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Ratcliffe: Going with Watford the right move

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Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:30 pm | Updated: 5:56 pm, Fri Aug 16, 2013.

Mike London’s decision to name David Watford as Virginia’s starting quarterback was a good one.

Nothing against redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert, who should become a good quarterback, and is certainly a good kid. What it all boils down to is experience and mobility. While Watford, a redshirt sophomore, doesn’t have a ton of playing time in college, it sure beats none, which is exactly the amount of time the rest of UVa’s quarterbacks have clocked.

What I like about Watford now, I also liked when he played sparingly as a true freshman out of Hampton High School: mobility.

He can make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. In my opinion, there’s nothing like a quarterback who can run and create in college football. Look no further than Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman as a redshirt freshman, mostly on the strength of his ability to run and create on the run.

Take a look at Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, whom Watford idolizes, both having come from Virginia’s talent-rich “757,” where other mobile QBs such as Aaron Brooks, Michael Vick, Marques Hagans, and Tyrod Taylor hailed from. Boyd, a legit Heisman candidate this year, told us during the ACC Football Kickoff event last month just how dangerous a running quarterback can be, and how dangerous he believes Watford will be.

Certainly, Watford has more experience. He’s been in the system for three spring practices because he was an early enrollee his freshman year, right out of Hampton in December his senior year and into UVa in January. The kid has been around, worked two years in Bill Lazor’s offense and one spring/offseason in Steve Fairchild’s.

While it was clear that Watford didn’t have much of a clue as a passer his first go ‘round as a true freshman, he has developed that part of his game. What he did display to us was that he has magical feet and can turn potential disaster for the offense into a big play or a potential disaster for the defense.

Fairchild has seen that side of the ex-Crabber’s game.

“Mobility is a factor in college football,” Fairchild said the other day. “It’s not so much running plays as being able to just create plays that aren’t necessarily going well after the snap.”

That’s when the magic clicks in.

Receivers covered? Protection breaks down? No problem. Try and stop the quicksilver Watford on the go.

Did you think watching Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick was exciting last season? What if Watford brings that kind of footwork to the Scott Stadium playing surface?

Both RGIII and Kaepernick were dynamic passers and runners in college ball at Baylor and Nevada, respectively, but both brought that game to the NFL last year and shredded defenses. Kaepernick, by the way, was the only quarterback in major college football history to both throw for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 4,000 yards. He also scored 20 TDs passing and 20 rushing.

Why does that matter?

It should be noted that Kaepernick’s coach at Nevada, Chris Ault, invented the “Pistol” offense. Virginia’s special teams coordinator and running backs coach Larry Lewis, spent last year at Nevada to learn that offense from the master.

When I asked Lewis if Fairchild had picked his brain about the Pistol, Lewis thought for a second, chuckled and said, “I’d tell ya, but I’d have to kill ya.”

Hmmm.

Watford looked the part of a better passer in the five open practices media was welcomed to attend last week. He had more presence, more command of the entire operation, it appeared, from huddle to pre-snap read, to snap count, to seeing the defense, to executing the throw.

When asked how he differed from his true freshman season to now, Watford was concise.

“David two years ago and David right now?” he replied. “Leaps and bounds confidence-wise.”

Confidence is a huge deal. It’s often the six inches between one’s ears that makes the difference. Watford is smart and the confidence only makes him better.

London liked it when the Navy Seals came to town and worked the UVa football players out for two days, putting them through some rigorous exercise. But the Seals were also looking for leadership and when it was done, Watford’s name came up big.

I don’t know about you, but I want my quarterback to be a true leader.

Another reason why Philip Sims isn’t around anymore. Sims, by the way, skipped the second day of those workouts. What did that tell his peers and his coaches?

Before you get too carried away, just because Watford won the job, doesn’t mean that it’s his to keep. I don’t think we’ll see the musical chairs at QB that we witnessed last year, which didn’t help UVa’s 4-8 effort.

Still, Watford has to perform to keep the job.

“He and Greyson are both talented enough to win,” said Tom O’Brien, UVa’s assistant head coach for offense. “Probably right now it’s David because he’s been in games, has the experience factor, the confidence factor, all may have given him a boost.

“But Greyson is pushing him hard in practice and that’s what you want,” O’Brien continued. “David is still running scared and knows that even though he’s been named [starter], he still must perform and I think that’s a great situation.”

A situation that could make both QBs better and perhaps push Watford to the point where he becomes the rolling ball of butcher knives that he was for Mike Smith at Hampton.

If that happens sooner rather than later, that could make a big difference in Virginia’s season. In that case, all bets are off.

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