played tackle up to this point, but the staff feels he has the necessary physicality to handle the interior. At 6-6 and 280 pounds, he’s longer and leaner than most guards, so leverage and proper technique will be especially important for the junior.
Senior Matt Mihalik is expected to supplant Mihota at the pivot. This would be an enormous promotion for the 6-7, 310-pound converted guard, who has mostly seen time on special teams. Since last year’s backup, sophomore Cody Wallace , is lining up at left guard, redshirt freshman Ross Burbank could be Mihalik’s stiffest competition.
Watch Out For .... the staff to flirt with a number of different rotations on the interior during the summer. Not a lot is set in stone at guard and center, especially since the Cavaliers weren’t fully staffed in the spring. The post-spring two-deep provides a snapshot, but has hardly been inscribed in stone.
Strength: Pass protection. The Cavaliers ranked 24th nationally—and third in the ACC—in sacks allowed in 2011. With Aboushi and Moses manning the left and right flanks, respectively, Virginia might ascend even higher up the charts this fall. It’s also worth noting that the starting quarterback, Michael Rocco, will have far better pocket awareness, which will also help reduce the number of sacks.
Weakness: The interior. Not only will two of the three starters be green, but the Cavaliers have been forced to do a fair amount of shuffling around of personnel this offseason. Bowanko being an exception, Virginia appears to have a few too many tackles masquerading as guards and centers this season.
Outlook: The Virginia offensive line shapes up as a tale of two very different competencies. The tackles are fantastic, arguably one of the nation’s best duos. The interior of the unit, though, has holes and a lot of questions that need to be answered. Aboushi and Moses are close to sure-things, but the ultimate fate of the group will rest with the play of the guards and the centers.
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