The best quarterbacks in University of Virginia history — Shawn Moore, Aaron Brooks and Matt Schaub — did not play as true freshman.
No surprise. Any college coach worth his courtesy rig will tell you quarterbacks, more than any, are better off redshirting.
The year off, essentially, is an apprenticeship, an opportunity to learn the position's countless nuances from coaches and teammates.
But Cavaliers big whistle Mike London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor confronted an intriguing case in Hampton High graduate David Watford.
Watford enrolled at Virginia in January, a semester early, and participated in spring practice, an invaluable though limited baptism. Plus, the unusual combination of his talent, unproven alternatives and promising recruits mandated test-driving him this season.
London confirmed as much Monday, announcing that sophomore Michael Rocco will start Saturday's opener against visiting William and Mary and that Watford also will play. Neither decision surprises.
As Marc Verica's backup last season, Rocco played six games as a true freshman, attempting only 25 passes. Still, he is the program's most prepared quarterback.
But given his inexperience, Rocco is bound to endure hiccups. Perhaps jarring ones, and even without injury, Virginia likely will need a backup who does more than take a knee at game's end.
"There's no doubt he has skills that can help us," Lazor said last week. "I think David has a chance to be an excellent pocket passer, I really do. I think his accuracy is good, his arm strength is good, he's got a live arm.
"One of the great things about guys who are athletic is that they can play fast in the pocket and they can use their athletic ability in the pocket."
Virginia coaches saw that ability not only at Hampton High but also during spring drills.
"There's no doubt that he's further along than he would have been if these were his first 23 practices," Lazor said. "Instead, he got 15 in the spring. He was familiar enough with the offense to be able to study it over the summer. And so that's boosted him ahead."
It's not ideal, but it's a risk London needs to take. And it's a risk tempered by a 2012 recruiting class that includes commitments from quarterbacks Matt Johns and Greyson Lambert — according to Rivals.com, Lambert received offers from Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia, among others.
Moreover, the class of 2013 in-state quarterbacks, headlined by Salem High's Bucky Hodges, Stone Bridge's Ryan Burns, Richmond Collegiate's Wilton Speight and Fork Union's Christian Hackenberg, is drawing raves.
Translation: The Cavaliers could go from quarterback-poor to quarterback-flush in a hurry.
"I think at the quarterback position, when you're asking a guy to do a lot of different things, as we do in our offense, and handle a lot of schemes, it's helpful for him to be able to redshirt," Lazor said. "Last year with (Rocco) we did not do that and didn't feel like we were in a position to do it. … I do believe personally for the quarterbacks, mentally, it's very helpful to redshirt."
Consider emerging NFL quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy. They redshirted.
But Peyton Manning did not. Injuries forced Tennessee to use him as a true freshman.
Aaron Rodgers did not, but he spent a year playing junior college ball before starting immediately at California.
Closer to home, Michael Vick redshirted at Virginia Tech, but Tyrod Taylor did not.
In 2007, the Hokies torched Taylor's redshirt midway through the second quarter of their Week 2 game against LSU. At Death Valley. At night. With Tech down 24-0 and on its own 14-yard line.
It was like taking a kid with a learner's permit onto the Autobahn.
"I think anytime the quarterback can have more time before he's thrown in there it benefits the guy," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "There's so much going on and so much he has to do: getting the play called, getting things done at the line of scrimmage."
Tech lost that game 48-7, but Taylor didn't crash. In fact, he helped the Hokies win three ACC championships during his four years, and in 2010 he was the ACC Player of the Year.
Fellow Hampton Crabbers, Taylor and Watford are fast friends. Can Watford approach Taylor's success?
"It's going to be different the first time he's hit by a college defender, whenever that happens to be," Lazor said. "It is for every one. That's the fun, exciting, but scary part of being a young college player. It'll be fun to watch, I think, but I think David has a chance really to be a fantastic pocket passer.
"How long that takes? All of us that coach the quarterbacks try to figure that out, and it's usually not real easy to tell, but I'm looking forward to watching it happen and helping it develop."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun