An Interview With: Coach Mike London
Q. Seems like your offensive line has been in flux. Is the depth chart the five starters for Saturday or can that change again?
COACH LONDON: They're the five healthiest starters we have at this point. We have gone through some injuries we've had to deal with. Some players have been out and we've had to make the best of making changes and moving guys in different positions, but the five indicated right now are the ones that are the healthiest and in the best position to help us win a football game.
Q. Can you just talk a little about what you've seen in UCLA in your studies and what impresses you?
COACH LONDON: First of all, they're a fast, athletic team. They're an experienced team. A team that has a lot of their starters back, a lot of their players have played for them and have played some significant games on offense, and obviously, Hundley is the guy" ... Sports Illustrated", Heisman candidate, almost 8,000 total career yards offensively for them. He is a guy that really is as good as advertised. Defensively, they're fast, they're athletic, they've had some guys that have played and made some significant stats in some of the games they've played. A lot of people had them picked to finish in the Top 10 - some have them picked to win it all. But they are a very good football team that's got to cross three time zones to play us here in Charlottesville, so our guys will be ready as well.
Q. Last year you guys played Tayson Hill and Marcus Mariota, arguably two of the most prolific runners, quarterbacks in the country. How do they compare to Hundley and facing those guys? How does that help you on Saturday?
COACH LONDON: They're good quarterbacks in their own right. Hundley is a guy that is exceptional with his arm and with his legs, and that is the threat that they have, the style of offense that they run. He's been an integral part of what they do and he's the guy that makes it all go. They don't have a lot of plays. They have a lot of opportunities where he can run the ball, pull the ball and throw it vertical, or throw it out to the flats or coming out of the back field. But he does a phenomenal job in running the offense, and it takes the skills that he has and he uses those skills, so he's a very accomplished player.
Q. Mike, is the experience you have in the secondary shown itself the way you would have hoped in preseason, particularly the corner? Even without Nicholson, it seems you have a lot of guys there that have played a lot.
COACH LONDON: That's one element of getting better defensively has been the corner play throughout August camp and having guys like Maurice Canady and Tim Harris who played in college football games last year. They really looked good. It does cause us issues with Tra' (Demetrious Nicholson) being out, but at the same time, DreQuan Hoskey, as I mentioned, Tim Harris, Brandon Phelps is a guy that's played some corner for us even though he's also a safety and nickel, with all the different packages that we have. We feel that the defensive backs are guys that have been in a lot of games or played games for us, and that's one area of experience for us.
Q. You have Donte Wilkins and Andrew Brown listed either OR at tackle. Does that hinge on Andrew's health and availability or what is the decision to be made there?
COACH LONDON: Yep, Andrew, as we all know he had the turf toe injury and the surgery in spring and has kind of gotten himself back into playing and in playing shape. Had a little issue with his shoulder. So he's practiced, he's full-go. With the multiple fronts that we run, there may be an opportunity for him to play. One of the things with all these freshmen, there are not too many freshmen we plan on playing this particular year right now. This is the difference in years past, but you want to put him in positions to have some success, and there will be a lot of opportunities for all these guys to play and Andrew is one of them, Jamil Kamara is one of them, Quin Blanding, and Doni Dowling right now seem to be the four that have the best opportunities to play early.
Q. In regards to the offensive line, could you go through why these five were sort of -- why these five sort of rose above the rest? In particular, I guess Mooney, and then I guess Burbank switched positions and Connor Davis. Why you decided this was the right mix and why you felt this was the right group going into the season?
COACH LONDON: Of the five, they're the best that we feel give us the best opportunity. Ross Burbank has played center before in 2013. Connor Davis has been a guard, but he started out playing left tackle for us, and he's a guy that's on the right side, right guard. He's a guy that you look at the position and he's the guy that protects the quarterback's throwing hand on short passes. And Connor at that position is important to us. Probably one of the unsung heroes in camp has been Michael Mooney who has done a really good job of playing left tackle. We've been talking about all these other guys and injuries, and Jay Whitmire, Sadiq Olanrewaju, Jack English of late, Jack McDonald, John Pond. Those are the guys that have issues. Michael Mooney has done a nice job in camp. So, looking at the five that are playing are the healthiest, and we believe give us the best opportunity to play against the UCLA defense.
Q. How much of a challenge was that over the course of camp?
COACH LONDON: Injuries are a part of football. That position happened to be the offensive line position for us. The ones that have taken a lot of reps and snaps are guys that are healthy and are guys we're going to count on to play against a very good defense.
So we feel confident about whom we have and that is the main point right now. They all know what they're doing. They understand the concepts and the plays, and now we have to perform on the field. So we'll see. The guys that are playing, we feel pretty confident about.
Q. What is the status of Demetrius Nicholson?
COACH LONDON: Tra' is practicing individual drills. He's practicing some team drills. His situation is going to be predicated on how he feels. Our doctor is making that determination, but it's kind of a wait and see, week by week. But he's anxious to get out there, but we want to put him out there when he's ready and the doctors feel he's ready, and right now he's not ready.
Q. How about Dom Terrell?
COACH LONDON: Dominique is kind of in the same situation, though he's further along from his groin surgery, and we feel pretty good about the wide receiver position as a whole. So there is no rush to get him back, but at the same time, it's about where he is and where the doctors feel that he is, and we'll see, as I said, as time goes on.
Q. You mentioned UCLA having to come across three time zones. Did TV dictate that game time to you or was that your choice? How did you end up with a 12:00 o'clock start?
COACH LONDON: That was the time that was given by [ESPN}. I'd like to play 6:00 o'clock in the morning our time, if possible. But, again --
Q. I'm curious about the success you've had in recruiting so far? I know you can't talk about individuals, but can you just address the fact that getting all these high-quality, high-caliber guys under the circumstances of a couple losing seasons?
COACH LONDON: It's important that the message that the University has is paramount, and that is the opportunity to get a world-class degree, a great education. It's important that the players that are here in the program have a chance to speak to these recruits and their parents. The things that are important to me are they go to class, they show class and they treat people with dignity and respect. Those are the rules of the program. But I am committed to their academic success here. The best recruiters are the players that are on our team that are saying this is the head coach that believes in that, and it's reflected in the GPAs, the number of guys on the honor roll, the number of guys that are having such success in the classroom. So when players can say to other players and their parents you need to come, when the school itself stands on the merits of what a UVa degree provides, they're interested. The belief that the ones that say we're coming because we can make the difference, that is also significant as well. So there are several elements to that, but the biggest thing is a young man can become an educated man. A young man that can add to the development of a team and help a team win championships in a place where life after football will be something significant to them as well.
Q. When they ask you about the football past, I know that's important to them as well, but what do you tell them in terms of believing and turning it around?
COACH LONDON: Sure. I told them that I believe in this team, this staff this year is an opportunity for us to get better and improve as a team. Them being a part of this process and part of this team is something that can also lead to the success of the team. I believe that 100 percent, and they believe it. The ones that have said yes thus far, as you've alluded to, are high-caliber type young men that have the same type of goals and dreams to do well on the field and in the classroom, and ultimately help us win championships here.
Q. There was a great deal of resolve expressed on media day about players that kind of put last year in the past and kind of turn it around for themselves, for you. Obviously playing such a formidable opponent in the first game could put a damper on that if things don't go great. Is it important for you this week to make them not put too much stock, but plenty of stock, but not all their stock into what happens against UCLA?
COACH LONDON: You know, a season is a long process, and the process that we went through after spring practice into summer workouts and into August camp was, and I know it's cliché, but for us it's very important that we do play one game at a time and one opponent at a time. We recognize the formidable opportunity that we have with UCLA. We also know that there are other games after them. We have the guys that we believe could be the productive guys on the field to help you win games. One way to do that is to play, again, by all accounts a team that could go out and win it all - some say in college football. But there are players that have taken a step-by-step approach to not only how they prepare but also the season and holding each other accountable and responsible for where they are and where they want to go.
It's right in front of us as we stare down these opponents, and UCLA is the biggest opponent right now for us.
Q. In regards to Greyson, is he better set-up for success than maybe some of his predecessors were since you've taken over as coach in terms of personnel having a system for a second year in a row or things like that? Also, I'm curious what you've sort of learned about handling the quarterback position over the years that you plan on applying this year with Greyson now as your new quarterback?
COACH LONDON: Greyson is the best at the present moment of executing the plays, running the offense, and doing the things that are required for a quarterback to run this offense and for us to be successful. We are in a situation where I've said it before, that even with David - he's one of the top returners in terms of passing yardage. With Greyson, his pass attempts have been more than nine of the likely starters to be named starters [in the ACC]. So there is an experience that this year this team that the quarterbacks do have, and in other years it hasn't been that way. This is a year for us position-wise there have been two guys that played in college football games and we're relying on the fact that being an experienced player, having the same coordinator with the same terminology, having we believe really good wide receivers surrounded by good running backs, those type of things can help Greyson, David, Matt Johns be successful. Greyson has taken this challenge, and he's one of our captains, as you all know. I believe he's done a really good job this camp and the attitude of you can count on me. And we are going to count on him to do well and play well.
Q. If you needed another tight end, would you move one of the fullbacks there temporarily to try to save Evan Butts redshirt or is he an option to play this year?
COACH LONDON: No, we'll play the freshman that will help us win games this year. One of the options, Evan has done a really nice job of performing. He's also a long snapper. So there are decisions when it comes to where does he fit as far as the tight end and the long snapper? Vince Croce can play tight end and the H position, and right now our tight ends have done a nice job so there is no need for Evan Butts again. But again, there are a few on the outline that will travel with us, but they may not play.
Q. I know we shouldn't read much into some of these depth chart listings. Gooch is listed in front Keeon Johnson at wide receiver, I'm sure you'll be playing three wideouts a lot of times. Is that a reflection of Gooch? Is that a reflection on his camp?
COACH LONDON: No, it's a reflection that if you look at the receiving corps I believe is one of the stronger suits of this team. Miles has done an excellent job of preparing himself as a fifth-year guy to be a guy that you can count on. Not to take anything away from Keeon, but there is Andre Levrone. Again, you look at the receivers. I believe this group is a group that is a talented group. They'll all have an opportunity to play. Different personnel groupings, you know, the things that we do, that we're asking to do formations, so many things that we try to get them in and utilize them as weapons and we'll continue to keep trying to do that. But Miles has definitely been a guy that's really stood out in camp.
Q. Talk about Kevin Parks' year last year. Obviously over 1,000 yards - But a lot of it was on his own. He would kind of drag defenders and push through power yards. How can he somewhat help that offensive lineup? Because of the way his style, his running style and things like that, and realistic of him to repeat that 1000 yard goal again?
COACH LONDON: Well, first of all, Kevin is a phenomenal young man. Most schemes, most offenses if you allow the offensive linemen to get on the defender, he's got a strong lower body. You look at some of those plays and he is dragging defenders with him. One of the reasons we switched with the bigger wide receiver group is so they could block on the perimeter and do some of the other things that will allow KP to get the second level opportunities. He's had a very, very good summer, good August camp, and we expect production from him as well. The kind of runner that you need to move the chains and KP has done an excellent job this far. Again, he's one of our captains as well.
Q. One of the OR's on the depth chart is D.J. Hill. What's his camp been like and what can he contribute?
COACH LONDON: D.J.'s another guy that is a three-four phase special teams guy that's been around for a while, and his football IQ has improved. He dabbled with baseball a little bit, but he's proven to be a guy that's reliable in the special teams standpoint, and there are some packages, again, that suit his talents and his skill sets. So, again, when I talk about this team, I talk about some of these guys that might not have been every-down starters, but they've been in the program for a while. They're the guys that have emerged with roles that have really made us a better football team, and then you speak to we're not playing a whole bunch of freshmen. And this guy's like D.J. Hill, Darius Lee, Vince Croce, guys David Marrs, guys that have been on the team but have stepped up their opportunity. Micah Kaiser, I could go through a list of guys that have really improved their play and it's going to help us in a lot of areas. D.J. is a guy that fits in that category.
