Front line of protection
U.Va.'s Sewell in no danger of contact as he rehabs his wrist
Saturday, Aug 11, 2007 - 12:07 AM Updated: 10:31 AM
By JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Quarterbacks are generally off-limits to tacklers at University of Virginia football practices, and that hasn't changed this summer. Still, the Cavaliers are being especially cautious with No. 10.
It's hard to overstate sophomore Jameel Sewell's importance to Al Groh's team. The 6-3, 226-pound left-hander is the only quarterback on the U.Va. roster who has taken a snap in a college game, and he's a gifted playmaker. He's also coming off an injury to his left wrist that required surgery in December.
"Jameel is like the Pope," senior defensive end Chris Long said with a smile after practice last night. "I wouldn't go near the Pope, and I'm not going near Jameel. He's my quarterback, and I wouldn't let anybody touch him, and I'm certainly not going to touch him myself."
Sewell, a Hermitage High graduate, was limited during spring practice, but he's been a full participant since training camp opened Monday night.
The Cavaliers' first practice in full pads was yesterday afternoon. That was also the team's first open practice, and several hundred fans turned out on a steamy afternoon.
Sewell didn't look particularly sharp, but he's confident that will come. He knows what's at stake as Virginia tries to rebound from a 5-7 season.
"The team is ready, and they're just waiting on me," Sewell said. "I'm trying to get on the bandwagon with them."
He probably won't face a live rush until the Sept. 1 opener at Wyoming. Until then, he'll continue getting comfortable with a receiving corps whose most talented member, Kevin Ogletree, is expected to miss the season while recovering from a knee injury.
Even without Ogletree, Sewell said, there's no excuse for U.Va.'s defense to dominate its offense in practice, as was the case yesterday.
"The defense is good -- they're an excellent defense -- but our offense is as good, if not better," said Sewell, who passed for 1,342 yards and rushed for 200 despite playing all last season with a broken bone in his wrist.
His wrist has already passed one significant test this summer. During early-morning conditioning drills one day, Sewell said, "I was running and cutting and I slipped, and the first reaction was to put my hand down. And I put it down and all my weight fell on it, and it held up good, so I'm pleased about that."
. . .
NOTES: Both of today's practices (8:35 a.m. and 6:35 p.m. starts) are open to the public. The Wahoos practice on the fields behind the McCue Center and University Hall. . . . Reserve defensive end Kevin Crawford, who showed promise as a redshirt freshman last season, has left the team. . . . Redshirt freshman tailback Keith Payne was reinstated to the team in time for yesterday's practice. Payne, considered the jewel of Virginia's 2006 recruiting class, had been suspended from the team for academic reasons. He hasn't been cleared for contact yet and spent much of yesterday's practice working with strength coach Matt Balis.
Payne sees value in suspension
Reinstated Cavs tailback says summer experience 'was a wake-up call for life'
Sunday, Aug 12, 2007 - 12:07 AM
By JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
CHARLOTTESVILLE To a portion of the University of Virginia fan base, he's already something of a legend, thanks to his size and his heroics as an Oakton High senior.
No matter that Keith Payne never has actually played in a college football game. He's too big, too strong, too fast to fail, many U.Va. supporters believe.
And they may be correct. For now, though, the 6-3, 234-pound redshirt freshman is buried on the depth chart at tailback, a position where the Cavaliers are extraordinarily deep.
That's what happens when a player misses the first four practices of the summer. Payne, who was suspended from the team in late June for what U.Va. coach Al Groh called a "failure to live up to his academic responsibilities," was reinstated late this past week and practiced Friday for the first time.
The Cavaliers have five other tailbacks on scholarship -- juniors Cedric Peerman and Andrew Pearman, sophomore Mikell Simpson, redshirt freshman Raynard Horne and true freshman Max Milien -- and all have been practicing in full pads.
Payne, who has conditioning requirements to meet before he's cleared for contact, was still in shorts at yesterday morning's practice. But both he and Groh say the suspension was worth whatever short-term toll it might take on Payne's football career.
"It was a wake-up call for life," Payne said after practice Friday.
Payne, who led Oakton to the state Group AAA, Division 6 title in 2005, wasn't declared academically ineligible at U.Va., and his reinstatement was considered inevitable. Still, the suspension served as a public reminder to Payne that he needed to take his schoolwork and his responsibilities as a team member more seriously.
