Can 'eternal optimist' London pull off another reversal?

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Mike London has been a part of several football revivals, as a player at Richmond, as an assistant coach at William and Mary, Boston College and Virginia.

In each case, London's team won at least four more games than the previous season, confounding forecasters and thrilling fans.

Question is, can London author a similar reversal as Virginia's head coach? If so, when?

"I am an eternal optimist," London said Wednesday during a media call to wrap the Cavaliers' spring practices.

One need not be perpetually hopeful to share London's sunny side.

Virginia finished 4-8 in 2010, his debut season, leaving considerable room for upgrade. Moreover, three of the eight defeats — Southern California, Duke and Boston College — were by a touchdown or less.

Most important, the Cavaliers expect to return 18 starters, kicker and punter included, matching Florida State for an ACC high.

I asked London if there were a common thread among past recoveries and whether he observed similar traits in Virginia this spring. As he often does, he spoke more about culture than personnel.

"I've talked about the rules of the program ad nauseam," London said. "Go to class, show class, treat people with dignity and respect. … Those are important to turn a season around, to turn a program around, to turn a mindset around. …

"The culture, I think, is changing, to one of guys being responsible and accountable."

And when that happens, London added, "you can count on them on the football field."

Case in point rising junior Ausar Walcott, who started 11 games last season at outside linebacker and was the team's No. 3 tackler.

London suspended Walcott, starting cornerback Devin Wallace and backup center Mike Price in February after they were arrested in Harrisonburg for their role in a fight near James Madison University. Wednesday London announced that he's reinstated Walcott and moved him to defensive end.

Each of the four charges against Walcott was dismissed or dropped last week.

"Ausar's not out of the woods," London said, "but he's back to being involved in football activities again. ... Maybe it's a new lease on life for him."

Walcott weighed 220 pounds last season, but inactivity has added about 20 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame.

"The way that we're emphasizing speed and strength and size" dictated the move to end, London said. Walcott will start "at the bottom of the depth chart and he'll have to work his way back up."

In Walcott's absence, rising senior Aaron Taliaferro from Gloucester High emerged during spring practices as a probable starter at outside linebacker. Taliaferro started six games last season, and Walcott's position switch further entrenches him atop the depth chart.

London said Walcott's reinstatement hinged on three factors: court resolution, no student judicial charges and a previous clean slate.

Conversely, Price and Wallace pleaded guilty to one count each of misdemeanor assault and received one year's probation. It was Wallace's second arrest in Harrisonburg — he was pinched last September for under-aged possession of alcohol.

Don't expect Price or Wallace back soon, if at all.

"I'd like to win with them," London said of those unable or unwilling to meet his standards, "but we'll definitely win without them."

No team can win without competent quarterback play, the root issue of Virginia's four losing seasons in the last five years. Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny are co-No. 1s on London's depth chart, Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford of Hampton High co-No. 2s, with none eliminated from contention.

Virginia loses quarterback Marc Verica, receiver Dontrelle Inman and guard B.J. Cabbell from an offense that ranked 37th nationally in yards per game, 75th in scoring, marked progress from 2009's rankings of 118th and 105th.

The challenge is to sustain those levels while advancing a defense that struggled last season during the transition from Al Groh's 3-4 alignment to London's 4-3.

"I think defensively we did a much better job," London said of the spring, "because guys understand how to play the defense. The improvement the offense made dramatically, I'm hopeful the defense can make the same type of improvement. …

"I think that's the way I have to look at it, that's the way I choose to look at it."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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