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Pinigis bolts Cavs for hometown Flames
Eddie Pinigis, second on the depth chart at right offensive tackle at Virginia, was looking for additional playing time.
By Doug Doughty
981-3129

Virginia offensive tackle Eddie Pinigis has transferred to Division I-AA Liberty University after being demoted to the second team at UVa, his mother said Monday.

"When he got to Liberty, the coaches acted like he was a superstar," Amy Pinigis said Monday. "Coach [Danny] Rocco pulled his car over on the grass and said, 'Here, have my spot.' "

Eddie Pinigis was not available for comment, but his mother said he learned of his demotion when a new UVa depth chart was posted Friday. He practiced Friday, then met with Cavaliers' coach Al Groh on Saturday morning.

"He was looking for more playing time," said Groh, who had elevated Will Barker, a 6-foot-7, 306-pound redshirt freshman, to the No. 1 spot at right offensive tackle.

Pinigis, a 2003 graduate of Jefferson Forest High School, started three games at right tackle last season and was considered the heir apparent when Brad Butler completed his eligibility.

Pinigis started two games in 2005 after Butler moved to left tackle to replace an injured D'Brickashaw Ferguson, then started a third game after Butler was suspended following a low blow against Boston College's Mattias Kiwanuka.

"Eddie's not a quitter; Eddie's a starter," his mother said. "Coach Groh never liked him from Day 1. This thing with Will Barker has been set up for two years and we've got that from the horse's mouth.

"When Eddie went in to see him, Coach Groh didn't beg him to stay. It was basically, '[Route] 29 south.' Thirty minutes after the meeting, he went down to his locker and it was already cleared out."

The departure of senior starters Ferguson, Butler and Brian Barthelmes left the Cavaliers noticeably thin on the offensive line even before Pinigis' departure. Groh said that sophomore Zak Stair (6-6, 298) has begun to assert himself in recent practices and likely would be the top backup at both tackle spots.

Davon Robb, a 6-8, 294-pound1 fifth-year senior, will be the fourth tackle. Robb, who missed the 2005 season while on academic probation, began his career as a walk-on but subsequently was awarded a scholarship.

Pinigis had been the subject of transfer rumors early in the summer and Groh said he was not surprised by Saturday's development.

"Body language always tells you a lot of things," Groh said.

At Liberty, Pinigis will rejoin former Jefferson Forest teammates Stevie Ray Lloyd and Rashad Jennings, transfers from Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, respectively. Rocco is a former UVa assistant and was the Cavaliers' lead recruiter on Pinigis.

Quick impression

Groh said that Nate Collins, a 6-2, 281-pound defensive lineman from Port Chester, N.Y., is the UVa recruit most likely to play in the Cavaliers' opening game Sept. 2 at Pittsburgh.

"He was in our camp [in 2005] and, when he was at our camp, he was a fullback-linebacker type of player," Groh said in a Monday teleconference. "He obviously had size and his athletic ability was very impressive, but he did not have significant background on the interior line."

Collins briefly played quarterback last year at King & Low-Heywood Thomas School in Stamford, Conn., but the Cavaliers always projected him as a defensive lineman, provided he could get bigger, which he has.

"He finds a way to get off blocks and get to the ball," said Groh, who is looking at Collins at defensive end and nose tackle.

Recruits solid

Hargrave Military Academy held its media day Monday and all three 2006 UVa signees on the Hargrave roster -- safety Ras-I Dowling, offensive guard Billy Cuffee and linebacker Almondo Sewell -- said they remain committed to the Cavaliers.

Hargrave allows players to leave after one semester, provided they have met NCAA eligibility requirements and can produce verification of college acceptance, but UVa allows midyear enrollment in only extraordinary circumstances (most recently with women's golfer Jennie Arseneault).

Dowling has been quoted as saying he might consider another school if he qualified for midyear enrollment and could not get into UVa, "but that was kind of putting words in my mouth," he said. "There might be some thoughts, but more than likely I'd stick with UVa."

Hargrave alumni on the current UVa roster include starting offensive guard Branden Albert and outside linebacker Olu Hall.

