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A crowd is forming atop Virginia's depth chart at tailback

Coming out of spring practice, sophomore Perry Jones – who Coach Mike London said is “pound-for-pound, probably our strongest player on the team” – was listed atop the Virginia depth chart at tailback. But heading into the team’s training camp – which begins Friday – at least five running backs appear in decent position to claim the starting spot.

Joining Jones in the battle to become Virginia’s top tailback are redshirt freshman Dominique Wallace, who is returning from foot surgery that cut short his 2009 campaign, sophomore Torrey Mack and seniors Keith Payne and Raynard Horne. True freshman Kevin Parks also could enter the mix, depending on how quickly he adjusts to the college game.

Payne and Horne currently are finishing out summer school, and their eligibility for the upcoming season will depend on their performance Friday on final exams. London said he expects to find out “in the next couple of days once the grades come in” whether Payne and/or Horne will be able to play for the Cavaliers this season.

“And then based on that, we’ll get going full-steam ahead,” London said. “But whoever it is, the ones who are remaining and left are pretty good backs. So it will be exciting to see, you know, what version. Will we be short and compact, because we’ve got Perry Jones and incoming freshman Kevin Parks? Are we going to be big backs, a la Chuck Muncie types, you know, and that’s Keith Payne? Or the traditional back, like Dom Wallace or Torrey Mack or Raynard Horne? So we’ll see what type of back we’ll have. But what’s going to be consistent is the type of running plays and the thought process that we want to use.”

Mack rushed 23 times in nine games for 73 yards in 2009. The 6-foot, 195-pound tailback also caught 11 passes for 70 yards.

Jones – listed at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds – appeared in 11 games last season and rushed for nine yards on nine carries.

“Despite that he’s height-challenged or whatever, he’s got the heart of a giant, and he does everything the way you want him to do it,” London said. “And so I’m excited for him to have an opportunity to get on the field and show what he can do. He’s shown the ability that he has a grasp of the offense and he can find the cuts and make those cuts. And he’s such a compact player that he bounced off hits.”

Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor said that, similar to the situation he faces with the team’s six quarterbacks, finding enough reps to go around for each of Virginia’s tailbacks during training camp will be difficult.

“One of the greatest challenges I’ve learned as a coach is to evaluate your people constantly and put them in the right position,” Lazor said. “If we have a big group there, it’s our job to make sure they’re all being used.”

By Steve Yanda  |  August 5, 2010; 9:29 AM ET
 
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