"It was a challenge that Coach Groh gave me from the beginning," Payne said. "Basically, he's looking out for me as a person, letting me know he really cares about me . . . I've learned a lot from this."
Groh would like to play two tailbacks regularly and have a third ready to rotate in. Peerman appears to have locked up the starting job, and Milien is expected to redshirt. That leaves four tailbacks vying for two spots, though Pearman and Simpson also can play wide receiver.
Payne has four seasons of eligibility left. There's plenty of time for him to catch up.
"I think he gained a lot more than what he missed," Groh said. "That was certainly the purpose behind what we did this summer."
Cavs playing the numbers game
After massive redshirting, UVa has surplus of depth
By Jay Jenkins / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7250
August 12, 2007
Long before training camp started, Al Groh and his assistants began pouring over the numbers.
Thanks to an NCAA rule, Virginia and other Division I-A programs are restricted to inviting only 105 players to training camp.
While additions, typically recruited walk-ons, can be added once the fall semester begins on Aug. 28, programs are forced to make decisions on invitations.
With 24 true freshmen and four recruited walk-ons in camp, Virginia reached the maximum number.
That itself is not a new revelation.
“We have been at 105 at training camp for quite some time,” Groh said earlier this week. “In fact, most every year we have had to assess, with some of the non-grant players, whether or not we could accommodate them now or if we would have to wait until school started.”
There is, however, a glaring difference with the current model.
When Groh prepares for practices he has a problem - the coach clearly has more playable depth than ever before.
Credit the decision to award most, if not all, of the 85 scholarships the program is allotted.
“This is probably as tight to the limit as we have been this early,” Groh said. “We have always ended up pretty close to the maximum because, whenever we had spaces, we tried to acknowledge the contributions and worthiness of some kids who may not have been on grant.”
Credit roster management - Virginia has 20 players on its roster that are classified as redshirt freshmen.
That gives Virginia a newfound level of talent on its depth chart.
“There have been some spots some years where we were fighting a little bit of a numbers crunch at some spots,” Groh said. “… Everyone of the positions lines will be sufficiently stocked for the drills now and contingencies coming up.”
While risking injury, there was evidence of that during Saturday’s two-a-day practice - Virginia’s defenders were allowed to tackle players from the opposite side of the ball in two “situational” periods during the morning session.
“We have done it in some of the close-quarter work, but probably for the only the second full-padded practice that we’ve been allowed, this is probably the earliest that we have done it,” Groh said. “One was a real tough running period, the other was goal line.
“It just makes it that much more realistic, and we’re able to learn that much more from it and point it out on the tape that: ‘This is exactly where the block is going to be or how the linebacker is going to fill in.’”
With player progression in mind, Groh might be forced to get creative in designing ways to ensure the team’s younger, inexperienced players get enough practice time in live drills.
Virginia Tech has accomplished this to a degree in the past with its junior varsity team, which has competed against post-grad teams.
The practice is employed at other schools as well - Marshall, Tennessee and West Virginia will play Hargrave Military Academy this year.
The trick, Groh said, lies in an NCAA ruling that counts a contest against a post-graduate team as an “official game.”
Should a true freshman play in that contest it would count toward a year of eligibility, Groh said.
“So if we do anything like that, it will have to be with players that have already used that developmental year,” he added. “We wouldn’t have a scrimmage for development that counted for a whole year’s eligibility for a player.
“That is unfortunate, but that’s the way the rule is.”
For now, the coaching staff is focused on getting the first-year players up to speed and comfortable with their new surroundings and playbook.
“They just jumped in right away,” Groh said. “They were starting football without any orientation to it, to our systems and our language that we use, in the midst of preparing for exams.
“We are really trying to catch them up to the point where what we say means something to them and the techniques that we use they get some work on so somewhere down the line then it’s reasonable to interject them into the team work. Right now, it is not really reasonable to do so with most of them.”
Groh said two graduate assistants, Vincent Brown and Jim Jones, have been critical to the orientation process. While the returning players can be spotted in practice working in live action, first-year defensive linemen, linebackers and offensive linemen have been working on the side.
“Once we have these guys going, then we will probably extend practice at the end for a few developmental periods just to try to get some turns for those players,” Groh pointed out. “Ultimately, the challenge comes down to the players themselves to compete for the playing time, which is what we like to see occur.”
New approach has Gould kicking with confidence
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 12, 2007
Chris Gould embarked on an independent study during the summer.
