Mike London Q & A: Looking for gains
By JAY JENKINS
Published: July 08, 2011
Editorís note: Jay Jenkins, the Virginia football beat writer for The Daily Progress, had a chance to sit down with UVa coach Mike London for a three-part interview. This is the second part of that interview. The first part on Thursday covered London's thoughts heading into his second season as Virginia coach. Today's part covers the Cavalier offense and Saturday's part covers the Virginia defense.
Question: With an offense looking to replace starting quarterback Mark Verica, is it beneficial that the season starts with a Division I-AA opponent and a new foe in Indiana? Looking at this season when you were hired, did you seek an opening stretch that mirrors this one?
Answer: That has something to do with it and it has something to do with the mindset coming in and going to ODU and going down to Hampton. We wanted to come in and do things like that where the first ďroad tripĒ was not the first ďroad tripĒ to Indiana.
The first road trip was a year and a half ago and then last year when we went down to Hampton. You try to do those things out in front. Right now, guys that are training, you are training to do well in the game come September. Right now, you should be at that point where you almost get to the point of exhaustion, where you are physically taxed. You canít wait until you get into camp and think you are going to get into camp shape. If you wait to get in shape in camp, by the time the season starts then the people that were busting their tail and doing what they needed to do in the summer will have that edge over you.
The importance of the strength coach, making sure he pushes the guys to the limit so that when they get into camp, practice should feel like a breeze to what these guys have been doing. Games should be like a breeze in terms of what practice has been like. Thatís when you start to gain some of that advantage as guys hang around, guys that are doing what they need to do during the summer months.
To me, that is when you make your biggest gain. You have them in spring practice and when that is over, your strength coach becomes your MVP. You go into the periods where coaches canít say anything, you canít coach a guy, you canít watch him practice, but the strength guy is out there and you go right up until what we are doing now.
Q: When the offensive players embark on the second training camp with this coaching staff, what will be in store and how prepared should they be?
A: They come in August 4 and when they take the first snap on August 5, they better be at the point where they have improved... because this class that I brought in, they said they wanted to come because they wanted to play.
Well, if you are an older guy, what you had was the opportunity to be around here and be around [the strength coach] and get yourself ready. I am looking forward to the competition part of this whole thing.
Q: Do you go anywhere in the state of Virginia without somebody coming up and asking you who is going to be your quarterback? You have four players that have seen limited to no action to date.
A: I hear it all the time. Itís a fair question but you will see the biggest gains... with [the] quarterbacks, because at the end of the spring, coach Bill Lazor said, "These are the things that you have to work on." If something happened in spring practice, a particular situation, we will excel the learning process and we will probably expose them to that same situation in fall practice.
If he has learned from that and makes the right decision, then we know that he has moved forward. But if he is making the same decision and making the wrong decision as he was in spring practice, then he hasnít made that growth. He hasnít made the strides that he needs to. I am banking in all of these guys taking enough personal pride in what they were doing [during] this time that they have had to develop and increase their knowledge on their own to say, "You know what, Iím competing in everything that we do. Iím first in the lunch line, Iím first lifting, Iím the last one out of the weight room. I am going to beat you at checkers."
That is the way that it should be because we are going to probably have to decide something right after the first scrimmage. Right now, you can do the one-on-one situations, the 7-on-7 situations and the half-lines, but it is an unknown until you get them out there and you go through your first scrimmage; coaches are off the field, you say, "Here is what you have got to do. Let me see you execute." Until you start to see those things in the development, then you can start to make those decisions.
Q: Do you think you have a potential diamond in the rough in that mix?
A: All four of those guys have been up here working hard and they look good. They are stronger, they are faster and you just see kind of a change, a transformation in what they think about themselves. It is one of those things where you gain confidence through demonstrated performance. They know that all eyes are on them.
Q: Do you sleep better at night knowing that you have an offensive line that many coaches in the country would jump through hoops for? You have five players back in the fold that started a game, something that is rather significant.
A: It is a huge plus for this program. I just ran into Austin Pasztor and he looked like a skyscraper when I saw him. Thatís an NFL body. It is amazing. Oday (Aboushi), (Landon) Bradley, (Anthony) Mihota, Morgan (Moses)Ö all those guys that played, as good as this team is going to be is going to rely on those guys as a unit, because whether we run the ball or throw the ball, we have to protect the quarterback and we have to open holes.
Those are guys that have been in the battles. They have been in some great battles. They are all bigger and they are all stronger.
The best thing is that they are all faster than what they were before. It will be interesting to see how things play out.
Virginia Cavaliers To Be Led By Elite Talent
TheXlog.com | Jul. 7, 2011, 5:40 PM | 47 |
In seven of the past eight NFL drafts dating back to 2004, Virginia has seen at least one player drafted in the first 34 picks. Three positions represented prominently in recent years were offensive lineman, defensive end and cornerback. This year, those same positions promise to showcase more elite talent.
