Apr 23, 2013, 10:30 AM EDT
Editor’s Note: Over the course of April and early May, CAA Football will check in with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on their respective teams’ spring practices and spring games. Today we hear from John O’Connor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. For more on the Spiders’ spring, including recaps, video and photos, visit our CAA Football Spring Ball Central page.
CAAFB: You’ve been following the Spiders all spring. What were some of your observations and questions heading into Saturday’s spring game?
JO: This is the second spring head coach Danny Rocco and his staff have been with, essentially, the same group of players. There was clearly more cohesion, particularly on offense. My primary question is who will be the Spiders’ lead back? UR lost its top three rushers from last season and one of the players competing for the top spot, redshirt freshman T.J. Moon, suffered a leg injury late in the spring game. Another question: Who will do the placekicking?
CAAFB: What was the environment like at Robins Stadium on Saturday?
JO: Maybe 1,000 fans on a perfect weather afternoon.
CAAFB: What were your general impressions of Saturday’s game?
JO: Heavy on defense. Light on offense. Danny Rocco liked the pass-and-catch rhythm the Spiders had in 14 practices, but it wasn’t apparent in spring game. The defensive line was strong and made things difficult for a veteran offensive line.
CAAFB: Unlike many other teams around the league, Richmond hasn’t made any changes to its coaching staff this offseason. What kinds of benefits do you think retaining an entire coaching staff offers the team?
JO: Offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter now installs more in his second season. The Spiders won’t have a tough, running quarterback like they did last season with John Laub, so I think there’s more spread action to take advantage of the open-field capabilities of WR Ben Edwards, who made 9 catches for 130 yards in the spring game. Most of that yardage came after catching short passes.
CAAFB: It appears the Spiders will have to go without the services of Virginia transfer QB Michael Rocco this fall after the NCAA denied UR’s recent appeal on his behalf. Junior QB Michael Strauss should be a viable option, but would you comment on who we might expect to step in as quarterback and touch on some of the other position battles as well?
JO: UR has 17 starters back, so there aren’t many position competitions. Michael Strauss will start at QB and Montel White will be his back-up. Redshirt freshman Omar Howard had a nice spring game at linebacker, where UR needs some fresh faces to step in and help. Safety David Jones, a 6-3 redshirt freshman, may get time after a very impactful spring. Running back is the biggest competition, with sophomore Jacobi Green leading the way. If UR gets an FBS transfer over the summer, bet on him being a running back.
CAAFB: Looking across the positions, then, what do you anticipate as some of the Spiders’ strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring?
JO: UR has quality and quantity in defensive line. Those guys will be difficult to penetrate. The offensive line gave up only five sacks last season, and all starters are back. Experience is missing at linebacker and running back though.
CAAFB: You spoke to this back in February, but what role do you now see the incoming class having on the team?
JO: Jeremiah Hamlin is a running back who could play immediately.
CAAFB: As another follow-up to our conversation in February, have there been any changes in the expectations for the team with its spring schedule now behind us?
JO: I believe the Spiders should be viewed as a CAA Football Championship contender with Towson, Villanova and Stony Brook. The fact that UR went 8-3 last season and didn’t get into the FCS playoffs is a great motivator.
CAAFB: Can you give us some insight into Coach Rocco’s take on Saturday, and his team’s spring in general?
JO: Coach Rocco was disappointed in his offense, but as he noted, he saw the offense move the ball throughout the spring, so four quarters doesn’t significantly change his opinion. Progressing in the second year of the Rocco Regime is the theme. It’s an experienced team with an experienced staff.
CAAFB: What questions still remain in your mind moving forward?
JO: Running back. Placekicker.
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