ACC All Access: Let the quarterback evaluations begin at Virginia - and don't forget about David Watford

When the dust settles, all of the hype and buzz about Virginia’s quarterback position being a two-man race featuring Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims may actually be warranted, but neither of those guys was the most impressive quarterback during U.Va.’s first practice of the season.

That title belongs to Hampton High graduate David Watford, who is entering his sophomore season. Now, keeping in mind it was just day one of practice – and Watford would need to string together a bunch of days like the one he had Monday (consistency being one of his biggest issues last season – but Watford showed an element of his passing he didn’t really possess last season.

He put a little touch on his passes, especially on his offering deep down the field. The results were encouraging, and could give coach Mike London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor if – again – Watford can do it over and over and over.

“I’ve been working a lot on just being more accurate,” said Watford, who completed just 40.5 percent of his passes last season (30 of 74) for 346 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions in 10 games. “A lot of times last year, I would just throw the ball on a line. I wouldn’t really use too much touch, but I’ve been trying to work on my touch, especially on my deep ball.”

U.Va. put its gaggle of scholarship quarterbacks on display in Monday’s practice – Rocco, Sims, Watford and freshmen Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns. All five looked good at times in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, but it’s easy to look good when you don’t have snot-bubbling defensive ends and defensive tackles snorting their way into the backfield.

Still, Watford had two of the prettier connections of the day. He hit freshman Adrian Gamble, a promising looking wide receiver, during 11-on-11 work with a 65-yard pass that would’ve gone for a touchdown in a real game. Gamble beat freshman cornerback C.J. Moore on the play.

Later in the 11-on-11 period, Watford hooked up with receiver Tim Smith on the best pass play of the day. Watford spotted Smith and lofted a pass between the converging coverage of Moore and safety Pablo Alvarez and into Smith’s arms in the back of the end zone. It went for a 50-plus yard completion.

Though he also got picked off by Moore during 7-on-7 drills, Watford looked more poised and comfortable throwing the ball than he has at any other time during his brief U.Va. career. Again, let’s see what happens when the heat comes from the defensive side.

“I really think I put the pressure on myself,” Watford said. “It’s not from the coaches or anybody saying anything. Coming from being a three-year starter in high school, you want to play in college, so you push yourself in college and do the extra stuff you have to do to show that you’ve improved and show that you’re ready for the job. That has a lot to do with just building my confidence and becoming more confident in my game and just my ability and my arm.”

The fact is if Watford doesn’t do a lot to impress coaches this month, and if Rocco and Sims stay healthy all season, Watford could be looking at a redshirt season. He still insists that’s not something that would cause him to balk.

“Whatever coach London has in the plans for me after camp, I’m OK with it,” Watford said. “Whether it’s redshirting, playing or working hard to get on the field. Whatever coach London has at the end of the day for me, it’s up to him. It’s his call.”

As far as a position change if quarterback continues to be a logjam – not gonna happen.

“I don’t think I would, honestly,” said Watford about moving to another position. “I came here to play quarterback, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

Right now, Watford is one of five very attentive entities in offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor’s meeting room. Lazor indicated after Monday’s practice the quarterback room isn’t exactly a laugh shack these days.

“I’ve got five guys in there burning holes in my head with their eyes and taking notes,” Lazor said. “We’ve got five intense guys. I might need to have coach London pop in in a clown outfit sometimes to kind of break up the room. I’m not a crack-jokes funny guy.”

Sims’ first day was a not-too surprising success. He wasn’t asked to do a great deal, and though he was working with the second team offense, he was put in situations where it would’ve been difficult to fail miserably – a lot of over the middle passes against defenses spread out across the field in man coverage (leaving plenty of room underneath), dump-offs to backs in the flat, etc.

His best pass? Maybe a 30-yard completion over the middle to wide open tight end Paul Freedman during full team workouts. His worst? Possibly a pass late in the 11-on-11 session that was picked off by Moore, where Sims may have never seen Moore in coverage.

Sims made all the right sounds after practice, talking about working hard to prove he has a place on the field, loving his new teammates, competition being a great thing, how all the quarterbacks are a family and whatnot.

The pressure will come when all the smiles from assistant coaches and teammates turn to scowls and frustration. It may not happen much in practice, but it’s bound to take place, and Sims will have to respond.

He’s already had a heavy dose of pressure to handle during the summer, when he had to wait for word from the NCAA regarding whether he’d be eligible to play immediately or not.

“Very nerve-racking,” said Sims of the waiting. “It was just a process where I was constantly filling out paperwork and getting stories and getting information from doctors. It was a long process. It was nerve-racking not knowing which direction your career was going to go in because somebody else has their career in your hands. At the same time, I’m blessed to be able to come out here.”

Headed to Blacksburg tomorrow to look at Virginia Tech's first day of practice. Check back tomorrow evening to get some initial thoughts.


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