The Cavaliers arenít the first program most think of when considering teams whose former players have made an impact at the next level, but Virginia has had some measure of success when it comes to producing NFL talent. Virginia ranks 26th in number of players drafted from 1991 to 2010 (64 total players), and is 19th in number of NFL starts by a former player in that timeframe (2,324 starts), beating out in-state rival Virginia Tech in the latter category. *According to the in-depth analysis by DraftMetrics.com.
While only one Cavaliers defensive end was taken in the first 34 picks from 2004 to 2011, it was a good one as Chris Long recorded 14 sacks and 75 total tackles as a senior in 2007. Cam Johnson finished his junior season with 6.5 sacks last year, and heís poised for his second season at defensive end after moving from linebacker when Mike London and Co. switched to the 4-3 alignment. Johnson is one of several stud defensive ends in an ACC that also features North Carolinaís Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss, and Florida Stateís Brandon Jenkins.
Following in an impressive line of cornerbacks over the past couple of years is senior Chase Minnifield, who led the team with six interceptions last year (2nd in ACC, T-5th nationally). The Lexington, Kentucky product has played in every game since 2008, starting all 12 last year with sporadic starts in his first two seasons. With several cornerbacks being taken in the first round and early second round in recent years, Minnifield stands a very good chance of a first round selection in next yearís draft as one of the top corner prospects in the country, which would keep Virginiaís recent tradition of producing high draft picks alive.
Finally, thereís the most unproven, but highly-touted, of the three players Iím highlighting in this article: offensive lineman Morgan Moses. On Londonís post-spring depth chart this year, Moses is listed as the co-starter at both right guard and right tackle. Seeing three Virginia tackles drafted in the first round since 2006 (two in the top ten), fans are excited to see what Moses does while heís in Charlottesville. At 6í6 and 350 pounds, Moses is a huge, ballyhooed recruit from the 2009 class who enters the season after having started six games at tackle and one at guard a year ago following a stint at Fork Union Military Academy in 2009. The offensive line returns four starters this year and will feature some veteran leadership, but itís the sophomore who many expect will prove the anchor of the unit.
Virginia has gone three seasons without a bowl game after their 9-4 season in 2007 that saw former head coach Al Groh named ACC Coach of the Year. Londonís hiring has thus far been well-received as many recognized the progress he made with the program last year despite a one-win improvement from the previous season. London moved to the 4-3 defense and has expressed a desire to install a powerful ground gameówhich he had while he was the head coach at Richmond.
The passing offense finished ranked 25th in the country last year, but will be led by a new, inexperienced quarterback this year as London searches for a replacement for Marc Verica. That could mean a greater role for a running game that improved from averaging 96.6 and 99.1 yards in 2008 and 2009, respectively, to 139.3 yards in 2010. With Moses and a veteran line paving the way for Keith Payne and Kevin Parks, and a defense led by Johnson and Minnifield that has adapted well to the 4-3 defense, the Cavs are on the right path.
By Danny Hobrock
College Football Editor, TheXLog.com
Virginia Cavaliers 2011 NCAA Football Preview
Written by Mark on July 7, 2011 www.sportschatplace.com
The 2011 Virginia Cavaliers: ACC College Football Preview and Prediction.
2011 NCAA Football Preview: ACC-Virginia Cavaliers
Mike London was successful as head coach of sub division Richmond and when he took over at Virginia last season many were hoping that success would carry over. After the Cavaliers began 2010 at 4-4 things went downhill with an 0-4 finish but with 18 returning starters and a good recruiting class under his belt London might be laying the foundation for brighter days to come. Time will tell if the pieces are coming together for a program that hasnít been to a Bowl game since 2007.
The offense returns eight players minus quarterback Marc Verica but he was more suited for the spread offense that was already in place while London preferred a pro style attack. Michael Rocco assumes the QB duties and looks like a good fit for this style of offense so the loss of Verica might not be as great as thought. The backfield will likely be Perry Jones getting most of the work after sharing carries a year ago. Rocco will look to Kris Burd when he goes to the air after an 800 yard receiving year in 2010. Tight end Colter Philips is a reliable pass catcher that is primarily a safety valve but big things are expected to come from freshman Darius Jennings. Whoever is running the ball will have the luxury of an experienced offensive line to follow with all five starters back. The ability to effectively run the ball will take the pressure off Rocco to make plays through the air.
Probably the most reason to be optimistic lies on the defensive side of the ball where most of this unit is back. The ability of the Cavaliers smallish defensive line to get a push on the pocket in passing situations might be the strength but big aggressive offensive lines will try to push them around in the ground game. Matt Conrath, Cam Johnson and Nick Jenkins will see the majority of snaps but there is enough talent to form a rotation to keep fresh legs on the field. With all three linebackers returning including leading tackler LaRoy Reynolds, the run defense has some able bodies to make running on them a more difficult task than most would think with an undersized defensive line. The ability of the line backing crew to provide a pass rush is bolstered by a secondary that is seasoned at both safety spots and corner. Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley have the necessary speed, quickness and experience while Chase Minnifield is Virginiaís version of a shutdown corner. The one question is at the other CB spot where freshman Demetrious Nicholson is penciled in.