Virginia’s placekicker, entering his final season, will not receive a grade for his work, but he will certainly see the final results.
“It was a big physics project, I guess you could say,” Gould joked.
After missing eight of 19 field-goal attempts last year, Gould used the past few months to revisit the basics.
“I worked on tempo,” he said. “I worked on how fast I approach the ball, just how fast my leg comes through.”
Virginia coach Al Groh has noticed the improvements.
“[Gould] was working on some things in the spring with his style and his approach and has carried on with that in the fall,” Groh said. “He seems to be making good progress with them.”
The “project,” coupled with apparent job security that was created when Noah Greenbaum transferred to Liberty, has Gould feeling comfortable for the first time as a Cavalier.
“As you mature you really understand yourself a lot better,” Gould said. “It also helps that the competition push is not as hard. You can come out and miss a field goal and not get worried that you are going to get benched the next day.
“I think that is where my mindset is right now. I have cleared all that out, and really I can just try to focus on helping the team rather than surviving.”
Gould, who should also handle kickoffs and provides insurance at punter, has been among the numerous bright spots in the opening week of training camp.
“I just feel a lot more fluid,” Gould said. “If you are flexing, that’s when you can tell you are nervous. When you kick and it is going well you feel your leg come up and go through the ball real nice. You don’t tense up. I hope I can continue to do that.”
Since the end of spring practice, Byron Glaspy and Nate Lyles have been considered the obvious starters at safety in the season opener at Wyoming.
Apparently, Jamaal Jackson is not a fan of that idea.
With a solid start to training camp, Jackson has played his way into the conversation and, more importantly, the rotation in certain packages.
“We are rotating the three of them, mostly brought about by the continued progress that Jamaal has had from the spring,” Groh said Saturday afternoon. “The other two have also, but we really saw a big change in his game in the spring that has continued.
“He really warrants the opportunity to compete for more time.”
Jackson, a senior from Chesapeake, has made 55 tackles in his 33-game career, but 43 of those stops came during his sophomore season.
Jackson slipped down the depth chart last year, appearing in just 180 plays.
“It is hard to really say what the catalyst was but it just seems to have fallen much more smoothly into place for Jamaal right now,” Groh said. “What is most evident at the starting blocks is that the increased confidence and definitiveness in which he is playing has been showing up in all facets of his game.”
Wide receiver Kris Burd and inside linebacker John Bivens were not on the field with their teammates Saturday.
Burd, a true freshman, had back surgery on Friday, Groh said. The coach did not offer a timetable for a return, but it is a condition that he was aware of when the rookie arrived.
Bivens, a redshirt freshman, has “got a little sore leg,” Groh said. While there were no specifics given, Bivens was wearing a small brace on his left knee in the early stages of training camp.
Clint Sintim has already asked for one signature this season.
When the linebacker saw the team’s media guide with his roommate Chris Long gracing the cover, he knew he had to joke with the defensive lineman.
“When I saw the media guide I made it a point to go ask him if he would sign mine just to get under his skin a little bit,” Sintim laughed. “I give him grief about it all the time.”
Long may have writer’s cramp when he arrives back at the team hotel tonight - the Cavaliers will hold their annual Meet the Team Day this afternoon at Scott Stadium.
The stadium’s gates will open at 2:30 p.m. and the players are expected to arrive 15 minutes later. The event is open to the public and scheduled to last until 4:15 regardless of weather conditions.
U. Va.'s Sewell says wrist is sore but getting better
By ED MILLER , The Virginian-Pilot
© August 12, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE | The most talked-about wrist in the Commonwealth was wrapped in gauze after the first of two Virginia football practices Saturday morning.
Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell said it felt fine - a little sore after a two-hour practice, but getting better all the time.
Sewell had screws placed in his left (throwing) wrist after the season, in December. He sat out most of spring practice. The condition of his wrist has been one of the team's big questions during pre season camp.
Sewell hurt the wrist in camp last year, bracing himself when he was knocked down in practice. He played the season with a fractured bone, yet threw for 1,342 yards.
"Adrenaline got me through," he said.
Sewell had surgery after the season and thought recovery would be straightforward. He admitted that it's taken longer than he thought.
"I wasn't worried because I wasn't sure of the severity of it," he said. "I thought I'd get the surgery and things would be fine, but it's a bigger issue than that.
"It's a weird bone to break, that's all."
Sewell was just 18 when he got his first start as a redshirt freshman last year.
Though he threw just five touchdown passes - none over the last five games - and six interceptions, he showed flashes of big-play potential.
Sewell looked rusty in Friday evening's practice, but was sharper Saturday morning.
Still, as coach Al Groh said: "There's still quite a ways we need to go with our passing game."
Tailback Payne returns from suspension
The Cavaliers gained one player and lost another Friday. Redshirt freshman Keith Payne, suspended in June for academic reasons, returned to practice. Reserve defensive end Kevin Crawford, a redshirt sophomore, was removed from the roster.
Payne, a 6-foot-3, 234-pound tailback, was the Virginia Group AAA Player of the Year in 200 5 and one of the most anticipated recruits in recent years. He was expected to compete with junior Cedric Peerman for the starting tailback position. It's unclear how much ground Payne lost after missing off season drills. But Groh said that shoring up Payne's academic credentials was more important.
"I think he gained a lot more than what he missed," Groh said.
Crawford's departure coincided with the conclusion of summer school. Groh said last week that there were a handful of players who need a strong performance in summer school to remain eligible.
Deep Creek grad making bid to start at safety
With 10 first-teamers returning, most of the orange jerseys for starters have been claimed on defense.
There are three candidates for two safety positions, however, thanks to the emergence of Jamaal Jackson.
A senior from Deep Creek, Jackson played behind starters Nate Lyles and Byron Glaspy last year, making 10 tackles in 12 games. Always a solid run defender, Jackson has been making strides as a pass defender. He is challenging Lyles at the strong safety slot.
"His increased confidence and determination has been showing up in all facets of his game," Groh said.
Sewell keeping it simple
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- He turned the cap on the 20-ounce bottle of orange Gatorade and brought the liquid to his lips.
The swig was a long one, a good 5 seconds or so, and Jameel Sewell stared straight ahead as he drank, letting his latest -- and greatest -- answer sink in to those around him.
Virginia's quarterback had been speaking to the media Friday for the first time this season, and he'd given rapid-fire responses to every previous question. About his wrist. About his confidence. About leadership, rehab and pain.
And finally, once most of the mob had moved on to other players, Sewell was asked to identify the one facet of his game that he most wanted to improve.
"Winnin'," he said.
And for the first time in a long time on this sweltering summer day, he paused and took a drink.
Sewell had just proposed a toast -- to simplicity.
Perhaps this is why Sewell chose not to speak publicly Monday after the Cavaliers' first day of practice: He knew exactly what was coming, and he knew none of it really mattered.
Yes, his wrist hurt every time he tried to take a snap this spring.
Yes, thanks to a lighter off-season throwing program, his shoulder was sore the first few days of practice .
Yes, the UVa offense is still quite a ways behind the defense.
Yes, there are screws in his left throwing wrist after that December surgery, and no, they probably will not be tested fully until he gets hit in UVa's opening game.
Winnin'. That's what it all comes down to. And for the Cavaliers to win this season, Sewell knows he needs to be on the field. Making excuses or showing any signs of weakness -- even if they are legitimate concerns -- serves no purpose.
"A lot more's expected of me," the sophomore said. "A lot more's expected."
UVa's first week of practice went the way most would expect: Sharp defense, shaky offense.
But the Cavaliers were buoyed by the fact that Sewell was out there taking all the first-team reps despite missing most of spring practice, including an unsightly spring game that finished with a 7-0 score.
Sewell admits that the spring was a tough time for him mentality as he rehabilitated his wrist using band resistance twice a day.
"I just wanted to be out there with them, sweating with them, working hard with them, bleeding with them," said Sewell, who started UVa's final nine games last season. "I really wanted to be part of the team. And I felt like, 'Damn, I'm just leaving them out there to dry.'"
No longer. Sewell said he feels 100 percent -- whether he truly is, only he knows -- now that he's worked out that shoulder soreness.
"I really haven't seen a decline from him," tight end Tom Santi said. "From what I see, he's ready to go."
For the Cavs' sake, he'd better be. Sewell is the only quarterback on the roster who has played in a college game. And his mobility will be a much-needed asset after a spring knee injury to Kevin Ogletree has left UVa without a proven receiver.
A veteran defense led by Chris Long makes it even more difficult for the offense to show progress in practice.
"There's no excuse," Sewell said. "We've just got to prepare for it. Our defense is good, they're an excellent defense, but our offense is just as good, if not better. We're just coming along a little bit slower than them.
"Yesterday was a good day," he added. "Today was a good day. We can't do anything but get better from here."
As long as Sewell stays healthy, the Cavs can drink to that.
Cavs QB healed, hopeful
A healthy and more experienced Jameel Sewell is eager to get started on his sophomore season.
BY MELINDA WALDROP | 247-4634
August 12, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Jameel Sewell had enough to worry about last
year, when he became Virginia's starting quarterback in the fourth week of his
But he also played all of 2006 with a broken bone in his right wrist, an injury suffered when he was hit by a teammate during training camp and tried to brace his fall. "Adrenaline got me through, and the will to play for my teammates," Sewell said. "When they called on me, I just wanted to help the team win, and I tried my best."
Sewell completed 143 of his 247 passes for 1,342 yards and five touchdowns - all U.Va. freshman records - while also throwing six interceptions. Now, after December surgery to put a screw in the broken bone in his wrist, he's anxious to find out what he can do completely healthy.
"I'm ready to see," he said. "I want to see."
In the first two weeks after his surgery, Sewell said it was hard to get out of bed, and the pain sent him back to the emergency room more than once. But he said he never was worried about not being ready for his sophomore season, even as his participation in spring drills was limited, and said his wrist is fine now except for occasional soreness.
Cavaliers offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Groh hasn't seen any problems with Sewell's wrist so far in fall practice. What he has seen is a quarterback in charge of his team.
"It's noticeable, the difference in his confidence, and certainly in his grasp of the offense and the schemes that we want to try to run," said Groh, who was 18-7 as U.Va.'s starting QB from 1994-95. "I can remember back in my (playing) days - there is a big difference after you've played a year, you go through a spring and you come back. You just kind of feel a lot different, and I'm sure that he feels the same way, and I think his teammates notice that, too."
"I know he's gonna do everything in his power to make sure this team moves forward," junior running back Cedric Peerman said. "He comes into this season being No. 1 on the (depth) chart, so he knows he's gonna be in that position where guys depend on him."
Defensive end Chris Long said Sewell has learned to lead vocally and by example, with an authority that belies his 19 years.
"I'm a goofy guy. I feel 19 off the field," Sewell said. "On the field, I feel like a vet, so I gotta play like a vet. ... Last year I was just trying to be there with (my teammates), and now I'm just trying to be a leader and put more on my shoulders for the team, just so they feel more comfortable in what they have to do."
Among the things the Cavs must do is find a go-to receiver to replace Kevin Ogletree, who caught 52 passes in 2006 but is out for the season with a knee injury. And the tailback spot is talented but young, with a pair of redshirt freshman backing up Peerman.
But Sewell, who also had 408 rushing yards and the Cavs' longest run from scrimmage (a 36-yard quarterback draw against Maryland), is confident in his team's offense ability. That faith stems from an experienced offensive line that returns four starters, a sure-handed crop of tight ends and a receiving corps that Sewell says is better than people think.
"Last year they were saying the receivers weren't doing as well," Sewell said. "It wasn't the receivers, it wasn't the tight ends. Honestly, it was me. If I can't get them the ball, they can't make a play."
During Friday's practice, Sewell struggled to do that, overthrowing receivers or flinging balls dangerously close to defenders.
Saturday morning was a more accurate story, with Sewell hitting players in stride on sideline patterns and crossing routes, and lofting a pretty touchdown pass to junior tight end John Phillips.
"He was a little bit sharper than he was yesterday," head coach Al Groh said. "Yesterday wasn't an exactly an above-the-line day, so today probably was above the line. But we've still got a long way to go to get our passing game where it needs to be."
Sewell knows there are plenty of question marks surrounding Virginia's offense. He's just ready to start answering them.
"Everybody's doubting us all around the field, except on the defensive side of the ball," Sewell said. "We got a chip on our shoulder, and we're ready to prove to ourselves that we can get things done."
Redshirt freshman linebacker John Bivens spent Saturday's practice on the sidelines with what Al Groh said was a sore leg. Freshman wide receiver Kris Burd almost missed time after having back surgery on Friday. ... Senior safety Jamaal Jackson out of Deep Creek High School in Chesapeake is among the players who have impressed the Virginia coaches so far in fall practice. Groh said Jackson's game improved markedly during spring drills, citing him "increased confidence and the definitiveness with which he's playing."