Cavs' DBs up to challenge
By Kris Wright / Daily Progress staff writer
August 15, 2004
Entering this season, the Virginia football team has been tabbed as one of the top team’s in the powerful new ACC. The Cavaliers were predicted to finish third in the league by the media in the preseason and they grabbed the No. 16 slot in the Associated Press’ preseason poll Saturday.
But with the 2004 season set to start in less than three weeks for UVa, there is still uncertainty about some parts of the team, including the quarterback depth chart, the receiving corps and the open punting job.
The secondary is also a primary concern.
Virginia does not have a wealth of experience in the defensive backfield. Of the projected starters, only senior Jermaine Hardy has logged significant time. Fellow safety Marquis Weeks shifts from running back to defense for the first time in his career, doing so as a fifth-year senior.
The corners also have limited experience as Tony Franklin did not start until midway through last season and Marcus Hamilton played in a reserve role.
Still with a great deal of athleticism and speed in the secondary, Weeks believes that this unit has as much potential as any recent group for Virginia.
“This might be the fastest group we’ve had here in a while. We’re all fast,” Weeks said. “We might be the strongest group here in a while too - weightlifting and physically strong. I’m around 215 or 218 [pounds]. … I think we can be a very good unit.”
Each of the four individuals currently wearing the starter’s orange jerseys has shown impressive potential.
Hardy racked up 97 tackles last year, which ranks fourth in school history by a defensive back. He became the first safety to start 13 games in a single season since 1995. Hardy’s five interceptions lead active Cavaliers.
Franklin, meanwhile, became the first freshman to start at corner for UVa since Ronde Barber and Joe Williams did it in 1994. He took part in 38 tackles and averaged 5.7 tackles per game in those games that he started.
Hamilton received playing time in every game last season as a reserve corner that played in mostly nickel and dime packages. He did make 29 tackles and made strong contributions on the kickoff coverage unit with 10 tackles there as well.
Weeks is the least experienced of the group, moving over from running back in his final year at Virginia. Still, his speed - which he asserts is tops among the quartet - make him an enticing prospect in the secondary.
“Marquis Weeks is way ahead of where he was on the last day of spring practice,” UVa coach Al Groh said during a teleconference Sunday. “Jermaine Hardy is back in action and he’s showing no residual effects of his surgery. Certainly [the safety] position is looking a lot better than it did in April.”
Depth in the secondary may be as much of a concern as experience. Sophomore Robbie Catterton, freshman Nate Lyles, sophomore Lance Evans and freshman Jamaal Jackson appear to be the backup options at safety. At corner, freshman corner Philip Brown is the marquee name that jumps out, while sophomore Brandon Lee, junior David Hale, redshirt freshman Bayo Ogunniyi and redshirt freshman Mario Moore may all see some limited time as well.
Weeks said that the concerns about the secondary are well known by the players, but that the pressure is not something they are too concerned with. They just don’t want to let down their teammates.
“There is a little bit of pressure because we’re young. The most experienced one of us is Jermaine,” said Weeks, who will continue to play on kickoff returns this year. “Any other pressure is outside pressure and that doesn’t really matter. … We just don’t want to let the rest of the defense down. But we’re confident and believe that we can do a good job.”
Back and forth. During a full-squad scrimmage at the end of Sunday’s practice session, some of the reserve players got a chance to get repetitions with the plays and a pair of plays stood out because the same players were involved.
On an outside running play to the right sidelines, freshman running back Cedric Peerman turned up field and received quite the hello hit from Nate Lyles, who made the pads pop on contact. Some of Lyles’ defensive teammates hooted and hollered at the hit.
Moments later on a play to the left sideline, Peerman got even. On a sweep-type play, Peerman slipped through traffic and a tackle and burst down the sidelines for what would have been a 65-yard plus touchdown. The final line of defense in pursuit on the play was Lyles, who could not run down the speedy Peerman.
More ooohs and aaahs. Freshman defensive lineman Chris Long, a St. Anne’s-Belfield graduate, drew quite a reaction from some of his defensive mates during a one-on-one linemen drill. On the play, Long pulled a quick strong-arm move on an offensive lineman and had an alley to the quarterback position, drawing some audible hoots from the defensive unit.
Orange jerseys. UVa standout linebacker Ahmad Brooks still has not donned the orange jersey that denotes starters on defense this fall. Currently, Rich Bedesem is with the starting unit.
Groh said that there wasn’t much to the scenario.
“Rich had one of those spots last year before he got hurt and he missed the spring so we wanted to give him a shot at it. ... We all know the talent that Ahmad has, but that’s the way we wanted to go about it,” Groh said.
Snelling’s absence. Fullback Jason Snelling missed Saturday’s practice for what Groh described as “nothing special. Jason had something he had to get taken care of and we gave him the space to do that.”
Snelling missed last season for undisclosed medical reasons.
Receiver options. With Marques Hagans all but locking up the No. 1 quarterback slot, the Cavaliers’ lose another option at receiver. Hagans gave the team great versatility on the edges for laterals, double passes and option type plays.
