Jeff White, virginiasports.com
After graduating early from Wayne County High in Jesup, Ga., Greyson Lambert enrolled at the University of Virginia in January 2012.
“He was very raw my first spring here,” Fairchild recalled Monday afternoon, “and he’d be the first to tell you that he didn’t have a lot of college-type offense in high school. He was very up and down that spring. You could tell he had talent, but he had a long way to go.”
Lambert’s struggles to master Fairchild’s offense continued in training camp last summer, and that made it easy for the coaching staff to choose David Watford as the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback. But Lambert steadily improved in practice last fall — even if that progress wasn’t always evident when he replaced Watford during games — and by the start of spring practice this year had emerged as a leading candidate for the starting job.
“He saw an opportunity and he wasn’t going to be denied,” Fairchild said.
Lambert worked extensively with the first-team offense throughout the spring and in the annual Orange-Blue scrimmage last month at Scott Stadium. So it was no surprise that the depth chart released Monday afternoon confirmed Lambert’s status as the Wahoos’ No. 1 quarterback.
“He seized an opportunity and certainly was the most consistent quarterback we had in the spring,” Fairchild said.
Watford, a rising junior who started every game last season, and Matt Johns, a rising sophomore, were listed as co-Nos. 2 behind Lambert.
“Our assessment and evaluation was that Greyson did a very good job, with his on-the-field performance, his off-the-field performance,” London told reporters on a teleconference. “The things we’ve asked him to do, he’s done them, and he put himself in position to come out of this spring as the guy being named as the starter at this point.”
Fairchild said: “I just thought he had the best spring of any of them. He got a lot better. He had a great offseason. Not just in the weight room and with conditioning, but throwing.”
In voting among UVa’s players for team captains, Lambert finished third this spring. His fellow captains — safety Anthony Harris, linebacker Henry Coley and tailback Kevin Parks — will be seniors in the fall.
“I just think [the voting] was reflective of what the coaching staff and myself saw in him,” Fairchild said.
London said: “There’s a lot of things that guys on the team see, coaches see in the film room, things that speak to the makeup of an individual. It’s good for us, because he’s on our football team and is going to make our football team a better football team.”
Lambert played in seven games as a redshirt freshman, completing 33 of 75 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted twice.
In the spring game, he was 18-of-31 passing for 220 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions.
London praised Lambert’s ability to throw short, intermediate and long passes. He also believes accuracy, which has been a problem for Watford, can be one of Lambert’s strengths.
With his height and pocket presence, London said, Lambert “can survey the field. There’s something physically that allows him to do some things that can lead to completions, and that’s the biggest thing for us. That’s what our need is.”
POSITION OF STRENGTH: Led by Parks, who rushed for 1,031 yards and 11 TDs last season, seven tailbacks were on the depth chart released Monday. Look for the top three — seniors Parks and Khalek Shepherd and sophomore Taquan Mizzell — to get most of the work.
“Those are three really good running backs,” London said. “And so it’s up to us offensively to put the guys in a position [to] help us at any given time … Whether it’s two tailbacks in the game at the same time or whatever it may be, the task is to maximize those players’ abilities.”
An ankle injury slowed Mizzell as a true freshman last fall, when he totaled 184 yards rushing and 164 receiving and scored two touchdowns. Shepherd was second on the team in rushing (304 yards) and had a 45-yard TD run against Oregon.
QUESTION MARKS: Fairchild stated the obvious Monday when asked about the offensive line. “We’re going to miss Morgan,” he said.
Morgan Moses, the Cavaliers’ starting left tackle last season, may well be picked in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night. On the post-spring depth chart, Jay Whitmire is listed as Moses’ replacement at left tackle, with Sadiq Olanrewaju as the backup.
Injuries kept Whitmire, a 6-6, 310-pound junior, and Olanrewaju, a 6-6, 290-pound sophomore, from practicing this spring. Moreover, Whitmire played on the right side last season, starting the first four games at tackle and the final eight at guard.
Olanrewaju, one of 12 true freshmen to play for Virginia last season, appeared in five games as a reserve tackle.
“That’s an area where we’re nervous in the offensive line,” Fairchild said of the vitally important left-tackle position. “There’s no question. That’s not an area where there’s a quick fix. It’s developmental.
“We need to have some great summers out of guys. But it is what it is.”
Whitmire played lacrosse and basketball as well as football at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria.
