Virginia's new indoor football practice facility began paying immediate dividends on Monday morning.
The Cavaliers opened their 2013 spring football schedule Monday morning inside the new $13 million George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility, as workers were cleaning slush off the outdoor turf field just outside the front door.
Without the new facility -- which began construction last April, and was finished earlier this month -- coach Mike London said his team would have spent its first practice outside, "scraping off the snow and all that."
"For the first day of practice, we're putting in all new systems -- offense, defense, special teams. You want that focus and attention to what's going on," London said. "And it just worked out. It was a big blessing that we had a chance to get in here, and all the guys had a chance to coach their schemes and their systems, and weather wasn't an issue."
"When we looked at the forecast last night, it was pretty exciting to see that we had a chance on the first day to get in here and get moving," said rising senior center Luke Bowanko. "The excitement level kind of rose a little bit when everyone got in here. Obviously a lot went into building this place,and we thank the guys who got it ready on the deadline."
The new indoor facility was the most obvious difference for the 2013 Virginia football team as it kicked off spring ball. But an off-season of departures led to many faces in new places on the practice field.
Quarterback Michael Rocco -- who had started 21 of the Cavaliers' 25 games the past two seasons -- transferred to Richmond in January. The pre-spring depth chart released Monday included sophomore David Watford as the top quarterback, followed by redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert.
Rising junior Phillip Sims, who started four games last year, was listed as the No. 3 quarterback.
Watford split time with Rocco as a true freshman in 2011, but spent last year redshirting on the sideline.
"I'm just going into the spring just really hungry," Watford said after Monday's practice. "Just really focused on bettering myself and also bettering my teammates. Not only offensively but defensively,and just pushing each other. Being more of a leader, and being more vocal."
"And even though he redshirted last year he was always with the offense, in tune in the meetings, or whatever it is," said rising senior receiver Tim Smith. "He just had to take a step back for a year, but I think that definitely helped him."
"When you look at David now, he had the year to sit and observe how a game is conducted," said London. "The calls, he was in on the calls, and he understood from the sideline the reads that need to be made. And he's chomping at the bit to compete for that quarterback position."
Following a 4-8 season in 2012, Virginia parted ways with four coaches -- defensive coordinator Jim Reid, running backs coach Mike Faragalli, tight ends coach Shawn Moore, and defensive line coach. And offensive coordinator Bill Lazor left for a position with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
Virginia's new coaching staff includes three new coordinators -- Steve Fairchild (offense), Jon Tenuta (defense), and Larry Lewis (special teams) -- plus former NC State head coach Tom O'Brien as an offensive assistant. Graduate assistant Marques Hagans was promoted to full-time wide receivers coach to round out London's staff.
"Definitely with the new coaching staff here, it's a high-energy, up-tempo practice today," said offensive tackle Morgan Moses, who passed up the NFL Draft to return for his senior year. "You've got a lot of guys flying around. You've got the coaches going after guys, and you've got the players going after guys. And that's a good change around here."
"When there's coaching changes like there were, people are excited to prove themselves," said Bowanko. "They get a fresh opportunity; some guys who may have thought they were buried on the depth chart get a fresh start. So there's been excitement brewing ever since the whistle blew at Tech, and it's good to get the first day under our belt."
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