The Washington Times - August 3, 2011, 04:45PM

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Virginia opens its preseason football camp Friday in the same place it exited spring practice: Without a starting quarterback.

Well, that’s not entirely true. One of the four quarterbacks from the spring will eventually emerge as the Cavaliers’ opening-week starter. The identity, though, is a giant unknown.

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“I hope it happens it fast,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Wednesday. “I say hope. We’re going to evaluate constantly, quickly, accurately.”

And if hope doesn’t become reality?

“I’ve been in situations where it hasn’t played out quickly, and it’s not always fun,” Lazor said. “We have to make decisions. If it doesn’t play out, we will make a decision at some point and we will go forward and we’ll always reserve the right to change our mind.”

The most plausible candidates for the job are sophomores Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny, who both played in relief of Marc Verica at times last year. Redshirt freshman Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford also competed in the spring for the job.

Whoever emerges will play behind four returning offensive line starters, not to mention have established options at wideout (Kris Burd), tight end (Colter Phillips) and tailback (Perry Jones) to work with.

“I think the surrounding cast has to be good, and I think in this case the surrounding cast can and will be good enough …,” coach Mike London said.

“If the line can play better, which I expect them to, and if the tight ends can block and do what they do better, I expect them to do that. Same with the wide receivers. I think you can take some off the plate of the quarterback that’s still just get ready to play a full college season and by surrounding him with players who are experienced.”

Lazor declined to set a concrete timeline for a decision, but time is limited. The Cavaliers have exactly a month before their Sept. 3 opener against William and Mary.

The end-of-spring depth chart indicates Rocco and Metheny are considered co-starters entering camp. Yet while they would likely be the favorites, Lazor didn’t discount the possibility of someone else starting.

“All four quarterbacks that came out of the spring will get an opportunity,” Lazor said. “It won’t necessarily always be equal, but every guy will have the chance to earn more opportunities as we go. The reality is at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, we get a starter so we get [him] more reps, because that’s the best thing for the football team.”

What would also be good is a measure of consistency. Virginia made it through 2010 with one guy starting every game at quarterback, which had happened just once in the previous four seasons.

Given the pre-existing flux, having a contingency scenario in place could prove particularly useful.

“We’ll have a plan if that quarterback gets hurt in the first series. We’ll have a plan if he fails miserably,” Lazor said. “We’ll have plans, just like if the offensive coordinator fails miserably, coach London I’m sure has a backup plan, I hope.”

Patrick Stevens