“He’s an athletic tackle,” Moses said Monday. “Long arms. Light on his feet, and he can move.”
Elsewhere on the line, the starters coming out of the spring are senior Conner Davis at left guard, sophomore Eric Tetlow at center, junior Ross Burbank at right guard and sophomore Eric Smith at right tackle.
Tetlow takes over for Luke Bowanko, who started at center in 2012 and ’13.
THE FUTURE IS NOW: Brandon Phelps, a senior from Damascus, Md., has started 22 of UVa’s past 24 games, and he’s listed No. 1 at strong safety on the post-spring depth chart. London made it clear Monday, though, that he expects incoming freshman Quin Blanding to challenge Phelps for the starting job.
Blanding, a 6-4, 210-pound senior at Bayside High in Virginia Beach, ranks among the most heralded recruits in UVa history.
“We recruited the young man to have an opportunity to come in and do that,” London said. “Brandon is aware of that. Brandon also is a guy that has corner skills. He has nickel-coverage skills. So there’s a lot of things Brandon Phelps can do for this team, and at the same time you’re very aware and cognizant of the fact that you have a few talented true freshmen that are coming in. One of the reasons why they said yes was to have the opportunity to compete and play early.”
MOVING ON: Jake McGee’s decision to graduate this month and then transfer to another school for his final season leaves UVa with only two tight ends who have college experience: senior Zachary Swanson and junior Rob Burns.
McGee, a graduate of Collegiate School in Richmond, caught 71 passes for 769 yards and seven TDs as a Cavalier. He led the team in receptions (43) and receiving yards (395) last season.
“Obviously it does hurt losing a player of Jake’s caliber,” London said Monday. But “Jake made a decision that was best for Jake McGee.”
The coaching staff had planned to use McGee as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver in the fall, and that’s a role for which Fairchild believes players such as 6-3, 210-pound sophomore Kyle Dockins and 6-2, 220-pound Canaan Severin are well-suited, too.
In the spring game, Dockins had eight catches for 74 yards and one TD, and Severin caught four passes for 35 yards.
“I like Jake, and I think Jake obviously had he stayed would have helped us,” Fairchild said, “but we really had some good springs out of some of our inside receivers — Kyle Dockins and Canaan Severin really came on — and that was probably one of the best surprises. I think we’re going to be in good shape there.”
London said he’s proud that McGee will graduate from UVa before departing.
“What’s left now is for our team, this team, to galvanize and to get refocused on the guys that stay,” London said.
Singling out his captains — Parks, Lambert, Harris and Coley — London said the team’s “leadership is good, the leadership is sound. We’re looking forward, and that’s all we’re doing. We wish [McGee] the best, but we’re getting our team ready to play on August 30th against UCLA.”
SUCCESS STORY: Coming out of Meadowbrook High School in the Richmond area, Moses had to spend a year at Fork Union Military Academy before gaining admittance to UVa.
Many doubted that Moses would be able to survive academically at the University, but he’ll graduate this month with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.
“When people tell you you can’t do something, it’s always a motivating factor,” London said.
“Mo has a great story. He had to go the Fork Union route, but we did a great job here academically with providing a support system that allowed a young man to study, to learn how to take notes, how to time manage. Don’t be afraid, even though you’re an athlete, after class to go introduce yourself to a professor and talk about how you want to learn and how the class is interesting to you. And don’t be characterized or stereotyped as a big, dumb jock.”
On a teleconference Monday afternoon, Moses was asked about his journey.
“Just because the things that happened at Meadowbrook didn’t go so well for me, that wasn’t the end of the road,” he said. “I was always determined and always knew the bigger picture.
“So when people doubted me about making it through UVa and playing at UVa, it just was always in the back of my head like, `Hey, I can always prove people wrong.’ Now I’m sitting here three days away from the draft, and I feel like I’ve proved the world wrong.”
The 6-6 Moses weighed around 350 pounds when he enrolled at Virginia in 2010. He played at about 325 last season and, as the NFL draft approaches, is down to 313.
“I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, and I feel like I’m ready to play,” said Moses, who accepted an invitation to attend the draft festivities in New York City, for which he leaves Tuesday morning.
The NFL, Moses said, is “every kid’s dream when they’re playing little league. You watch football on Sundays, and that’s where where you want to be. Being able to be in the position I am now is a blessing.”