Payne returns; Sewell speaks
Rookie RB back from suspension; QB talks about rehab for wrist surgery
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 10, 2007
Jameel Sewell threw. Keith Payne ran. Kevin Crawford pulled a vanishing act.
A large collection of Virginia football fans battled a blazing sun on Friday to catch a glimpse of Virginia’s football team for the first time.
Those in attendance were treated to an early surprise.
Payne, who was suspended by coach Al Groh on June 27, trotted out on the practice field with his teammates, officially signifying the redshirt freshman’s return to the team.
The big-bodied tailback did not don full pads as his teammates did for the first time, rather using the session to work on conditioning.
“I really missed playing football and I really missed my teammates a lot,” Payne said. “I am enjoying the fact that I am back out here.
“I had to get some things done. I really matured and I really appreciate the way the coaches treated me. I am glad the coach cares more about me the person than anything else.”
Payne’s teammates were elated to see him back wearing a helmet and his No. 32 jersey.
“It is good to see him out here,” said tight end Tom Santi. “We think Keith can help us this year, and he is excited to be out here.
“He had to take care of some business, but now he is out here and he is ready to go.”
Payne’s return should give an instant jolt to Virginia’s offense, a unit that had several questions entering training camp.
One of those hot topics was answered - at least to an extent.
Sewell, sporting a small gauze wrap around his surgically repaired left wrist, took a majority of the reps with the first-team offense and claimed to be pain free when he met with reporters for the first time since training camp opened Monday.
“The wrist is doing real well,” Sewell said. “[My progression] was slow the first day, real slow, but it has gotten better since the first day … a whole lot better.
“I was out for a little while and during the summer I didn’t throw as much and then my shoulder was sore. So sometimes I would drop my elbow, but now it is back right like I never had any injuries or had any time off.”
Late in the practice, Sewell was erratic during drills and live action, hitting defenders at a greater clip than his would-be targets.
Credit some of that, the southpaw said, to Virginia’s defense, a unit that was ranked 15th in the nation last year against the pass and returns 10 starters.
“I won’t be surprised if they are the best defense in the country this season,” Sewell added. “They are just together as one, and that’s where the offense needs to be, and we are working on that now and we are coming pretty close.”
That vaunted defense did take a hit on Friday - Crawford, a backup defensive end, was removed from the team roster and is not expected back this season.
“[Crawford] made the best decision for him right now,” said defensive end and team captain Chris Long. “Maybe one day he will be back … I don’t know.
“Kevin Crawford is one of my favorite kids that I have played with. I think he is a great person and he is going to do well with whatever he does.”
Crawford, a redshirt sophomore from Woodbridge, appeared in five games last year, recording five tackles. He was listed third on the preseason depth chart at defensive end behind Long and redshirt freshman Sean Gottschalk.
“It was unfortunate,” Long said, “but we have to move on if we can.”
Groh did not speak with reporters after the practice to shed light on Crawford’s situation, but said earlier in the day during a teleconference that grades from recent summer school exams would be arriving at different times.
“It is up to each individual teacher,” the coach said.
Position switch for Pearman?
When Andrew Pearman officially returned to the team on Monday, it was a move that was expected to boost Virginia’s inexperienced wide receiving corps.
Despite leaving the team after four games last season for personal reasons, Pearman still logged more receptions (seven) than any other returning wideout.
But Groh told reporters on Friday that the junior has taken reps at running back, a spot he played in high school.
“That has always been his natural position,” Groh said, “so with him coming back to football, we just tried to put him [at] his natural spot and where he has had success up to this point.”
Coming out of high school, Pearman started his college career at Hawaii, a program that often employs four-wide receiver sets. The Rainbow Warriors looked at Pearman as a future wideout.
“That is where it started, and when he got to Virginia there was a pretty good number of potential ball-carriers,” Groh added, “so we were looking at spots where he might have the best opportunity to compete in a hurry.”
Pearman, with the team’s best interests in mind, said he welcomes reps at each spot and plans on pushing for playing time as a return specialist, too.
“I don’t really mind where I am at as long as I am put in a position to help the team out,” Pearman said.
Pearman did not elaborate on what led to his departure from the team, but said he is focused on the future.
“I just took care of some stuff that I really needed to take care of, and that part of my life is over,” he said. “I had to grow up … and I did that.
“The bottom line is that I am healthy and I am back here now. I am a little bigger, thank God, and it is just great to be back, and I love everybody here.”
Pearman also drew rave reviews recently from Groh for his conditioning. To get into shape, Pearman said he worked out with his father, Alvin, who is the track coach at Charlotte Country Day (N.C.).
As for his academic situation, Pearman said he remains on track to earn his degree from UVa when his eligibility expires after the 2008 season.
“I am going to be eligible,” Pearman said. “I have two more years left here and I am going to graduate.
“That is all I know.”
Extra points …
… Placekicker Chris Gould was among the noticeable standouts during the practice session. At one point, the senior went 4 for 5 on kicks that ranged from 25 to 43 yards out. Fellow kicker Chris Hinkebein was not as fortunate - the true freshman missed three of four attempts, one of which barely cleared the line.
… Vic Hall, the top candidate to hold for placement kicks, showcased his speed on a bootleg during a fake field goal.
… The Cavaliers will have their first two-a-day practice today. Both sessions (8:35 a.m. and 6:35 p.m.) will be open to the public.
Seasoned D hopes to seize spotlight for Cavaliers
The experienced unit is ready to lead the Cavaliers to better things this year.
BY MELINDA WALDROP | 247-4634
12:24 AM EDT, August 11, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Jon Copper has come pretty far in his three
years on Virginia's football team, from walk-on in 2004 to the team's leading
tackler in 2006.
But to hear him tell it, he still has a long way to go.
"There's a lot of guys that are a lot more athletic than me, and they can come out and just be able to make plays," said Copper, who made 81 tackles and had four sacks last season at inside linebacker. "For me, it's more, I gotta be able to recognize something pretty quick."
That means lots of time studying film -- of opponents, and of his own play. That process led to a definite goal for 2007.
"My mindset for camp is to improve on my coverage skills, and I think that's the same for the other three starting linebackers. That's what we're emphasizing as a group," Copper said. "To get in the game, you've got to stop the run. But to set yourself apart, you've got to be able to defend the pass."
Opposing offenses put up 167 passing yards per game last season against the 5-7 Cavaliers, a respectable average that ranked third in the ACC. But Copper said it's an area ripe for personal and team improvement.
"When I broke down all the film week-to-week, that was something I came up with," Copper said. "I sat down with head coach (Al) Groh, and he said the same thing. I sat down with linebackers coach (Bob) Diaco, and he said the same thing."
That's the kind of hunger that will make a defensive coordinator happy.
Mike London's U.Va. defense lost just one starter from a unit that ranked fourth in total defense in the ACC last season, giving up 283 yards and 17.8 points per game. It stands to reason those numbers will only get better this year, with last season's top nine tacklers, who also represent 25 of the Cavs' 30 sacks, back.
"It helps that a lot of these guys are back," London said. "They've been in the weight room. They've had birthdays. They're bigger, faster, stronger, so this should be a better product that's out on the field."
And among U.Va.'s projected starters, only defensive end Chris Long, outside linebacker Jermaine Dias and safety Nate Lyles are seniors. End Jeffrey Fitzgerald led Virginia with 5½ sacks last year as a freshman, and Copper put up his numbers as a sophomore. Fellow inside linebacker Antonio Appleby, second on the team with 68 tackles, and cornerback Chris Cook, who had 58 stops and an interception, also are juniors.
"There's no substitute for experience, and a lot of these guys are coming back for another year after this," London said. "That's the good thing about it."
Tempering all this good news is the fact that Virginia's offense averaged 15.1 points, next-to-last in the conference, and an ACC-worst 255 yards of total offense in 2006.
Quarterback Jameel Sewell, who started U.Va.'s last nine games as a freshman, said he's 100 percent after offseason wrist surgery. But questions abound at the Cavs' skill positions.
Virginia lost its leading receiver when Kevin Ogletree went down with a knee injury in spring practice. And behind junior tailback Cedric Peerman, who rushed for 185 yards last year as a backup, on the depth chart is a pair of redshirt freshmen.
But U.Va.'s defensive leaders say that offensive uncertainty doesn't make their jobs harder.
"We could be scoring 40 a game and be the No. 1 offense in the country -- and I'm not saying we can't do that -- but we'd still feel like there was an onus on us, to take the football away, to create opportunities to score on our own," Long said.
U.Va.'s highest point total of 2006 was 37, against ACC doormat Duke. It only cracked 20 three other times, but Long said the paltry point output didn't frustrate the defense.
"Losing's frustrating," Long said. " ... There have been games where we've gotten 45 hung on us and the offense has stuck it out. That's what a team is. We never look at each other like that."
"We've got to limit scoring opportunities," London said. "If we score 15, we've got to hold them to 14."
The Cavs hope that simple equation translates into success.
"It doesn't matter how many points we have at the end," junior offensive tackle Eugene Monroe said. "If we have one more, we have a win, and that's what we're here to do this year. We're here to win games."
Kevin Crawford, who played five games at defensive end as a freshman in 2006, has left the team for undisclosed reasons. "Kevin Crawford was one of my favorite kids I've played with," Long said. "... He made the best decision for him right now, and maybe one day he'll be back." ... Freshman tailback Keith Payne, who has been suspended from the team because of poor academic performance, has rejoined the team. He was on the practice field Friday for the first time, but not in pads because of NCAA rules that require a three-practice period to acclimate without pads. Payne, who finished summer school on Thursday, said he was happy with how the U.Va. coaching staff handled his situation. "It showed they cared more about me as a person than as an athlete," he said.
Pearman gets second chance at UVa
Lynchburg News & Advance
August 11, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE - The second day had ended, the scorching Virginia heat and veil of humidity having sapped every ounce of energy from those unfortunate enough to have just endured a two-hour football practice.
Andrew Pearman was a notable exception.
"If we had started all over again," Cavaliers coach Al Groh said, "it looks like he would have had quite a bit of juice left."
Pearman had waited too long and trained too hard in the offseason not to be ready. After leaving the team and the school last fall for what he'll only refer to as "personal stuff," the junior wide receiver/running back is ready to get his once-promising football career on track now that he's done the same with his life.
"It's really great to be back," said Pearman, who did not want to talk about why he left the school. "I'm really appreciative of all my coaches and teammates for all the support they've given me. I really missed all these guys."
It's the second time Pearman has had to put his football career on hold. He originally committed to play in June Jones' spread offense at Hawaii in 2004 but transferred the next year to Virginia, where his older brother Alvin had starred.
After sitting out the requisite year, Pearman was set to be a slot receiver and punt returner last season. He caught seven passes in four games before having season-ending knee surgery. Shortly thereafter, he withdrew from the school mid-semester for personal reasons, heading back to his hometown of Charlotte to deal with his problems privately.
He stayed in touch with teammates and coaches during the offseason, fully confident that he would be given a chance to return to the school this year.
All summer, he trained with his father Alvin, the track coach at Country Day School in Charlotte, doing speed drills, working to get his wind up and, as he said, making "his heart stronger."
"I really busted my butt," Pearman said.
In June, Groh hinted that Pearman could return to the team. A few Mondays ago, he did, though he's not necessarily in the same role.
Though he never played a game for Hawaii, the speedster practiced there for a year as a wide receiver. Facing a crowded backfield, the 5-foot-10, 168-pound Pearman stayed at wideout once he got to UVa.
Now, like his older brother, he is dabbling in a bit of everything. In addition to being in UVa's wide-open wide receiver mix, Pearman has lined up at tailback, his high school position. Like he did before his leave, he is taking turns returning punts and kickoffs.
"I'm just following Coach Groh's lead," said Pearman, thankful to be given another chance. "He tells me to go somewhere, I'm going to go there.
Bottom line, I'm here. I'm healthy. I'm a little bit bigger now, thank God. And it's great to be back."
NOTES: Tailback Keith Payne is back on the team. The redshirt freshman had been suspended indefinitely in June for academic reasons but got his summer school grades up to par. He attended practice Friday but was not in pads. ? UVa announced that defensive tackle Kevin Crawford has left the program. Crawford played in five games as a redshirt freshman last year, making five tackles. ? Virginia's Meet the Team event is Sunday at Scott Stadium from 3 to 4:15 p.m.
Cavs to find new catcher on the fly
August 8, 2007 12:35 am
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
The University of Virginia football team began fall practice on Monday with plenty of optimism, but also some nagging questions about how it will rebound from its disappointing 5-7 season.
One of the most prominent inquiries: Where will the Cavaliers find capable wide receivers?
Virginia suffered a major blow in spring practice when junior wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, an honorable mention for last season's all-Atlantic Coast Conference team, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, likely wiping out his entire upcoming season.
Seventh-year head coach Al Groh shed some light on a few of the competitors for playing time at the position in a teleconference with reporters yesterday.
Maurice Covington, a 6-foot-4 junior from Durham, N.C., is expected to man one starting receiver spot even though he has just 11 career receptions.
The other spot is up for grabs with redshirt freshman walk-on Staton Jobe and junior Cary Koch, a Tulane transfer, the primary options for the position.
Groh said Jobe and Koch are similar in stature (they both stand 6-0), but that Jobe is faster.
"They both run well. They adjust well to situations," Groh said. "For players that don't have a lot of background in our system, they did a nice job in the spring, and they seem to be right back there at this time."
If Jobe and Koch falter, Groh has other candidates he could turn to.
Junior Andrew Pearman, who sat out last season because of personal issues, is back with the Cavaliers and showing his trademark speed.
The 5-foot-10, 166-pound Pearman, the younger brother of former Cavaliers running back Alvin Pearman, has impressed Groh with his willingness to work.
"The one thing that does stand out with him is that Andrew looked like he could go quite a bit longer when we were finished," Groh said. "If we had started all over again, it looked like he would have had quite a bit of juice left."
Three true freshmen who are on scholarship have been placed at wide receiver as well, Groh said.
Kris Burd, Dontrelle Inman and Jared Green are all working at the position. Green is the son of former Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green.
Ras-I Dowling, formerly a star wide receiver and defensive back at Deep Creek High School and Hargrave Military Academy, is concentrating on cornerback.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell, who started the final nine games of last season, is day-to-day with a wrist injury. Sewell had offseason wrist surgery and participated in spring practice on a limited basis.
He was able to take part fully in practice on Monday.
However, Groh said his participation still depends on "whatever Jameel tells us on a day-to-day basis."
"We've only had one day for him to tell us anything, so it's pretty hard to form any patterns as the result of one practice," Groh said.
The first week of Cavaliers practice has overlapped with the final week of the third session of summer school. Groh said just about all of his more than 100 players are enrolled in summer school.
Final exams end tomorrow, and Groh said, "We've got a couple of cases" of players whose academic eligibility will be determined by the results of their exams.
He added that running back Keith Payne, who has been suspended for not living up to his academic responsibilities, may rejoin the team pending the outcome of his exams this week.
Payne is expected to battle junior Cedric Peerman for the starting job.
It was 94 degrees in Charlottesville yesterday, but with the heat index, it felt like 105 degrees.
That's why Groh and his staff have stressed the importance of players drinking plenty of water before, during and after practice.
Groh said it's imperative that his players stay hydrated even if they're not practicing.
He said coaches deliver that message at team and positional meetings.
"The issue of hydration is best addressed before the dehydration ever occurs," Groh said. "It's like going on a trip. If you start the trip with your gas tank half empty, you're probably going to run out. You've got to put some gas in it."
With a Flick of the Wrist, Cavs' Sewell Feels Right
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2007; Page E03
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Aug. 10 -- There will be a moment, Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell knows, when he will bolt from the pocket, run downfield and try to evade linebackers and safeties. This will no longer be practice, and his pursuers won't care about the screws in his left wrist, how he spent weeks strengthening the muscles with an intricate series of rubber bands.
"I'm not worrying about that," Sewell said. "I'm here. I'm ready."
At this time last year, Sewell was Virginia's No. 3 quarterback, forced to watch practices from the sideline because he cut his foot while riding a bicycle. Now, as a sophomore, he is the unquestioned starter with more than half a season's experience in the role, recovering from wrist surgery that limited him in spring practice.
"Not too much has changed," Sewell said. "I'm just a lot more respected. A lot more respected."
Each snap Sewell received in the spring came with a sharp, quick pain; even the most basic part of football brought a reminder of his surgery. Pain also came when he flicked his wrist -- he is left-handed -- and tried to throw. Sewell sat out most of the repetitions and continued to rehab the wrist instead. "Everything with it was painful," he said.
At practice Friday, Sewell heaved a full complement of passes, which zipped with the same velocity they always have, he said. Under his form-fitting, long-sleeve shirt, he still wears a wrap around his wrist, but it offers little protection. After practice, his only treatment was sticking his wrist in a bucket of ice.
Sewell gained confidence in his wrist this summer, when he slipped during a scrambling drill. He stuck out his left hand and fell with all his weight on the wrist. He popped up, galvanized by the lack of pain.
"I just wanted to be out here today," Sewell said. "Sweating with them. Bleeding with them. I just wanted to be part of the team."
After practice, reporters mobbed Sewell. After the cameras moved on, someone asked him what he wanted to improve most. "Winning," he responded, his eyes focused straight ahead as he uncapped a bottle of Gatorade and took a deep swig. That was all he said.
The attitude reflected his experience with the position, his growing comfort with the nuances of playing quarterback. He understands defenses much more. He knows where the ball needs to go instantly when he sees how and where a defender moves.
The knowledge has allowed Sewell to focus on other aspects of playing quarterback, mostly leadership. Teammates rallied around Sewell last season, but it took him several games to lose his quiet nature.
"You can just tell that he's more confident -- the way he acts, the way he carries himself, the way he speaks to the team," tight end Tom Santi said. "He knows that he's the quarterback, and he knows that we trust him. And he trusts us."
Last season, Sewell's inexperience sapped his emotion at times. He focused on calling plays -- the right play -- and thinking ahead, leaving himself little room to celebrate.
On Friday, there was little to celebrate for Virginia's offense, which was manhandled for most of the afternoon. But late in the practice, Cedric Peerman weaved for a touchdown after a screen pass, and Sewell, 25 yards away, put his arms up to signal touchdown, then pointed at Peerman. After several completed throws, he made sure to slap his receiver on the helmet.
"He's not in the back thinking what he's got to do the next play and stuff like that," Santi said. "He's in the flow of things. You can tell he's not having to think about everything. He sees things a lot better now. He reads defenses better. Now that he's doing that, he can kind of move beyond just the plays and take a leadership role the quarterback needs to have."
His bad wrist, of course, threatens to make all his improvement moot. Still, Sewell pledged that when the moment comes for him to make a decision to tuck the ball and run, there will be hesitation.
"Whatever they need me to do to win," Sewell said, "I'm going to do."
Cavaliers Note: Redshirt freshman running back Keith Payne returned to practice yesterday, his first of the preseason. Coach Al Groh had suspended Payne for academic reasons, but he was reinstated after summer session exams.
"I appreciate the way Coach Groh handled it," said Payne, who is expected to challenge Peerman for the starting role.
Bratton twins at Virginia taking classes, gearing up for
BY KATIE STRANG | firstname.lastname@example.org
3:04 PM EDT, August 9, 2007
While most incoming college freshman spend their last days of
summer lounging by the pool and hanging out with friends, the Bratton twins have
concerned themselves with more serious matters. Public speaking and philosophy,
Shamel and Rhamel Bratton, widely regarded as the top two lacrosse recruits in the nation, have already started taking classes at University of Virginia, where they committed to play lacrosse for the next four years. The 19 year-old twins said they wanted to take the six credits during the summer so they can get ahead on academics, allowing them to focus on lacrosse during the season.
Virginia head coach Dom Starsia was clearly impressed with their commitment.
"I think it's indicative that they value their education and their career at Virginia," said Starsia, who added that he and the rest of the coaching staff have already begun thinking of ways to utilize the twins' speed and stick skills.
Paul McDermott, head coach of boys varsity lacrosse at Huntington High School, where Rhamel and Shamel led the team to three Long Island championships and two state championships, had three years to take advantage of the talent Starsia has coming his way.
McDermott, who describes Shamel as a "traditional left-hander with a great move from behind the cage," and Rhamel as a strong right-handed "dodger from up top," said the twins bring a new excitement to the game with their abilities.
"I think they do moves that other players can't do, they get open in situations where other players can't get open," McDermott said. "They're the whole package- defense, offense, they can ride, clear, ground balls, shoot hard- it's not unorthodox, it's just up-tempo."
The twins' brother, Vernon Bratton, said he's seen every one of his brothers' games since fourth grade and is still amazed by some of the moves his brothers make.
"You never really know what my brothers are going to do in a game," said Vernon. "They still surprise me, and I've seen it all."
John Jiloty, editor-in-chief for Inside Lacrosse magazine said the style of play the Brattons provide could have a huge impact on lacrosse itself.
"I think the sport can always use some creativity, improvisation, and flair, and I think they play with that," said Jiloty. "I don't know if anyone's come out with that package in a while, maybe ever."
And Jiloty said he thinks the Brattons are "tailor-made" to play at Virginia.
A large part of why Rhamel and Shamel did choose to play for Virginia, who won the NCAA Division 1 lacrosse championship in 2006, over other top programs, was Virginia's reputed "free-wheeling" style of play.
"Me and my brother bring a different feel to the game," said Shamel. "We don't want to be robots; we want to do our own thing."
Starsia, heading into his 16th season as head coach at Virginia, said his anticipates the twins will fit in well for that reason.
"We've been a team that likes to push the ball up the field and put responsibility in the hands of the players," said Starsia,
But regardless of what type of offense a team runs, Starsia said any school would be happy to have the two midfielders.
"I don't care what style of lacrosse you play, you'd figure out a way for Shamel and Rhamel to be a part of your team," he said.
Although Shamel and Rhamel said they wanted to go the same school, most schools recruiting them had an interest in keeping them together as well.
"They have a game within a game," McDermott said of their on-field competition, "not to jeopardize the game itself, but they'll be competitive with each other. In a way they do play against each other, but it makes them better."
Shamel is known as the more vocal of the two and can often been seen yelling at Rhamel during games to challenge his brother to do better.
"Just being his brother, I expect more from him," said Shamel. While some may take Shamel's goading the wrong way, the technique has proven to work well in inspiring Rhamel.
"If he does something amazing, it just gives me that much more motivation do pull off something cool during the game," Rhamel said.
Shamel also isn't hesitant to give his brother credit where it's deserved. He said although he's more offense-oriented, Rhamel is the more "diverse" player. Either way, the two together make a lethal combination at midfield. "A team with both of us is a better team than with just one of us," Shamel said.
While figuring out how to best take advantage of his two top recruit's talent may seem daunting, Starsia faces a more immediate challenge in the near future: telling the two apart.
"Standing side by side I can tell them apart," said Starsia, who has identical twin daughters of his own. "One at a time though, that's what I'm going to have to work on."