Hope springs in Charlottesville

Last week at practice, a few of Virginia’s wide receivers were hampered by minor hamstring injuries, prompting quarterback David Watford to lend a hand as a receiver.

As it turned out, the reviews were pretty good.

“This spring is trying to find the best players in the best position to help us win,” coach Mike London said. “The quarterback position is very competitive and we’re trying to find a spot for all of the guys to come in and help us. David is very selfless. He said, ‘I’ll play wide receiver.’ He knows the offense. He made some great catches. We’re just going to keep moving in the direction to try and get the best guys on the field.”

As Virginia reaches the midpoint of its spring practices, plenty of questions remain -- including who the starting quarterback will be for the season opener against UCLA -- but there is also a sense of optimism and progress in Charlottesville because of the experience returning and the continuity on the staff. After a 2-10 finish last season that included a winless record in ACC play, Virginia is leaning on 16 returning starters to help the program reverse its fortunes this fall. There is also the added benefit of limited turnover on the staff, as London hired only two assistants this offseason after a complete overhaul following the 2012 season.

So far, those intangibles have added up to an encouraging spring.

“Obviously we have to be better than what we were last year and we have to be better in terms of the point of production on the field,” London said. “Anything that can be measured can be improved. We have to play better defense -- we’ve always talked about that -- and we have to be more productive on offense, but I feel good about where we are and the people we have in the spots because they played in a lot of games.”

London said the defense, which returns nine starters, looks faster and has been aided by cornerback Demetrious Nicholson’s return from turf toe. The Hoos are still missing starting linebacker Daquan Romero, who is out with a shoulder injury, injured starting offensive tackle Jay Whitmire and defensive end Trent Corney, who is also out with a shoulder injury.

London also praised the wide receivers, and said the three quarterbacks -- Watford, Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns – have been rotating with the first-team and second-team offenses this spring.

“All three are battling for it,” London said, “and right now I’d say Greyson is doing a really nice job of where he’s at, and David understands nothing is given to him.”

While it’s still a young roster -- there are 34 sophomores -- it’s also a more veteran team, with 22 seniors. There’s a sense of urgency now as spring practices wind down, especially for the upperclassmen, as players continue to compete for starting jobs.

“I like what’s going on,” London said. “I like the energy. It’s hard to believe we’re at the midway point and we’re going down the back nine so to speak. Guys are starting to scramble to get playing time. If you’re standing on the sideline, you better get in line, whether it’s special teams or whatever it is because the production and performance element of it is the highlight of what’s going on this spring. If you’re producing and you’re productive, you’ll get looked at with a chance to play. If not, you stand on the sideline.”

That's one place the Hoos don't want to be again during the ACC race.