Playmaker on alert
After being limited by a shoulder injury last fall, UVa linebacker Clint Sintim hopes to be a bigger factor this season.
By Doug Doughty
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Much has been made of the toughness of Virginia sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell, who started most of last season with an injury that required off-season surgery.
Actually, the Cavaliers have two players who meet that description.
Outside linebacker Clint Sintim enters the 2007 season with 24 consecutive starts, even though he was on an operating table within a week after last season's finale against Virginia Tech.
Sintim, a fourth-year junior, enters the season with 21 career tackles for loss -- only three fewer than his more celebrated teammate, senior defensive end Chris Long.
It's not preposterous to think Sintim might be on the verge of a breakout season.
"I'm not making any predictions," Sintim said, "but that's the plan. That's definitely the plan. Every year you want to be a better player."
In some respects, Sintim was a one-armed player in 2006, when he tore ligaments in his left shoulder during preseason camp and wore a harness for most of the season.
"It was somewhat frustrating, but injuries are part of the game," said Sintim, a 6-foot-3, 248-pounder from Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge. "I wasn't as productive as I would have liked, but I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Because I was hurt, that's why.'
"I'm a lot stronger this year. We've got a great new strength coach, [Matt] Balis, who's made me a lot stronger and a lot more athletic. After my injury, I wasn't cleared to lift all year, but this whole summer I haven't been limited in anything."
Sintim has seven career sacks, which puts him on a level with Long, but the outside linebacker position in UVa's 3-4 defense is the premier pass rusher. One of Sintim's predecessors, Darryl Blackstock, had 10 sacks in 2002 and 11 in 2004.
"I think that's an aspect of my game that has been lacking in past years," Sintim said. "Our system is set up for all the linebackers to make plays, but there are plays that I'm more apt to make simply because of where I'm located on the field.
"I didn't make as many plays [last season] as I'd like to. It's something that I've worked on a lot over the summer and hopefully it will translate when we get into the season. I guess I'm a greedy player. I always want to make plays."
In coach Al Groh's eyes, that doesn't always mean sacks.
"Not solely, no," Groh said. "This is such a diverse position that he plays. That would make him a valuable player, but you could be a real good sack guy and still be deficient in other areas.
"One of the good things about Clint is, he's very intrigued by all facets of the job. If he's got to walk out on a receiver and re-route him, he's very challenged by that, as much so as he is getting to the quarterback. That's why he's such a good fit for the position."
Sintim once weighed more than 250 and Groh says his "game is quicker," but a variety of factors could be involved, including an improved understanding of opposing defenses.
Sintim, who turns 22 in February, has emerged as one of the leaders of a defense that ranked 17th in Division I-A last year under first-year coordinator Mike London.
"That was a combination of him and Coach Groh," Sintim said. "They understand that sometimes you have to get risky on defense. We took a lot of chances last year. Sometimes we got burned; sometimes we made big plays.
"I really enjoy the fact that [London] gives us the opportunity to make those plays. Defense wins championships and you can't play safe all the time."
Debut of U.Va.'s Barber helps soothe NFL's menacing image
© August 20, 2007
With his appearance at halftime of the Giants-Ravens exhibition game Sunday night, