Richmond football is approaching this season with more leadership, confidence and experience than the team has had in years.
The Spiders have 22 seniors, providing a rare abundance of maturity for head coach Danny Rocco to work with. Rocco said over his thirty years of coaching, this group stood out. “I’ve been a lot of places,” Rocco said, “and something about this group’s really special to me. I don’t really know exactly what it is, but it’s real.”
The large senior group has affected Rocco’s coaching methods. He is giving this team more ownership of its own successes and failures than he has in the past, he said, because it has the resilience to respond to adversity and lapses in focus.
Senior quarterback Michael Strauss has a similar outlook for the potential of the squad.
“At every position, you’ve got somebody who knows how to lead, and that definitely helps,” he said. Strauss also praised the maturity of the team.
The qualities Rocco and Strauss mentioned were evident in Saturday’s 55-10 win over Morehead State. The Spiders’ resiliency showed, as the team brought new energy and focus following each mistake.
Talent and depth are two other unique characteristics of this year’s group. The team has young standouts at multiple positions, including Brian Brown, sophomore receiver, and Porter Abell, redshirt-freshman receiver.
The Spiders have no choice but to approach every season with confidence and the goal of a conference championship, Abell said, because “the conference is full of nationally ranked teams” expecting to win a championship.
Despite the confidence and leadership of this squad, some issues stand out that the team hopes will not linger throughout the year.
Strauss and Michael Rocco split playing time, although not evenly, during the season opener. This raised some eyebrows, as many believed Strauss was the only guy for the job coming off last year’s performance and being nationally recognized this preseason as a Walter Peyton Award contender.
Brown, one of Strauss and Rocco’s go-to receivers, feels the competitive dynamic between the two quarterbacks has helped the team rather than hurt it. “They essentially have to always try to out-do one another, and in the meantime it’s just getting both of them better,” Brown said.
In spite of the large number of seniors, the Spiders also have a number of first and second-year players in the lineup. Growing pains were evident at times in the opener among the young guys, including a fumble and a few mistakes on defense. Rocco’s use, or lack thereof, of these players going into a tough UVA game will be interesting to watch.
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The running game is still a lingering issue for the Spiders. The team did not run the ball convincingly in the first half against Morehead State, but picked it up when the starters exited the game later. Rocco emphasized improvement to the running game during spring practice and the offseason, but he may have to rely more heavily on Strauss and his receivers than he would like.
Questions remain as the Spiders head West this weekend to take on the Virginia Cavaliers. Will the quarterback rotation remain the same? Can the running game have any success? Will Rocco rely less on young players if mistakes continue, or will he allow them to learn through experience?
Many of these questions will be answered in Charlottesville this week, while some answers will take a few more games to discern. The Spiders’ game against a tough UVA team could set the tone for the rest of this season, much like the narrow loss to North Carolina State did last year.
Contact reporter Charlie Broaddus at firstname.lastname@example.org
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