Normally we reserve this feature – an interview with another media member – for games. But we also bring it out for special occasions, and the addition of a quarterback who’s eligible immediately certainly qualifies.
Jerry Ratcliffe has been covering Virginia athletics for a mere 33 years. That includes the three seasons that Greyson Lambert was with the Cavaliers, including his nine games as the starting quarterback in 2014.
Now Lambert is headed to Georgia, where he remains a relative mystery to most Bulldog fans, despite having grown up in the state and playing at Wayne County High School. So we turn to Ratcliffe, the Virginia beat writer for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, to answer some questions about Georgia’s newest quarterback:
Let’s first talk about Lambert’s skill set: He’s 6-foot-5, obviously. How strong is his arm? What are his strengths and weaknesses as a passer? And how much mobility does he have?
Ratcliffe: Greyson has a strong arm and when he’s “on,” he’s very dangerous. He can make most throws and has been accurate with the deep ball when he finds an open receiver, which hasn’t always been easy. Virginia hasn’t had many legit deep threats. UVa has gone with mostly short passes and Greyson has struggled with that at times. His decision-making has been the thing that has held him back and UVa’s offense back as well, granted it has been an offensive largely without explosive playmakers that he will likely be surrounded with at Georgia. Virginia should have upset then-Top 10 UCLA in the season opener last year but Lambert’s interceptions killed the Cavaliers and essentially handed the win to the Bruins.
When you look at the stats from last year, the 11 interceptions in nine games stands out. Does that tell the whole story as to Lambert’s accuracy and decision-making?
Ratcliffe: Yes. The majority of his interceptions were killers that cost a team wins that it couldn’t afford to lose. From what he told me he struggled when he first arrived with coverages because his high school team had a very simple passing offense. While that improved over the years, I think he still has issues with decision-making and his accuracy has been very inconsistent.
Where did Lambert stand in the pecking order after spring practice, and what chances did he have to re-claim the starting position?
Ratcliffe: He finished the spring No. 2 on the depth chart, but was told that he would have ample opportunities to win his job back. The OC said that if Virginia played the next day (after the depth chart was released), Lambert would be No. 2 to Matt Johns, who was Lambert’s backup last season. Obviously, UVa wouldn’t be playing the next day and that while head coach Mike London said the decision wasn’t that difficult because Johns clearly had higher completion percentages during the entire spring, that when he informed Lambert that he was No. 2, that Lambert responded that he was determined to win the job back. The two would have gotten equal snaps in training camp, but Lambert announced the following week that he was transferring.
Something you hear from Lambert proponents is that Virginia’s offense wasn’t conducive to his success, and that he would thrive in a better one, particularly one with Georgia’s talent (a Heisman trophy candidate at tailback, and four returning offensive starters). How much validity do you think there is to that?
Ratcliffe: There is some validity to that. Lambert didn’t have a pass-catching tight end and was surrounded by a suspect offensive line, which actually protected him better than expected until the last one-third of the season when UVa faced teams like FSU and Virginia Tech. The running game, which the entire offense is built around, never really got off the ground because the O-line couldn’t open holes. The team lacked a consistently true deep threat, which it should have this season. So, while Lambert was not surrounded by the kind of talent that he will likely have at Georgia, he still underachieved at times in the grand scheme of things.
Finally, Lambert is walking into a situation where he’s by no means guaranteed the starting job. What do you think his chances are to end up a starting quarterback in the SEC?
Ratcliffe: Tough question because while I try to follow SEC football fairly closely, I’m not that familiar with what kind of talent Georgia has at quarterback. If Georgia has solid talent there, I would think it would be a challenge for Lambert, who is a great kid, to leapfrog those guys. However, if the door is open, I believe Lambert’s best two years of football are ahead of him.