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March 4, 2013
Countdown to Spring: Questions
A new offensive coordinator who's been around Charlottesville for what seems like 37 seconds. A new defensive coordinator who will be a dramatic departure from the previous coach in that role. A new special teams coordinator and a host of other new faces.
That's the picture Mike London and his UVa squad face as they get set for spring practice to begin in two weeks.
Spring ball is usually where some questions will be answered. But not all of them will, certainly not for Virginia in 2013.
In preparation for the toughest schedule the school has put together in quite some time if not ever, so many things will be different this spring. Gone are the traveling practices, for example. Even the practice fields themselves will be different: The Cavaliers will soon be in the brand new indoor facility.
While some of those either coaching or playing inside that facility will be the same, most of the principle folks won't be.
And that underscores three big questions for the Wahoos this spring, which center on the coaches and schemes, the quarterback position, and the linebackers.
Former NFL OC and college coordinator and head coach Steve Fairchild is bringing his own pro-style approach to UVa's offense after former coordinator Bill Lazor left for the Philadelphia Eagles in late January. There will be familiarity between the old and new systems but there will obviously be differences. But what will he find at QB? And will he and London settle on one?
Jon Tenuta, who has a solid reputation after coaching at a number of stops over the years, replaces Jim Reid as UVa's defensive coordinator. He figures to bring his aggressive, blitz-heavy style to the Wahoos as well as his personal intensity. His group will have to replace a pair of three-year starters at linebacker.
New special teams and running backs coach Larry Lewis will look to bring aggression, too, to the players he coaches and the schemes he installs. Though new wide receivers coach Marques Hagans and associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach Tom O'Brien aren't "new" faces, they're certainly going to be asked to do something significant in UVa's revamped offense.
In terms of the actual players in the schemes, the offense lost its incumbent starting quarterback from last spring, Michael Rocco, who transferred to Richmond. Also gone from the 2012 squad will be seniors Oday Aboushi, Perry Jones, Paul Freedman, and Colter Phillips. Reserve lineman Matt Mihalik and holder Jacob Hodges are also gone.
Defensively, Tenuta will look to replace Will Hill at defensive tackle in addition to both Steve Greer and La'Roy Reynolds at linebacker. Other contributors like Bill Schautz and Ausar Walcott at defensive end and reserve linebacker Tucker Windle must also be replaced.
Put it like this: Of the eight faces on UVa's 2012 media guide, only London, Morgan Moses, and Kevin Parks will be back in 2013.
UVa might be a team that returns all but six or seven "starters" but it is still a team in transition. Fairchild's offense will boast four returning linemen, all of its receivers, and it's at-times starting quarterback. There will be chances for others under center, namely David Watford and Greyson Lambert, to unseat Phillip Sims. That should make the yearly "who will be QB1?" debate another fixture of Virginia's spring and fall camps.
There is little doubt that the Cavaliers have a lot of talent that they can plug in but the question is this: How successful can they be?
Add in the scheme and coaching changes and it shapes up to be a fascinating, if not at times frustrating, spring.
The biggest question of all might well be what Virginia football looks like after all of the "continuity" that coaches boasted about last year was busted up following a 4-8 record in 2012. That's a question that fans and observers alike will be trying to figuring out.
And figuring out UVa might not be something anyone, including the players and coaches, are able to do for some time.