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Football Notebook: No Shortage of Options in Running Game

By Jeff White
jwhite@virginia.edu

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- There is no tailback controversy at UVa, second-year coach Mike London said Monday. Junior Perry Jones remains the starter, and redshirt freshman Kevin Parks will play a large role in the offense, too. True freshman Clifton Richardson and redshirt freshman Khalek Shepherd are also options.

"It's great to have an opportunity where [Nos.] 1, 2, 3 and 4 play," London told reporters at John Paul Jones Arena.

In Virginia's opener, a 40-3 romp over William and Mary at Scott Stadium, Jones averaged a solid 4.7 yards per carry, rushing 12 times for 56 yards. Parks was far more productive Saturday night, however, carrying 16 times for 114 yards (7.1 average) and three touchdowns.

Richardson added 57 yards and a TD on seven carries, and Shepherd carried three times for 13 yards.

Jones and Parks are each listed at 5-8, but their physiques are different. The 195-pound Parks is stouter than the 185-pound Jones, with bigger legs.

"As you saw, we ran the power play quite a few times [for Parks]," London said. "Perry, although he can run the same plays, is a get-out-of-a-zone, sweep-type of guy. They have different styles. Then you have Clifton come in. He can do everything."

Richardson is listed at 6-0, 215 pounds.

"It's more trying to find plays that provide plays for us," London said, "as opposed to, 'This is the guy, and we're going to ride this guy all the way.' "

NEXT UP: UVa's second game is Saturday night in Bloomington, Ind. Virginia meets Indiana (0-1) in a 7 o'clock game that the Big Ten Network will televise.

Among the players who stopped by JPJ to talk with reporters Monday was sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco, who will make his second start Saturday. In his first, Rocco completed 21 of 29 passes for 174 yards, with no interceptions, against William and Mary.

"It was pretty enjoyable," Rocco said. "There's still corrections to be made. But it was a 'W,' and it was a great performance by a bunch of our guys."

A perennial Big Ten power, Indiana is not. The Hoosiers are coming off a 5-7 season, and they lost their opener Saturday, falling 27-20 to Ball State in Indianapolis.

Still, Rocco said, the Hoosiers have "a very physical defense, and they'll be a good test for us. They're more designed to stop the run, and we ran the ball really well against William and Mary. So it should be a test for our offensive line to get out there and [face] bigger guys that are designed to stop the run."

The soft-spoken, polite Rocco preceded London in the interview room at JPJ. London was asked about Rocco's demeanor.

"He's one way off the field, as he presents himself publicly," London said. "On the field, I think he's loud and clear enough to get the job done."

Rocco's quiet confidence came through in his Q&A session. As a true freshman in 2010, when the Cavaliers' No. 1 quarterback was a fifth-year senior, Marc Verica, Rocco came off the bench in six games.

Overall, though, "I kind of sat back and saw how the offense was supposed to be run and how [offensive coordinator Bill] Lazor wanted it to be done," Rocco said Monday.

"So coming into this year I kind of felt it was my opportunity to lose, and if I competed the way I thought I could, I could take this offense to another level. I'm just trying to be a good quarterback and get my playmakers the ball. I know have a great line and great running backs that will open up the passing game as well."

SHOOTOUT: In the 2009 Virginia Independent Schools, Division I state championship game, Collegiate whipped Liberty Christian Academy 48-28 in Richmond. Collegiate's quarterback was Jake McGee, now a redshirt freshman tight end at UVa. LCA's quarterback was Rocco.

Each player started at safety, too. So before they were teammates, they were rivals.

"Our relationship right now is good," Rocco said Monday, but it took "a little bit getting used to."

In the state final, McGee passed for 251 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 145 yards and three more TDs. He also ran for a 2-point conversion and intercepted a pass.

Rocco put up big numbers too, passing for 243 yards and three TDs and running for another touchdown. Not long after that game, Rocco and McGee were paired together as roommates on their official recruiting visits to UVa.

"It was good getting to know him," Rocco said Monday. "He's a funny guy, and we're good friends now."

The 6-3, 215-pound Rocco carried once against William and Mary, on a sneak that went for 3 yards and a first down. He's not known as a runner, but several colleges were interested in him as a safety, and Rocco believes he's more mobile than many outside the program may realize.

"We had a couple designed plays in high school where I would run with the ball, and a couple option plays, but it was more of a pro-style offense, like you see in the NFL, just like our offense here," Rocco said. "But whenever a play breaks down, I believe that I'm athletic enough to get outside the pocket. I have decent speed to make a play whenever there's a play to be made."

RISE AND SHINE: On most weekdays, the Cavaliers are on the field for practice at 8 a.m. By that time, most of the players have been at the McCue Center for about two hours.

In years past, UVa practiced in the afternoon, but London likes the new schedule, which gives his players more options in selecting their classes.

Fifth-year senior Matt Conrath, a starting defensive tackle, was asked Monday about the morning schedule.

"I like it," Conrath said. "It's a little tough to get out of bed in the morning, but once you're up, it's not bad."

Another fifth-year senior, wide receiver Matt Snyder, said last week that "with these early-morning practices a lot of the older guys, I guess the captains especially, really need to be vocal and get people going in the morning, get the energy level up and make sure practice is running crisply, even though it's 6 in the morning."

UVa opened training camp on Aug. 5, and for more than two weeks the team practiced in the afternoon. The schedule changed when the fall semester began at the University.

"We were a little apprehensive in the beginning when we were getting up," said Snyder, one of the Cavaliers' captains. "It's never fun hearing your alarm at 5:30, but the more we do it and the better practices are looking, the more I'm liking it. It's nice to get practice in and have the rest of the day to look at the film and review it and get a little more game prep in with [film study] and actually just have time to go to class and study hall and everything like that."

BLAST FROM THE PAST: One of the true freshmen to play for UVa against William and Mary was Thompson Brown, a 6-4, 225-pound defensive end from St. Christopher's School in Richmond.

Brown, an explosive athlete, had a tackle for loss Saturday night, and seeing him coming off the edge, it's easy to flash back to another defensive end who wore the No. 91 jersey for the Wahoos -- Chris Long.

"If you've ever had a chance to watch [Brown], one of the things that the defensive coaches keep talking about is his good first step," London said.

He smiled. "He looks good wearing that No. 91 out there, but he's got a long, long way to go as far as that's concerned," London said.

Brown is listed as a third-team end, "but that's on the base regular defense," London said. "We're looking for opportunities to get him involved in the pass-rush situations ... I think his role wil increase as we go on. He'll become a two-phase, four-phase special-teams guy also. Again, he's another guy that has a certain set of skills that can be added to the team to help us achieve our goals."

MOOD CHANGE: London's first team at UVa went 0-5 in road games and finished 4-8 overall. It's early, of course, but he likes what he's seen from his second team.

In addition to 12 true freshmen, 10 redshirt freshmen made their college debuts Saturday night for UVa, and London said his veterans understand what the young players can add to the team.

"I think that's the difference right now with this team, even being just one game into it," London said. "I'd say we have a better team in terms of how our players deal with each other and how they've accepted and embraced some young guys, and how some young guys have reached out to some older guys for advice and things like that.

"I think we have a better team. The chemistry inside the team is much better."

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Jeff White

Director of News Content

jwhite@virginia.edu

A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.

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