At UVA, it's Rocco over Sims, for now
AUG 01, 2012 8:38p ET
Shawn Moore may be the best and most gifted signal caller in Wahoo history. He is the only one to lead UVa to a No. 1 national ranking (1990). Aaron Brooks was close and actually had a better NFL career. Matt Blundin, who also played basketball at UVa, earned an NFL paycheck as did Don Majkowski. And of course, Matt Schaub is still lighting it up with the Houston Texans.
This little history lesson is necessary when considering Sims' potential and where he now plays. He was the top-rated high school quarterback in the nation as a senior, according to SuperPrep magazine, and went to Alabama expecting to one day become imbedded in that program's vast lore. It didn't happen.
Sims' path back home to Virginia isn't littered with ugliness in his rear view mirror. It's more of a personal issue regarding his father's health that is severe enough he's under regular care at UVa hospital. That's why Sims, who is from Chesapeake, VA, came home. He wants to be near his father.
But he also wants to play football, and because of his situation, the NCAA granted Sims a waiver and is allowing him to play immediately instead of sitting out the year like most transfers. With the NCAA's decision comes a fascinating battle at the quarterback position between Sims and incumbent starter Michael Rocco. And right now, it's Rocco's job.
"Mike is the starting quarterback going into camp," said UVa coach Mike London, who won't disclose what exactly is ailing Sims' father. "He is our number one quarterback and everyone else is behind him."
Virginia runs an offensive system that appears more complicated than what Alabama employs. It requires the quarterback to cipher through a variety of signals coming from the sideline and quickly call the play. London doesn't doubt Sims will eventually be fully connected with the offense, but it will take time.
"The first part of camp is to find out how much Phillip knows, how much he can recall, what he can do in our system and our scheme," London said, adding that Rocco's experience gives him a major edge.
So does Rocco's toughness.
He completed 60.7 percent of his passes a year ago for 2,671 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But his play improved once October hit and he developed leadership skills that London demands from his signal callers. He's also an intense competitor, the son of a coach, and determined to keep his job.
A rising junior fro, Lynchburg, VA, Rocco doesn't possess the natural gifts that Sims has been bestowed. Rocco is an inch taller (6-foot-3) and weights more (225 pounds to 211), but he's nowhere near as quick, fast, elusive, doesn't have the same arm, and while playing in the same state didn't come close to posting the production that made Sims a household name in Alabama six months before he even arrived in Tuscaloosa two summers ago.
Sims led Oscar Smith High School to multiple state championships, including as a senior in 2009. And overall as a starting quarterback, Sims was 48-4 and set state career records with 10,725 passing yards, 119 touchdown passes and 636 completions. And given that current ACC stars Mike Glennon (N.C. State), Bryn Renner ( North Carolina), Tajh Boyd ( Clemson), Logan Thomas ( Virginia Tech) and E. J. Manuel ( Florida State) hail from Virginia that's saying something.
Toss in Commonwealth legends Allen Iverson, an All-American high school football player, Ronald Curry, whom Bobby Bowden still says is the greatest high school football player he's ever seen, and Michael Vick, and Sims' accomplishments are even more impressive.
That's why so many fans and even many in the media expect Sims to eventually win the job with the Cavaliers. But how soon? Perhaps before the season opener versus Richmond on Sept. 1?
London can't recall an incumbent starting quarterback losing his job in fall camp outside of experiencing an injury. But if there's a scenario where it can happen, this might be it.
Few coaches have more credibility than Alabama's Nick Saban. He certainly thinks highly of Sims.
"Phillip Sims was an outstanding player for us and is a fine young man…," Saban recently said at SEC media days. "We certainly wish him well, but it does hurt our depth because in my mind he was a starting player as a backup quarterback."
London has praised Rocco's handling of Sims' arrival, going so far as to suggest if a change happens Rocco will understand and accept it.
"Michael has been very mature about it, you would think after being here for three years," said London, who led Richmond to the FCS national championship in 2009. "He recognizes the skills and talent level of a lot of players coming into our program, and if they make us better they make us better, if they help us win they help us win."
London isn't saying how he will handle Sims, other than wanting to sit back and observe the young man. He won't even commit to giving him a series or two like he did with David Watford a year ago before handing over the full set of keys to Rocco.
But even with Sims' so-so numbers a year ago of 18-for-28 passing for 163 yards, two interceptions and four sacks, it's difficult to imagine him sitting well into the season.
Rocco is the quarterback for now, but the Sims era may be just around the bend.
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