"If Coach Groh is nice enough to send you here, we expect you to go back to the school you committed to," Hargrave coach Robert Prunty said. "I don't get caught up in that changing around. We're not going to get into that."

Chapman update

A fourth Virginia signee, Orange County nose tackle Asa Chapman, is expected to enroll at Fork Union Military Academy this week.

However, FUMA coach John Shuman said it will be next to impossible for Chapman to go to UVa without first attending junior college.

The NCAA recently sent a delegation to Fork Union to review academic practices and Shuman didn't want to raise any more red flags "but he'd been strung along long enough," Shuman said.

"Kids don't know. They think they're going to make 1,000 on the SAT the first time and make four A's, but, if we cut him now, we'd be doing even more harm to the kid. There was nowhere else to go. We've asked him to sign a letter of consent that says he understands what's in front of him."

Virginia signed eight players who were not admitted to school. Linebacker George Johnson is at Rutgers, defensive lineman Gavin Smith is at N.C. State, quarterback O.C. Wardlow is at North Carolina Central and defensive back DeAndre Filer is at home in Chesapeake.
 

 

 

ON THE AIR
Cunningham hitting defenders and the airwaves
By Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 23, 2006

At first, it just sounded like another interview request.

That came as no surprise to Ian-Yates Cunningham. The offensive lineman from Plano, Texas, had just given his verbal commitment to play football at Virginia and the phone was ringing off the hook.

This interview, however, proved to be different. In a way it served as a job interview.

Twelve seconds into Cunningham’s first answer, Adam Gottschalk was mesmerized.

“Ian was the most articulate athlete I have ever interviewed,” said Gottschalk, who broadcasts games on WINA (1070-AM).

Knowing that UVa did not offer a degree in journalism or communications, Gottschalk asked Cunningham if he was interested in working at WINA during his time at UVa.

“I told him to give me a call when he got to campus and he did,” Gottschalk recounted. “He gave me the impression, when he was on the phone with me, that he was the kind of person who would actually follow through with something if it was what he was interested in.

“I figured he would get in touch with me and he actually followed up soon after he got to Grounds.”

It was a match made in heaven. Cunningham was a huge fan of Mike Williams, a massive lineman at Texas, who dabbled in broadcasting during his time playing for the Longhorns.

Cunningham’s first project involved interviewing two teammates after practice for a piece that aired on WINA’s popular morning show.

“He loved it and he was good at it,” Gottschalk said, “and it has sort of grown from there.”

The experiment took an interesting twist when Gottschalk approached Cunningham about doing color commentary for a high school basketball broadcast.

Cunningham was ecstatic but quickly found out just how much work goes into a single broadcast.

“There is a lot to it. The preparation that those guys do is unbelievable just for a high school game. It is ridiculous,” Cunningham said. “It is something that you have to do, and if you love it, you will do it.”

Cunningham admits that other than the last name Maynard, he knew very little about high school hoops in Central Virginia.

That quickly changed.

“The first game that he ever did with me, he met with me for three or four days each afternoon leading up to the game going through scouting reports on both teams,” Gottschalk said. “He wanted to go out to talk to coaches. He wanted to watch teams practice.

“He writes notes extensively. He comes in prepared. Even if he only does a 10-minute pre-game show or if he is calling the entire game, he wants to be as prepared as he can be. That’s something that kind of blew me away about him.”

Cunningham said the hardest thing was “getting comfortable on the air” with the varying styles of broadcasters, but it helped that he has a natural love for basketball.

“Every football player wants to be a basketball player and every basketball player wants to be a football player,” Gottschalk said. “It helped that Ian is a big basketball fan.”

Other Virginia football players have followed in Cunningham’s footsteps. Defensive lineman Chris Long, tight end Jon Stupar and offensive lineman Gordie Sammis have joined Cunningham at times during broadcasts and studio sessions. Placekicker Noah Greenbaum also worked for WINA through a university internship program this summer.

Despite the added work, Cunningham is set to graduate early from UVa with a degree in psychology.

“To Ian’s credit, he doesn’t bite off more than he can chew,” Gottschalk said. “During football season he is basically off limits to us. He is here as a football player and we realize that and he knows that.”

Cunningham has no idea where his work will take him after college. He has aspirations of playing professional football and a long-term goal that might surprise you.