So is there someone else who can do those things? Apparently, but mum’s the word.
“We think we do, but we’re certainly not going to tell everybody who it is,” Groh said with a laugh.
In the fray. Quarterback Anthony Martinez and linebacker Devonta Brown have started practicing with the team after missing the first part of training camp. Speculation indicated that the duo had not met the physical conditioning requirements that every player must meet.
Groh did not single out those players, but said that offseason and preseason conditioning is something everyone knows is “important to me.”
“Everyone knows what the standard is and what the deal is if you don’t make that standard,” Groh said. “We don’t have to make decisions on individuals because it is the same for everyone. It’s kind of like a stop sign, the law’s already there. ... It’s the same thing in how we deal with this.”
Groh, Cavs pleased with chemistry
By Kris Wright / Daily Progress staff writer
August 17, 2004
When Al Groh took the helm of the Virginia football program in December of 2000, he immediately established that he expected his team to have certain characteristics - tough and focused were adjectives thrown out immediately.
Under Groh, the Cavaliers have been nothing if not resilient. They have overcome injuries, large deficits and rivals on numerous occasions. UVa has established itself as an ACC title contender and a player in the recruiting battles.
Groh believes that this year’s team has a certain quality about it as well, saying during Sunday’s teleconference that he’s “been telling them frequently” that this team has a certain “personality about it.” Groh went on to say that “There’s a very good harmony among the players.”
Virginia senior running back Alvin Pearman agreed with his coach, indicating that the players are a very tight-knit group and that there is a distinctive team-first mentality throughout the roster.
“It’s good. It’s a lot of fun to be part of this right now and I think the younger guys are starting to catch on to that too,” Pearman said after Sunday’s practice. “Everyone is working hard everyday and focusing on what we have to do as a whole and as a team to get better. There is a group, a team mentality and that’s great.”
Williams showing promise. Sophomore Deyon Williams appears to be solidifying a starting receiver slot along with senior Michael McGrew. Williams, a 6-foot-3, 188-pound Maryland product, has made his presence felt thus far in training camp with numerous catches. Several of those have been of an oh-wow variety.
“He’s got a lot of talent. He’s a big-time talent,” Groh said during a Sunday teleconference. “He’s got good size, good speed. He can go out there and run down the ball so he’s got a little extra gear to go get it. And he’s willing. He wants to become a good player and he’s applying himself to do that and he’s starting to learn how to apply himself in practice in order to become a good player.”
The Cavaliers harbored some criticism for not signing a receiver with this season’s incoming recruiting class, but Williams could render that point moot if he makes a splash this season.
As a freshman, he played in the final 10 games of the season and caught eight passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. Williams’ 15.2 yards per catch average ranked first on the team and it was the best by a Virginia rookie since Billy McMullen in 1999.
“Deyon is really coming on. I’ve talked to him a couple of times and told him he has a chance to be one of the best in the conference,” Pearman said. “He’s really working hard and he wants to get better.”
Ring my Bell. Redshirt sophomore D.J. Bell is settling into the center position as the potential back-up for senior Zac Yarbrough. Bell has been taking most of the snaps with the second-team offense.
Bell shifts to offense after playing defensive end at the beginning of his UVa career. He appeared in all 13 games a year ago, but saw most of his playing time on the field goal and extra point teams. Bell blocked a field goal against Maryland last season.
But Groh thinks the 6-3, 297 Bell might have found a new home on the O-line.
“It appears that he might have found his spot. ... He could be a guard [in terms of his athleticism,]” Groh said. “With certain systems it might not be his spot, but with some of the things that we’re asking our center to do, he’s showing a good aptitude and showing certain skills that we need. ... It may be the type of thing where this turns out to be to his advantage as well as ours.”
More on Hagans. Junior Marques Hagans has all but locked up the starting quarterback role. Groh noted his improvement thus far.
“He’s made good progress in all areas. His accuracy continues to improve. His awareness of situations - he’s starting to pick up coverages faster,” Groh said. “...[Now] through Sunday is a critical time for them. We’ll start to see who has that accuracy [and ability] with more turns on [each of the various reads]. … We’ll start to get a more accurate read on where each one stands. ... Right now its more fleeting impressions than evaluations.”
Pearman said players notice the intangible qualities that Hagans brings to the huddle.
“He’s doing great. … All of us have faith in him and are behind him. He’s [the kind of player where] people want to be following him,” Pearman said.
Two-a-days. The Cavs had their first two-a-day practice Monday. The NCAA prohibits back-to-back two-a-day practices so Wednesday is the earliest a second two-a-day could occur. Pearman said the Cavaliers wear full pads for one session and just shells (the shoulder pads essentially) for the other.
Shortage of wide receivers not seen as critical at UVa
By Doug Doughty
The Roanoke Times
The departure of redshirt freshman Shannon Lane has left Virginia with five scholarship wide receivers, a shortage that might be critical if the Cavaliers were partial to formations that used four wide receivers.
“We have not used them a great deal in the past,” UVa head coach Al Groh said Monday. “In contrast, we’re going to play some teams this year that that’s their principal group. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means they’ve chosen to play differently than we’ve chosen.
“Some years, we’ve used them a little bit more than others. Last year, we really didn’t use them very much at all. One thing that happens on our team is, when you put four wide receivers in the game, you take [tight end] Heath Miller out. That doesn’t make much sense for us.”
Lane, named to the 2002 SuperPrep All-America team as a wide receiver, practiced at cornerback for most of a redshirt year at UVa in 2003. He was moved to wide receiver during the summer, at least partly due to the anticipated loss of top returning wide receiver Ottowa Anderson for academic reasons.
UVa’s five scholarship wide receivers are senior Michael McGrew; sophomores Deyon Williams, Fontel Mines and Ron Morton, and redshirt freshman Emmanuel Byers.
Walk-on Imhotep Durham, who did not participate in spring practice and does not have a “bio” in the UVa media guide, has resurfaced in preseason workouts and made an early impression. Durham is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, which does not have a football team.
BRADSHAW CASE CONTINUED
Virginia signee Ahmad Bradshaw, now turning heads at Marshall preseason workouts, will not go to trial until October after Charlottesville General District Court on Friday granted his motion to have his case continued.
Bradshaw now faces three misdemeanor charges — for having an open container of alcohol, for unlawful purchase/possession of an alcoholic beverage and for obstructing justice -- in connection with an incident July 17 outside a Charlottesville restaurant at 1:50 a.m.
ODDS 'N' ENDS
Season-ticket sales have reached 38,100 — up from a previous high of 36,225 last year. . . . Groh said that offensive guard Ian-Yates Cunningham, a starter in the last five games of his freshman season, is “rehabbing” from May back surgery and remains a candidate to play this season. “That’s why we’re rehabbing him,” said Groh, who has the option of redshirting Cunningham. . . . Anthony Martinez, a starter in the second game of the 2003 season after an injury to No. 1 quarterback Matt Schaub, has begun workouts after missing time to address conditioning issues. . . . Jackson Andrews, a walk-on from North Cross in Roanoke, reported to early camp and is competing for the long-snapper job with redshirt freshman Tyrus Gardner from Wytheville and fourth-year junior Justin Markey.
Richmond Times-Dispatch Aug 17, 2004
DEEP THREAT: Virginia's version of the West Coast offense hasn't produced many long completions since Al Groh took over as coach after the 2000 season, in part because the team has lacked receivers with game-breaking speed.
Deyon Williams should boost the Cavaliers' vertical passing game this season. The 6-3, 188-pound sophomore has been working with the first-team offense this summer, and his potential is evident to anyone who sees him run patterns.
"He's got big-time talent," Groh said. "He's got size. He's got speed. He can run down the ball. He's got an extra gear to go get it. And he's very willing. He's really learned how to apply himself in practice."
Williams, one of the D.C. area's top track and field athletes as a senior at Suitland (Md.) High, caught eight passes for 122 yards and one touchdown as a true freshman at U.Va. last year.
ON THE UPSWING: Of Virginia's projected starters at linebacker Ahmad Brooks, Kai Parham, Darryl Blackstock and Dennis Haley Haley is by far the least heralded. More than a few fans doubted Haley would be able to beat out redshirt freshmen Jermaine Dias and Vince Redd for a starting job, but Groh seems delighted by the 6-1, 247-pound graduate student's progress.
Asked Saturday what Haley does better now than he did in 2003, Groh said, "Everything."
Haley, who's from Salem, made 36 tackles as a reserve linebacker and special-teams player last season. He received his bachelor's degree in anthropology in May, no small feat for a guy who missed most of the 2002 season because of academic issues.
"I would say the improvement in his football circumstances parallels the improvement in his academics," Groh said.
MEET THE TEAM: From 3:30 to 5 p.m. Thursday, fans will have an opportunity to meet U.Va. football players at Scott Stadium. Activities will include an autograph session, locker-room tours and face painting.
The event is free and will be held regardless of the weather.
GRUNT WORK: Virginia has three nose tackles on its roster: senior Andrew Hoffman, who's a three-year starter; junior Melvin Massey, who's proved to be a capable backup; and redshirt freshman Keenan Carter, whose conditioning has improved.
The 6-1 Carter, whose weight soared into the upper 300s during his postgraduate year at Fork Union Military Academy, is in the 315-pound range now.
That's the "lowest it's been since he's been here, by a dramatic amount," Groh said. "It's made a marked difference in his endurance."
Carter is "obviously built like the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle," Groh said. "It's all there that needs to be there. Now we just need more production [out of Carter]."
MULTITALENTED: Senior Elton Brown, a preseason All-American at offensive guard, has been working on the defensive line in goal-line situations.
"We kind of mutually saw it as another way to build some versatility on the team," Groh said.
Brown stands 6-6 and weighs around 340 pounds. Jeff White