By HANK KURZ Jr.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. —
Steve Fairchild didn’t watch much film of last season when he was hired by Virginia, saying he didn’t want to develop preconceived notions about any of his players before seeing them on the field.
When the Cavaliers offensive coordinator repeatedly uses words like “toughness” and “attitude” in describing the essentials of an effective running game, however, he might as well have been reviewing where they failed in 2012.
“It’s hard to develop a running game when you’re not performing,” guard Luke Bowanko, the team’s center last season, said. “You’ve got to give the guy a reason to call the run and I think at times last year we didn’t give him enough reason.”
Bowanko was referring to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who left after the season to become the quarterbacks coach for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, but he expects Fairchild to be no different.
“When it’s second-and-7, and you’re only getting two yards, three yards, how can you tell him that the run’s going to work? The onus is on us. It’s always been on us to show that it’s going to work,” he said.
Kevin Parks led Virginia in rushing and in rushing average last season, getting 4.6 yards per carry, but the Cavaliers finished 98th in the nation with an average of 128.5 rushing yards per game. They averaged just 3.7 yards per carry overall and converted just 36.5 percent of the time on third down.
Those figures won’t cut it under Fairchild, once the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills.
“Running the football, it’s a physical attitude as much as anything, and it’s not just up front,” he said, and a demonstration of toughness. “It’s with backs finishing, the way they go in, accelerating into contact, and receivers blocking and so forth. Eleven guys contribute to the running game.”
The attitude required proves vital when it matters most.
“It rears its head in every game. There’s some point in time where you have to make a yard or you’ve got to bang out a first down and there’s just more of an attitude about it than anything else,” he said. “We’ve got to get that attitude.”
Parks shared the job with senior Perry Jones last season, and expects to lead the way this year. The 5-foot-8, 205-pounder added about 5 pounds of muscle anticipating a heavier workload, and loves the coaching staff’s message.
“They’re on us. They’re on us always,” he said. “It’s little things they’re on us about. It’s changed a whole lot. It’s like everything is tougher around here, and that’s how it needs to be for us to be a good football team and you’ve got to like that and you’ve got to want that out of the coaches as well.”
Parks ran for five touchdowns last year and has 14 in two seasons. He’d be more than happy with a role that gets him 25-30 carries a game, but said he’s only one option in a talented backfield.
Among the others is Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell, a five-star freshman from Virginia Beach.
“I believe Smoke’s going to bring a great asset,” Parks said. “He’s going to be great. Everybody watch out for him. He reminds me of Perry Jones. ... He listens and he wants to learn. That’s big for a kid like that, you know, five-star coming out of high school, wanting to learn, wanting to do more. That’s really big.”
Mizzell also figures to also have a role in the kickoff and punt return game.