“I want to be a general manager for a sports franchise, as long as its something I know,’ Cunningham said. “I’ll take basketball or football.”

For now, Cunningham has bigger fish to fry. He is battling Jordy Lipsey in training camp for the starting nod at center and if he loses that battle he could start in front of Marshal Ausberry at right guard.

Cunningham welcomes either.

“If they needed me at guard this week and center next week then I would do that as long as I am helping this team get to where we need to get to,” Cunningham said. “If it is [competition] on the team then I look at it as healthy. You face competition every week in games, so why not have competition in practice to help you for the competition that comes later in the week?”

It should help that Cunningham feels 100 percent. It hasn’t always been that way. After playing in 11 games and starting five as a rookie in 2003, Cunningham had back surgery, a procedure that sent him to a redshirt season in ’04.

“There are always things in the back of your mind, but if you go around thinking like that, you’re not going to be successful in anything,” Cunningham said of the back woes. “You have to face your fear, and if that’s one of your fears, you just have to face it.

“That’s what I am doing now and everything is good, so knock on wood … everything is fine.”

 

 

 

 

Monroe a big man with big shoes to fill
By Jerry Ratcliffe / Daily Progress sports editor
August 23, 2006

For the last four years, Virginia's quarterbacks haven't had to sweat about their blindside. They've rested in the security that the Brick had their back.

All-American D'Brickashaw Ferguson was a fixture at left offensive tackle, where he dominated at the position and kept both Matt Schaub and Marcus Hagans from taking hits from would-be pass rushers. Now, Ferguson is protecting New York Jets quarterbacks and it's someone else's turn to prevent Christian Olsen from getting roughed up.

Enter big Eugene Monroe.

At 6-foot-6, 330 pounds, Monroe is a mountain of a man. He's been nicknamed Moose, for obvious reasons, also the Godfather because of his raspy voice, and Big Gene the Blocking Machine.

The sophomore came to Virginia last season from South Plainfield, N.J., where he carved out a reputation as the top offensive line prospect in the nation. In fact, depending on which recruiting service you trusted, he was ranked anywhere from the No. 1 to the No. 3 overall prospect at any position in the country. He made about every high school All-American team that existed.

Big Gene will be the first to point out that was all high school. College is different. He left all those accolades packed away in a trunk of memories back in South Plainfield. None of it meant anything in college.

In fact, all that notoriety probably put a big bullseye on his back for others to test once he arrived to Charlottesville and the ACC.

He was somewhat amazed at the speed and power of college football, but admitted that his first season of college ball was more exciting and fun than he expected. But that was last season when he was understudy to Ferguson with a little play at right guard mixed in to give him a taste of the game.

For Monroe, Sept. 2 can't get here fast enough. Chatting with media at last week's Meet the Team Day at Scott Stadium, Big Gene was itching for the season to start.

"Honestly, I wish game day was today," Monroe said. "I can't wait until we go up to Pitt."

That's when Monroe will start at left tackle and do everything he can to fill the shoes of Ferguson, his friend and mentor.

"I think Gene has one of the toughest jobs in football at any level," said new UVa offensive line coach Dave Borbely, who brings 25 years of experience (the last several at Stanford, Notre Dame and Colorado) to the job. "He's certainly capable of doing that. He has great feet, great initial quickness and he's probably one of the most explosive guys that we have. He's 330 pounds, but he moves like he's 180."

It's difficult to look at Monroe and realize he's only 19 years old. Scouts raved about his "NFL body" when he was just a 17-year-old high school senior. One college recruiter even quipped, "Yeah, he's a five-star prospect, but only because they don't give out sixes."

Because he played behind Ferguson last season and little focus zeroed in on Monroe, we still haven't totally discovered just how good he is or what he's all about. That will change quickly once this season begins.

"Right now, I'm not looking at it as a challenge. I'm looking at it as an opportunity to play football," said Monroe in reference to replacing the Brick. "I'm excited about this season. I just want to play and help the team win."

His progress was slowed in the spring by a dislocated kneecap that eventually required surgery to repair. That's why Coach Al Groh and Borbely have closely monitored the number of repetitions Monroe has received in August training camp.

"[Monroe's] been very upbeat about everything," Groh reported Tuesday morning. "I talked to him [Monday]. He feels the best about himself during camp that he has so far."

The big tackle said he was disappointed to miss most of spring practice, but said all that's now in the past.

"My knee is coming along. I'm getting to the point where it's feeling pretty good ... getting better every day," said Monroe of the first injury he has suffered in his playing career.

Certainly no one is going to outwork Monroe when it comes to recuperating from an injury, learning his role on the team, in the weight room or practice field, let alone in a game.

Former UVa coach Mark D'Onofrio, who is now defensive coordinator at Temple, remembered going to Plainfield High School in the middle of January to pay the Cavalier commitment a visit on a few weeks from signing day.

"I was at the school and watching the other kids playing basketball, but not Eugene," said D'Onofrio. "He's have a harness on, running sprints. It's rare to see a high school kid that young and that determined."

Coming to Virginia and working behind Ferguson was probably one of the best experiences Monroe could have wished for. Not only was Ferguson a terrific player, but a quality person, the true definition of the NCAA's "student-athlete."

Borbely, who was at Colorado last season, has studied Ferguson on film quite a bit since he arrived in Charlottesville and has liked what he's seen.

"When you have a chance to be around a guy like that, he's a special guy in several regards," said Borbely. "That's a big void to fill but I think Eugene has approached this with the mentality that D'Brickashaw had his time and was a great player, and that Eugene has taken the opportunity to learn from [Ferguson] and use him as a role model in a lot of different ways."

Still learning as a matter of fact. Monroe said that he called Ferguson just the other day just to catch up with his mentor.

"D'Brickashaw is a good guy to go to if you need any assistance," Monroe said. "He is more than willing to help people out."

Monroe also watches a lot of Ferguson film to study what made him so great at left tackle.

"With a player like him, he probably does things better than the coach could teach you, so you go back and watch what he can do to help improve your own game," said Monroe. "It was a good opportunity to play behind him."

Other than overcoming his injury and becoming more ingrained in UVa's offensive system, Ferguson has focused on helping add to the chemistry of the Cavaliers' rebuilt offensive line. With he and 6-7, 315-pound left guard Branden Albert side-by-side to the left of center, that packs a pretty healthy 1-2 punch for Borbely's line.

Still, assigned to keep his quarterback's jersey clean, Monroe doesn't feel any added pressure.

"I honestly don't look at it as pressure," he said. "Everybody's job is important. I just go in and do my best at my job. I don't look at it as more pressure oriented than any other position.

"It will be very obvious if I get beat on a play," said Monroe. "You feel bad if you let your quarterback take a hit, but the quarterbacks understand it's part of the game."

Quarterbacks might understand, or at least say they do. But it doesn't help when they're planted so hard from a blindside sack that they need help getting the sod out of their helmets and their shoulder pads readjusted.

Quarterbacks might understand, but coaches don't. Blow an assignment and watch clipboards crash to the ground, accompanied by a chorus of #&*a$#!!!

But Monroe isn't your typical left tackle, just as Ferguson was a thinking man at the position. Teammate Ian-Yates Cunningham pointed out Monroe's computer smarts, for example.

"He's the Apple genius of the team," Cunningham said.

Maybe that's why Monroe went the last 25 games of his career at South Plainfield without giving up a single sack. Maybe that's why Groh wanted him as Ferguson's heir at the position.

Maybe that's just why Monroe can't wait until Sept. 2 to build his own legacy at the toughest spot on the field.

 

 

 

Cabbell making Nelson proud
By Jerry Miller / Daily Progress staff writer
August 23, 2006

Robert Louis Cabbell IV. It’s a big name for an even bigger man. At 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, it’s safe to say Cabbell has always been destined for football.

“I don’t remember B.J. ever being small,” said Tim Crawford, Cabbell’s coach for three years at Nelson County. “As far as I can remember, he’s always been 6-4 or 6-5. Even when he was small, he seemed big.”

Cabbell’s father, Bobby, who’s far from average size himself, said B.J. takes after his uncle - Bobby’s brother - a two-sport athlete at Liberty University.

“Those two have a lot in common besides just being big,” Bobby laughed. “Eric played football and track at Liberty. He’s big too.”

Like Eric, Cabbell excelled in football while dabbling in track and basketball. Cabbell propelled the Governors to the 2005 outdoor state title by contributing in both the shot put and discus and also showed his athleticism by averaging 15 points per game as a junior on the hardwood.

“His footwork is so daggone good for someone his size,” Crawford said, “and he has the best work ethic of any high school athlete I’ve coached in 29 years.”

That’s why it’s no surprise Cabbell was the first student-athlete from Nelson County in a quarter-century to earn a Division I football scholarship.

After totaling 65 tackles and five sacks his senior season, Cabbell, the No. 50 offensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com, is hoping to make a seamless transition to Virginia and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Cabbell knows if he’s going to make the smooth move into the Wahoo trenches he’ll have to bust his hump in practice, drown himself in the playbook and learn from the talent ahead of him.

“[Eugene] Monroe and [Brandon] Albert have all worked with him,” Bobby said. “I guess they like his personality. B.J. has never been a bully despite how big he is. He’s always been an easy-going guy.”

While major college programs such as Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, N.C. State and Maryland all recruited Cabbell, Virginia had always been his first love.

“For me, it’s a double bonus,” Cabbell said. “Virginia has an excellent football program and my folks also live right down the road. It’s only a 35-minute drive, so they should be at every home game.”

Cabbell, who said he enjoys remodeling cars and refinishing furniture in his spare time, understands responsibility accompanies “local boy” status, but he said he’s ready for the challenge.

“I know the local people will be interested in how I’m doing. I know that,” he said. “It’s always a pleasure to see my people. I like that they’re interested in what’s going on.”

Quite a few fans approached Cabbell at last Thursday’s Meet the Team Day. Instead of asking questions about the depth chart and playing time, they peppered Cabbell with a who’s who of Central Virginia.

“Are you the kid from Nelson,” a female fan asked.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Cabbell smiled.

“Well, I’m so glad you came to UVa. Now do you know Bernard or Roger Cabbell from Madison?”

Cabbell said it’s just part of the deal. Part of being Cavalier in Cav Country.

As Bobby put it: This can’t get any better.

“We can’t be prouder,” Bobby beamed. “This is the top of the mountain for me. If B.J. doesn’t go any further, he has exceeded our expectations. This is beyond our wildest dreams.”

 

 

 

UVa's Offensive Line
By Jay Jenkins / Daily Progress staff writer
August 23, 2006

Left tackle
Eugene Monroe
Sophomore * 6-6 * 315
South Plainfield, N.J.

The Facts: Monroe played in every game last season but most of his playing time was on the kick-scoring unit on special teams.
The Skinny: Life behind D’Brickashaw Ferguson equaled little playing time for Monroe during his rookie season. Learning from the All-American should pay dividends. … Monroe is returning from surgery for a dislocated knee. That procedure kept him out of spring practice. Coach Al Groh has limited Ferguson’s work in camp, but said on Tuesday that the lineman is progressing. “We’ve had to be wise with camp time and repetitions, but he’s doing more everyday,” Groh said. “I think he’s feeling the best about himself that he has during camp.”
The Factoid: Fellow lineman Ian-Yates Cunningham said Monroe’s nickname is “The Godfather.” It has a lot to do with his “raspy voice,” Cunningham said.

Left Guard
Branden Albert
Sophomore * 6-7 * 315
Rochester, N.Y.

The Facts: Albert stormed onto the scene last year to start every game at left guard. He was named a Third-team Freshman All American by The Sporting News and was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Week for his blocking against Duke last year.
The Skinny: Cavalier nation breathed a huge sigh of relief when Albert remained eligible academically. Albert did not practice in the spring to focus on his studies. … Albert is probably Virginia’s best offensive lineman. … He has great footwork for a 300-pounder.
The Factoid: Albert made history last year. The New York native became just the fourth true freshman to start a bowl game on the offensive line.

Center
Ian-Yates Cunningham
Junior * 6-3 * 290
Plano, Texas

The Facts: Cunningham has played in 18 games during his career. He has also started five games at left guard and one game at right guard.
The Skinny: Cunningham entered training camp as the top center on the depth chart. … It might not be at center that Cunningham starts. That nod might go to Jordy Lipsey, a junior that has shined in camp. … Cunningham has been around the system since 2003 and is the most versatile linemen on the team having played at both guard positions.
The Factoid: Cunningham got his first introduction to center in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a showcase game for high school players. He also handled long-snapping duties as a prep star at Hebron High in Texas.

Right Guard
Marshal Ausberry
Junior * 6-5 * 314
Springfield

The Facts: Ausberry started 11 of Virginia’s 12 games last year at right guard. … The former redshirt replaced Elton Brown, who now plays for the Arizona Cardinals.
The Skinny: Ausberry was listed as the starter on the pre-fall depth chart but could be pushed for playing time by Ian-Yates Cunningham if Jordy Lipsey wins the battle at center. … Ausberry benefits from upper-body strength.
The Factoid: Ausberry’s father, also named Marshal, has been the pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station since 1995.

Right Tackle
Will Barker
Redshirt Freshman * 6-7 * 306
Bryn Mawr, Penn.

The Facts: Barker dressed for seven games last year but did not play.
The Skinny: Barker has put on a great deal of weight, which helped him pass former Cavalier Eddie Pinigis on the depth chart. … Barker could be a four-year starter like a number of greats during Al Groh’s tenure. … The 19-year-old played lacrosse in high school.
The Factoid: Barker, who sports bright red hair, blocked a field goal in high school.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Isaac Cain
Freshman * 6-4 * 319
Hampton

The Skinny: Cain is a walk-on. … The youngster has been working out at guard but a redshirt season is expected.

Zak Stair
Sophomore * 6-6 * 298
Manassas

The Skinny: Stair played in 10 games last year, including snaps at left tackle against Duke in his collegiate debut. … Stair got the attention of coach Al Groh early in training camp. It was for all the wrong reasons. “He gets one penalty a day, which is one too many,” Groh said. Groh designed a “1 a day” jersey for Stair to wear in practice, but Groh said on Tuesday that the lineman has shown improvement of late. … The departure of Eddie Pinigis, who transferred to Liberty on Monday, moved Stair up one spot on the depth chart at both left and right tackle.
Gordie Sammis
Senior * 6-4 * 289
Flemington, N.J.

The Skinny: Sammis has played in seven games in his career, including the final six games last year. … Sammis was listed on the pre-fall depth chart behind Branden Albert at left guard.

Jordy Lipsey
Junior * 6-3 * 280
Longwood, Fla.

The Skinny: Lipsey has played in eight games, four last year and four as a rookie. … Training camp has been a coming out party for Lipsey, who might start the season opener at center. “One of the real bright pieces of news out of camp has been that probably nobody on the team has had a better training camp than Jordy Lipsey has,” coach Al Groh said this week. “He has really hit his stride as far as getting his game together and looking like a college center.”

Patrick Slebonick
Redshirt freshman * 6-5 * 289
Stafford

The skinny: Slebonick, a star at North Stafford High, did not play last year. … The pre-fall depth chart had Slebonick listed as the top back-up for Marshal Ausberry at right guard.

Davon Robb
Senior * 6-8 * 294
Hopewell

The Skinny: Robb was not in school last year, but rejoined the team before training camp. … Robb’s work with community service projects hurt him with his academic work, he and coach Al Groh have said. … Robb, the tallest player on the team, provides depth at tackle.

B.J. Cabbell
Freshman * 6-6 * 300
Roseland

The Skinny: Cabbell, an all-district and all-region player at Nelson County, is working at guard. In high school, Cabbell played tackle and guard for coach Tim Crawford.

Jeff Schrad
Senior * 6-4 * 277
Mechanicsville

The Skinny: Schrad has played in three games during his career, one of which came last year against Temple. … The senior transferred to Virginia from Eastern Michigan after the 2002 season.

David Fairbrothers
Junior * 6-3 * 299
White River Junction, Vt.

The Skinny: Fairbrothers has dressed out for 21 games but has not appeared in a game during his career. … Fairbrothers is listed as a guard.

