Virginia Football: Phillip Sims and the Top Newcomers for 2012
Virginia football not only turned heads for its stellar play in 2011, but also for the number of redshirt and true freshman that took to the gridiron.
The Cavaliers are one of the youngest teams in the ACC, building a program that can sustain success in both the short- and long-term.
However, with so much young talent beginning to fill in particular roles, how many new faces are we really going to see next season?
Without a doubt, the class of 2011 may turn out to be one of the better recruiting classes in modern school history. However, the class of 2012 will also have their say in the state of Virginia football this fall.
So, without further ado, let us take a look at the best new faces entering Charlottesville this upcoming season and the likely impact they will have.
When you are the son of Cavalier legend and current wide receivers coach Shawn Moore, you are already going to be liked by Virginia fans.
When you pick the Cavaliers over 20 other programs, including the Florida Gators, you are a hero.
Oh yeah, it does not hurt to have 21 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles in your senior year to boot.
Moore was the sixth-ranked player in the state of Maryland, according to Rivals, and one of the stronger players in the recruiting class.
At 6'4'', 255 lbs, Moore has the frame of a collegiate player and the passion of a program in his veins.
With a strong physical presence, Moore can beef up a defensive line that allowed to many big plays at the end of the season. Stopping the bottom of the ACC is one thing, but Virginia cannot move forward without physical players to compete with the big programs.
With teams like Penn State, TCU, Miami and Virginia Tech on the schedule for next season, Moore is going to be tested early on.
Moore has all the tools to make him an immediate impact player on defense.
The inside linebacker has shown not only athletic skills but mental ones. ESPN scouts were impressed by his ability to read runs and cover not just inside power runs but outside ones.
When players tried to take it to the outside, Moore was there to shut them down.
He led his team in tackling all four years, including 109 in his senior campaign.
Virginia has been burned on lateral runs for years now, lacking the overall speed to compete with upper echelon teams of the ACC. Moore should help narrow that gap and his tackling is sound enough to finish the play.
Moore may not have experience at the collegiate level, but he has played in several invitation-only high school exhibitions with some of the top talent in the country. The SuperPrep All-American has been making the rounds and increasing Virginia's profile in the process.
Moore is used to a big stage and should be able to handle the pressure of moving to the next level. He also has a strong leader in LaRoy Reynolds to help mentor and push the young man towards greatness.
Virginia fans have to be excited, as Moore will be a vital part of the linebacker rotation in 2012.
Everyone tells you that you cannot coach speed.
Fortunately for everyone, Eli Harold has the God-given gift to explode into the opponent's backfield.
Harold, a 6'4", 220-lb phenom, is one of the more versatile players in Virginia's recruiting class. In fact, this spring he helped Ocean Lakes High as a starter on the track and field team.
Big men like that rarely run the 400-meter relay, and yet he seems to be penciled as a starter at defensive end before he has ever set foot on the practice field in Charlottesville.
Many high school players have to get into collegiate shape, but his frame and athleticism make him a player that can step in and become an instant factor. Ranked as the best player in the state according to Rivals and a top 150 prospect according to ESPN, Harold has high expectations.
Fortunately for him, the high school All-American is not alone. With LaRoy Reynolds at linebacker and Jake Snyder at the other position, Virginia should improve at being able to get to the quarterback in 2012.
With more blocking concerns on that opponent's offensive line, Harold might be making the highlight reels earlier than some would have thought.
As many times as I write articles, I know when you defer to higher authorities.
I spoke to a Northern Virginia high school coach who was at the Virginia spring game and he could not stop raving about backup quarterback Greyson Lambert.
The Georgia native turned heads this past fall when he chose Virginia over other big-name suitors, including the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Lambert probably has the best arm of any quarterback that played this spring for Virginia. His velocity and strength are really unparalleled and may rival that of Shawn Moore's in the early 1990s.
However, what makes him more than just an athletic prospect is his innate leadership. In the spring game, this greyshirt was yelling at receivers and instructing them on where to be.
Lambert clearly possesses that leadership in the pocket that a quarterback must possess to be successful. While he will most likely be redshirted in 2012, fans cannot help but feel giddy about the nearly limitless potential of this budding star.
That coach joked that Lambert could be a Heisman contender down the road, and while that idea may seem far-fetched, it goes to show the changing of the football culture with the Cavaliers.
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Sims may not be a freshman, but he is the most anticipated newcomer to Virginia this summer.
After biding his time to become starting quarterback with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Sims left for personal reasons to be closer to home and now has an opportunity to wrestle the starting spot away from Michael Rocco this fall.
Rocco and his progression was one of the best storylines in 2011 for the Cavaliers. Quarterback was already a position of strength for Virginia, but when you have 2010's second-best quarterback prospect in the country fall into your lap, what can you do?
It made sense for coach Nick Saban and Sims to go their separate ways. Sims is full of talent, and his athleticism and mobility combined with a cannon for an arm would make any collegiate coach drool.
However, his talent clearly makes Sims a bit of a risk-taker, and his decision-making sometimes resulted in turnovers or dangerous throws.
Saban has clearly built his winning programs around consistent quarterbacks that manage the game and let highly efficient offenses and punishing defenses win championships.
Virginia, though, needs a shot of adrenaline, and that is exactly what Sims can provide. While most transfers would have to sit out a year, Sims is appealing for a hardship waiver and may get to quickly show his attributes for the orange and blue faithful.
His speed and 6'1'' size make him an ideal playmaker and someone that has ties to several players on the roster having gone to the same high school in Virginia Beach.
While Sims may have a fierce battle with Rocco this summer and may not win the starting spot outright, he will be a factor in the offense and perhaps the biggest transfer in school history.