The Cavaliers kicking teams will remain mostly intact with Robert Randolph proving to be accurate on field goals going 10 of 14 last season. Senior punter Jimmy Howell averaged over 42 yards per boot and could be even better in 2011. Chase Minnifield and Perry Jones will handle return duties with Raynard Horne lost to graduation.
Virginia has the most returning starters of any team in the ACC and because of that itís only logical that the Cavaliers improve upon their 1-7 conference mark. Throw in a surprisingly strong recruiting class and UVA has arguably the most talent they have had in years. The problem I see in the short term is the elite teams are already established and for lack of a better word, Virginia is starting from scratch. A win or two more is possible but a finish in the bottom half of the Coastal Division is likely.
UVa's O'Connor regains confidence with Peninsula Pilots
By Norm Wood, email@example.com | 247-4642
9:54 p.m. EDT, July 7, 2011
HAMPTON Ėó Waiting for his buddy Will Roberts to pick up the phone, Chad O'Connor was struck by how odd it seemed to be making the call in the first place.
O'Connor had just finished throwing six innings June 5 of a combined no-hitter in the Peninsula Pilots' 4-1 win against Petersburg. While O'Connor was already eyeball deep in the midst of a summer college season, Roberts and his University of Virginia teammates were clinching a spot in the NCAA Super Regionals on the same day with a 12-1 win against East Carolina.
O'Connor, who just finished his junior season at U.Va., wasn't part of the Cavaliers' postseason roster. He essentially got sent home early.
Though he wasn't injured, and he wasn't a screw-up off the field, he still pitched just 2/3 of an inning for U.Va. all spring. He simply wasn't what U.Va.'s coaches were looking for in a season in which the Cavaliers featured the nation's deepest pitching staff.
"It was just kind of funny to tell a teammate of yours that you threw a no-hitter, when that teammate is still playing in the (college) season," O'Connor said.
O'Connor, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound graduate of Western Branch High who throws a fastball, change-up, curveball and slider, watched U.Va. in the College World Series Ė from his couch in Chesapeake.
"It hurt," said O'Connor, who gave up no hits and struck out one in 2/3 of an inning March 4 in U.Va.'s 12-1 win against Cornell Ė and never pitched again in the spring. "I knew they were going to do well. I watched a few games on TV. All my friends are still on the team, so I kept in contact with them. I was happy for them and I was happy for the university.
"I've had good fall (practice) seasons, but for some reason, it's never really come together for me in the preseason and spring. I don't think I proved to the coaches that I should be out there every single day.
O'Connor isn't the type to seek redemption or to pitch angry, but he has indeed proven this summer there's a place for him in the game. He'll make his seventh appearance of the summer Friday night at 7:05 when he starts against Thomasville in War Memorial Stadium.
In his second summer with the Pilots (20-13), he has a 2-0 record with a 2.66 earned run average. He has struck out 24 and walked 13 in 23.2 innings pitched, giving up just one extra base hit and logging a .167 batting average against.
"I understand Virginia's perspective," said Pilots coach Hank Morgan, who added the only area he wants to see improvement from O'Connor is in the efficiency department Ė getting his pitch count into the 90's in the seventh inning as opposed to the fifth. "They have a great pitching staff. I think Virginia is a great fit for O'Connor, both baseball-wise and academically. He loves his school and he's committed to getting his degree. Having said that, if he wasn't a guy that fit that academic atmosphere so well, he would've transferred and he'd be having success someplace else.
"Even though he doesn't have a statistical record to point to where he can say he did 'x,y and z,' he was a part of building that programÖHe's pushed some guys to beat him out for a spot. They have an excess of riches up there on the mound."
Despite his lost spring, O'Connor doesn't seem like he's spending too much time worrying about what could've been. He'll return to U.Va. Ė where he has a grade point average near 3.7 Ė to finish up his last two semesters and get a degree in environmental sciences, but he won't pitch for the Cavaliers anymore.
That doesn't mean he doesn't plan to pitch ever again after this summer. He'd like to head to graduate school within the next few years, but he said he'd like to continue playing baseball as long as he can. His experience with the Pilots has only served to boost his confidence.
"This summer was basically a yardstick," said O'Connor, who also didn't play at U.Va. in 2009 as a freshman, and who posted a 1.35 ERA in 10 relief appearances in the '10 season. "I wanted to see, 'Can I still do it? Was this past season basically the definition of me and my future in baseball?' This summer was a chance for me to prove myself, and prove it shouldn't be over after this summer."