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Cavaliers getting to know new coordinators, schemes in spring practice

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Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 8:30 pm | Updated: 11:51 pm, Thu Mar 28, 2013.

With new coordinators, Virginia football players have had all kinds of fresh literature to read since the end of the 2012 season.

The same has gone for Mike London.

 “I have my playbook as well as everybody else,” the UVa head coach said last Saturday. 

The Cavaliers are close to wrapping up their second week of spring practice. New defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has been implementing his pressure-heavy system. New offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild has been introducing his physical style.

And what is there to report?

Well, maybe check back after the April 6 spring game.

“It’s a work in progress,” London said.

After last week’s open practice at Scott Stadium, Tenuta was asked about the play of strong safety Anthony Harris, who made two interceptions in a scrimmage situation. The man of 30-plus years in this business quickly lessened the hype.

“I mean, come on,” Tenuta said. “It’s one practice.”

This has been Tenuta’s approach to his first spring in Charlottesville since his Virginia graduate assistant days in the early 1980s.

Evaluate personnel now, comment later.

“I always give guys eight practices,” Tenuta said, “see what they do in the first true scrimmage.”

But he won’t refrain from talking about how he and the Cavs have handled the early adjustment process.

London hired Tenuta on Jan. 3. He spent the winter months meeting his players and studying tape.

The 56-year-old has made over 10 stops in his career. He’s not a stranger to this routine.

“I think it’s the toughest thing that anybody has to do,” Tenuta said. “You come in and then you go, ‘OK, what do I have? Who do I have? Who’s played? Who hasn’t played?’

“Again, I go back to crawl before you walk, walk before you run. And then, obviously, ‘What can they grasp? Is there any carryover from base concepts?’ And then go from there.

“Where am I? I’m just teaching them the concepts and then, once I figure out who the better guys are to do what, that’s what we’ll do.”

Senior defensive end Jake Snyder figures to be one of Tenuta’s “better guys.” A two-year starter, Snyder said there is a distinct change in style between Tenuta’s and that of former defensive coordinator Jim Reid.

“There’s definitely some crossover,” Snyder said. “There’s carryover from the [old] defense, but for the most part, it’s new stuff. It’s new techniques for myself, for my position, defensive end. [For] guys across the board, there’s a lot of new techniques and new systems.”

Although it might not seem that way at first glance.

“It’s still a 4-3 in a lot of ways so it seems, maybe for the fans, to look the same but there’s a lot going on,” Snyder said. “A lot of things that are different. We’re still learning the schemes, still getting the hang of it.”

But Tenuta feels the response has been positive. His blitz-heavy reputation is backed by his 2005 Georgia Tech and 2011 N.C. State teams. Both led the Atlantic Coast Conference in takeaways and finished in the top four in sacks.

“I think they like what we do,” Tenuta said. “I think that they like the aggressive style. Obviously, it’s crawl before you walk, walk before you run and get going.”

Fairchild, who was hired nearly a full month after Tenuta, is in the same boat.

In fact, when the former Colorado State head coach watched UVa tape in the offseason, he wasn’t necessarily taking notes on the Cavaliers in particular.

“I watched to see the ACC, not Virginia,” Fairchild said. “I wanted to see what the talent level was defensively, what people are doing.

“I wanted to judge everyone, not just the quarterbacks, on what they do now, not last year.”

David Watford doesn’t appear on any 2012 film, yet the redshirt sophomore QB was first on the depth chart coming into spring.

“I like what David’s done,” Fairchild said. “I like what all four quarterbacks [Watford, Greyson Lambert, Phillip Sims, Matt Johns] have done. We’re going to have a nice competition. We’ll just kind of let it play out.

“When the time’s right, we’ll start narrowing it down. But all four are very talented.”

Fairchild’s offense — a pro-style set with an emphasis on the run — doesn’t differ all that much from that of former coordinator Bill Lazor.

It’s made for a smoother transition.

“A lot of the concepts are similar,” Watford said. “It’s different terminology, but a lot of the concepts are similar. So, it helps.”

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