CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Entering the first week of the season, college football coaches have to plan out which freshmen will redshirt and which will play. This year, Virginia coach Mike London will get a bonus decision.
Sophomore quarterback David Watford is competing for the starting quarterback job, but also has a redshirt year available if he wants to use it.
The extra year would allow him some separation from junior Michael Rocco and sophomore Phillip Sims, but also would bring him closer to current freshmen Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns.
In the meantime, the former Hampton quarterback has drawn strong reviews for his work at training camp.
“From where he was last year at this time to where he is today, it’s unbelievable the amount of consistency he’s gained,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “Even the defensive coaches at times have said, ‘Hey, that guy looks like he’s come so far.’”
Other redshirting decisions will be easier. Traditionally, offensive and defensive line recruits are redshirted to allow them to build up strength in the weight room for a year, but a trio of defensive ends may be pressed into duty as true freshmen.
Defensive end Eli Harold already has punched his ticket with a strong camp, and Michael Moore has earned strong reviews for his play. Courtnye Wynn was thought to be in that group as well, but was seen on crutches at Thursday’s practice.
London said that he’d make a final list this weekend, with the goal of sticking to it through the season.
Former U.Va. coach Al Groh came under fire for using a number of players sparingly in their true freshman years, meaning they couldn’t return as fifth-year players.
London played only a few freshmen his first year, but leaned on several of them after a strong 2011 recruiting class. Again this year, he feels the reward of using raw talent outweighs the risk.
“When you recruit young men, they want to come in and play,” he said. “You have to weigh that against the guys who are here, and the position needs you have.”
No position needs replenishing more than the secondary, and Varina’s Maurice Canady will be in the mix for playing time at cornerback as a true freshman.
Virginia Beach’s Anthony Cooper also will be pressed into immediate action in the secondary, though to what extent has not yet been determined. Cooper started camp as a wide receiver before he was moved to defense.
All true freshmen who play will be expected to contribute on special teams. London said that represents the best way to get them involved in games early.