Q. Is it like the fifth captain? Did you see somebody tweeted that last night?
COACH LONDON: If you guys remember, I said he was a special team captain, I didn't tell the team. But Alec is a guy that was one of the main cogs in our leadership council that we had, and I felt it was important, again, to bring that up, the awareness that he has for this team. He's a former walk-on, and he has earned a scholarship like so many other walk-ons. In fact, just yesterday in front of the team I put Daniel Hamm on scholarship, and he's another young man that I believe deserves the opportunity because of what he's done for this team. I take great pride and joy in taking and awarding guys scholarships that have demonstrated they can do it for us on the field. They do it in the classroom, and again, they do it in the community. But Alec, yes, is our special teams captain. Again, the opportunity to award scholarships for walk-ons is something that's important to me.
Q. What is UCLA's pass-rush like? Are they conservative? Are they heavy blitzers? I know you like to exude confidence in your players, but does it cause you any anxiety that you have a new guy out there protecting the quarterback's back? Does that make you be more conservative in your pass protection?
COACH LONDON: You know, they're very fast, fast defense. They're an athletic defense. They don't pressure much on first and second down, but their MO, if they get you in third and long situations, they're a multiple front defense that will just get after it, and they have the different pass rushers. There was one defensive lineman that didn't play last year but played in their spring game that he's really formidable. One of their defenders who is interestingly enough, Myles Jack who was a linebacker, an inside linebacker last year and now he's an outside linebacker, he's also the third leading returning rusher on their team. So he played both ways. He talked about positions to come off the edge. So that pass rush they have is very athletic. It will be important for us to give Greyson the amount of time necessary to get rid of the ball to get it into the playmakers hands. But their pass rush is a very good pass rush or secondary, and the guys that can cover. They're not overly tall, but they're very athletic. We'll just have to take advantage of some of the mismatches that we perceive to be at an advantage for us - but very good defensively.
Q. Is Sadiq kind of a week-to-week thing too or is that something that could last a while?
COACH LONDON: Sadiq has a lower leg injury. It's going to be maybe a few weeks. We expect him back, but, again, I'm not a doctor. With the way his body heals and in consultation with our doctors they'll determine when he's ready to come back. His rehab is going nicely right now, and we'll definitely need him when he gets back, but right now we'll go with the guys that are here.
Q. And Jay?
COACH LONDON: Same thing with Jay Whitmire. His situation may be a little longer because of his issues. But, again, with the medical staff and with Jay we'll see. Like I can address that further when we feel there is a time that's close to him being close to playing, and he's not at that point yet.
Q. Smoke was talking about the first week of camp how healthy he was and everybody was excited about his return. Has he had as good a camp as you anticipated, and what kind of impact do you see him making?
COACH LONDON: Smoke has done a great job in the learning curve part. The biggest thing about a game sometimes, obviously, one was the injury, but the other is learning the whole package, pass protections and things like that. He's done a great job of becoming a complete player. Whether you dot the I with him, put him in the back field, you put him in a slot, you use him as a go in motion, hand the ball guy, he's got all those things.
He's going to return kickoffs for us. He's back there. He'll return punts as well. So it's important to give dynamic players opportunities to make dynamic plays, and he is definitely one of those guys for this team.
O'Leary Takes Unusual Path to OlympicsWomen's Rowing6/27/16Meghan O'Leary, who played softball and volleyball at UVA, will represent the United States in rowing at the Olympics this summer.Tiffany Plans to Push Pace at UVAMen's Lacrosse6/21/16New men's lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany comes to Virginia from Brown, which went 16-3 and led the nation in scoring this season.'Hoos Focused on Getting Up to SpeedFootball6/17/16Speed training is a major component of the Virginia football team's offseason strength and conditioning program.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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