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Spring Practice Primer: Virginia Cavaliers

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Virginia Cavaliers and what they'll be working on this spring.

Even with Michael Rocco gone, Phillip Sims must compete for the starting quarterback job this spring. (USATSI)
Even with Michael Rocco gone, Phillip Sims must compete for the starting job this spring. (USATSI)

Spring practice began: March 18

Spring game: April 6

2012 record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 ACC

Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)

The Least You Should Know about Virginia This Spring

-- Still no permanent answer at the quarterback position. Mike London and former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor rotated Michael Rocco and Alabama transfer Phillip Sims back and forth in 11 games last season. The plan was to "ride the hot hand" because neither quarterback was able to claim the full-time starter's role. Rocco transferred to Richmond after the season, but the quarterback competition is far from done. Sophomore David Watford redshirted last season after appearing in 10 games as Rocco's backup in 2011. Watford began spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback, but London insists that every position will be open for competition this spring. Greyson Lambert, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound redshirt freshman entering his second spring practice, is also expected to push for the starting job.

Making the quarterback situation even more interesting is the presence of new offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild and associate head coach Tom O'Brien. With three possible starters and a new offensive coordinator, there is no clear front-runner -- and there might not be by the end of spring practice.

-- Jon Tenuta takes over as defensive coordinator. After the 2012 season, London relieved four assistant coaches of their duties, including defensive coordinator Jim Reid. Tenuta, the three-year letter winner as a defensive back at Virginia returns to Charlottesville for the first time since being a graduate assistant in 1982. Tenuta most recently spent three seasons at NC State with Tom O'Brien, and is joining the Cavs along with the former Wolfpacks head coach. He is expected to install his aggressive, blitzing style of defense that has produced more than 30 NFL players in his career as a defensive assistant. He will oversee the linebackers, and spring practice will be a time to identify the replacements for Steve Greer and La'Roy Reynolds; a pair of three-year starters at that position.

-- Kevin Parks, Clifton Richardson, and Khalek Shepherd hope to rejuvenate the Cavaliers' rushing attack. Two years ago, Virginia rode a three-headed rushing attack of Perry Jones, Parks, and Clifton Richardson to an 8-5 record that put them one game away from an ACC Coastal title. The trio combined for 1,990 yards 16 touchdowns, with all three players averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry. The exact same group returned in 2012 to combine only 1,256 yards while all averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry. A consistent rushing attack can help take pressure off the uncertain quarterback situation, but it will take the efforts of all involved to get back on track. Perry Jones is gone, but junior Shepherd can be the change-of-pace back to help compliment Parks and Richardson. Shepherd was the Cavaliers' primary return man in 2012 and filled in at running back while Richardson dealt with nagging injuries throughout the season. Fairchild brings in an impressive NFL resume and is expected to install a new pro-style approach. These three running backs will be key factors in the effectiveness of the new scheme.

-- It's time for London's recruiting success to show up on the field. As London prepares for his fourth year as Virginia's coach, fans are expecting to see the results from his impressive work on the recruiting trail. Virginia signed 49 prospects in the Class of 2011 and Class of 2012 -- both groups ranking in the Top 25 nationally, making a big splash in the mid-Atlantic scene with 39 players from Virginia or Maryland. A few good classes can result in a bowl appearance, but Virginia is hoping for long lasting success under London. The school just opened a brand new indoor facility, named after legendary head coach George Welsh, and allowed London to reorganize the staff following his second 4-8 season. Unfortunately the Cavaliers will face one of their toughest schedules in recent memory this fall, hosting BYU and Oregon in Scott Stadium while drawing Clemson as their rotating opponent from the Atlantic Division. That's a lot for a team coming off a 2-6 record in ACC play with brand new coordinators, but there is enough talent on the roster for Cavs fans to expect the possibility of a postseason trip.

For more college football news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCFB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed, college football newsletter, and get the Eye On College Football Podcast from iTunes. You can follow Chip Patterson on Twitter here: @Chip_Patterson.

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