RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia fans attending the Cavaliers' road practices this spring are seeing a team that is much further along that it was at this point a year ago thanks to a month of pre-bowl game practices last December, head coach Mike London said Saturday.
Virginia played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year, its first postseason appearance since 2007.
All the extra practice time allowed the Cavaliers coaches to start preparing young players who would be counted on more this year. London said their accelerated development has enabled them to hit the ground running this spring.
"I think we're further along that when we finished last spring," he said at Sports Backer's Stadium, where Virginia conducted its third road practice of the spring before a crowd of about 2,000 fans. They also have practiced in Northern Virginia and at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, where high school coaches and potential recruits get to see the coaches up close.
"When all these young kids are checking off the box, as far as do they like their position coach, do they like the offense or the defense, or the way that you practice, this is one of the ways that you provide that answer," London said of practicing off-campus. "It's been successful for us. We've gotten a lot of good, positive feedback from the areas we've gone into, and we'll continue to do that."
The players, too, notice a difference in where Virginia is compared to this point a year ago.
"We've kind of treated this spring ball as a time to not go back to basics but keep pressing forward," said quarterback Michael Rocco, who hit sophomore tight end Jake McGee for a long touchdown pass during the 11-on-11 controlled scrimmage.
"We're kind of light years ahead of where we were last spring," Rocco said.
Offensively, Virginia is farther along, and so is Rocco, who won the starting job midway through last season.
"I feel like I'm the leader of the offense," he said. "Last year I felt like I was in a battle, tough competition, and even though right now it is still a competition and every day is going to be a competition, I'm more in a leadership role and confident in myself and confident in my teammates, and that's just making our offense confident."
It helps when someone like McGee, who played mostly on special teams, shows how dangerous his size and speed can be, or when Clifton Richardson, the No. 3 tailback, breaks a run up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown like he did in the scrimmage.
"We've got a great combination of veterans and guys that have played a lot of downs and guys that had a lot of experience last year as young guys," Rocco said. "We've got a lot of weapons in the backfield and at wide receiver and tight end."
The Cavaliers have two more practices before wrapping up with their spring game next Saturday.