D.J. Bell
Senior * 6-3 * 308
Camden, Del.

The Skinny: Bell returned to the team before training camp after serving a one-year suspension from school for academic reasons. … Bell has impressed coach Al Groh since his return. “He’s done a real good job,” Groh said earlier this month. “In fact, the D.J. that’s been through the offseason program and the sessions in summer school has been a different D.J.” … Bell is listed at guard.


 

 

 

With several new parts, offense looks to roll early
Virginia hopes fresh faces on offense will mesh early against Pittsburgh
Barney Breen-Portnoy, Cavalier Daily Senior Associate Editor

With a new coordinator and at least six new starters, one might expect that it will take a few games before Virginia's offense fully clicks. Senior quarterback Christian Olsen, however, is confident that it will not take that long.

"People are probably expecting it to take a lot more time than it has," Olsen said. "We had 15 good practices in the spring, all summer working together and now 25 practices before we go in and play Pittsburgh. I don't really think that we're going to need two or three games to get rolling."

Olsen has a tough act to follow under center. With star signal-callers like Matt Schaub and Marques Hagans running the show the past several years, Virginia's offense has come to rely upon quarterback-driven play. Last season, Hagans accounted for 2,802 of Virginia's 4,395 yards gained on offense, 63.8 percent. Olsen lacks Hagans's ability to make plays with his feet and will thrive more by staying within the system rather than by improvisation.

The quarterback position is only one of many on the offensive side of the ball to see change during the off-season.

To help fill the void left by Wali Lundy's departure, senior Jason Snelling has been shifted from fullback to tailback. Snelling rushed for 325 yards and two touchdowns as a fullback last season.

Also receiving a significant number of touches in the backfield should be senior Michael Johnson and sophomore Cedric Peerman, who combined for 504 yards and five TDs last year. Freshman Mikell Simpson will also see some time in the backfield rotation.

Juniors Josh Zidenberg and Kevin Bradley will split time at the fullback position.

A key to the success of Virginia's running game will be the speed at which the offensive line gels. The Cavaliers lost three starters to graduation -- center Brian Barthelmes, right tackle Brad Butler and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. This talented trio combined for 124 career starts at Virginia.

Replacing Barthelemes at center will be either junior Ian-Yates Cunningham or junior Jordy Lipsey. Cunningham came into training camp the favorite for the starting position, but Lipsey's stellar play has made it a competition. If Lipsey becomes the starting center, Cunningham will likely compete for time at either of the guard spots. At right tackle, freshman Will Barker will likely start, especially after junior Eddie Pinigis decided to quit the team over the weekend due to concerns about playing time. Sophomore Eugene Monroe looks to be ensconced at left tackle, with sophomore Zak Stair backing up both tackle positions.

Virginia's two returning starters on the offensive line are sophomore left guard Branden Albert and junior right guard Marshal Ausberry. Senior Gordie Sammis will back up Albert while freshman Patrick Slebonick will back up Ausberry. Ausberry's hold on the starting job could be in jeopardy if Cunningham is moved to guard.

"The toughest part about the transition from last year is everybody understanding what their role is," Cunningham said.

Virginia's corps of wide receivers took a major hit earlier this month when senior Deyon Williams went down with a stress fracture in his right foot. While much of the pressure to step up will fall on the shoulders of senior Fontel Mines, Virginia also has a stable of younger receivers who will need to rise to the occasion if the Cavaliers hope to match or improve upon their 223.7 receiving yards per game in 2005, fifth in the ACC. This younger set of receivers includes junior Emmanuel Byers and sophomores Maurice Covington, Kevin Olgetree and Andrew Pearman.

At tight end, Virginia has experienced minimal turnover and has extensive depth. Virginia has led the ACC in offensive output from the tight end spot since coach Al Groh arrived in 2001. Last year, juniors Jonathan Stupar and Tom Santi, along with sophomore John Phillips, maintained the standard of excellence set by former Virginia tight end Heath Miller, who posted some of the best offensive numbers nationally for a tight end between 2002 and 2004.

"I think we all have a great, healthy competition with each other," Santi said of his fellow tight ends. "We watch each other on film and try to learn from everybody's good points and everybody's mistakes."