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Lambert’s Time in Charlottesville

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Virginia has seen over the past few seasons just how difficult it is to produce a contender when you don’t have a consistently strong starter under center.

Virginia’s well-documented struggles to find a solidified starting quarterback over the past few seasons go beyond simply trying to find a player capable of throwing an accurate pass.

Via either transfer or dismissal from the program, the Cavaliers have lost three quarterbacks – Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims – in the past two years. All three of those quarterbacks were expected, at one time or another, to be legitimate contenders for the starting position. Metheny transferred to South Alabama after failing to win the starting job in 2011, Rocco transferred to the University of Richmond to play his senior season and Sims was recently dismissed from the program due to not making the “commitment needed to succeed” at the school.

The rash of departures has left the Cavaliers unstable and painfully thin at the quarterback position.

With just three quarterbacks currently listed on the entire roster, Virginia will, in all likelihood, turn to either sophomore David Watford or redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert to lead the team into battle this fall.

Regardless of whom the Cavaliers ultimately decide to go with under center come late August, lack of game experience will be a legitimate concern. Both Watford and Lambert redshirted last season, as Rocco and Sims split the reps at quarterback. Watford saw game action two seasons ago as a true freshman, but he completed just 40.5% of his 74 passing attempts.

Many people will naturally assume that Watford is the front-runner for the starting job given the fact that he has more experience, but taking the time to fully evaluate Virginia’s quarterback competition, it quickly becomes clear that going with the redshirt freshman, Lambert, is the best plan of attack.

Despite his statistical deficiencies throwing the football as a true freshman, Watford’s true value is not solely rooted in his ability as a passer. He is highly regarded as a scrambling quarterback, and he has shown the ability to produce plays when things break down in the pocket.

Unfortunately for Watford, new Virginia offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild is well-known as a coach who prefers to utilize traditional pocket passers.

And given the fact that the Cavaliers return potential All-ACC running back Kevin Parks in the backfield, the number of carries being devoted to the quarterback position are likely to be extremely limited this season.

While Watford still adds value to the team, and while his skill set can still be utilized in designated packages, the simple fact of the matter is that Lambert is a more polished pure passer.

A four-star signal caller coming out of Jesup, Georgia, Lambert uses his 6-foot-5 frame to zip his passes downfield with power and accuracy.

In the Cavaliers’ spring game two months ago, Lambert completed 21 of 36 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, displaying his exceptional physical tools in the process. Contrarily, in the same spring game, Watford went just 5-10 for 55 yards.

Whether or not the severe disparity in passing attempts between the two contenders was merely a statistical anomaly or an indicator of the coaching staff’s trust in each of the signal callers, the numbers tell the story of the quarterbacks’ prowess throwing the ball. Watford is capable of adding a different dimension to the offense, but his style of play is not conducive to success in Fairchild’s system.

Much like the recently departed Sims, Lambert is a former high-profile recruit who possesses physical tools that make professional scouts drool. His knowledge of coverages has improved drastically over the past year-and-a-half, and any potential advantage Watford would have had with the playbook was cancelled out by the introduction of a new offense.

Virginia has seen over the past few seasons just how difficult it is to produce a contender when you don’t have a consistently strong starter under center.

Lambert may not exactly be a sure bet as a starter, but he is the most talented quarterback on the roster. Unlike Watford, he has also never had his opportunity to show what he can do in game action.

As we saw with Scot Loeffler attempting to plug dual-threat quarterback Kiehl Frazier into his pro-style offense at Auburn last season, you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. Lambert is the best fit for what Virginia will attempt to do on offense this fall, and he should be considered the favorite to win the starting job during summer camp.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.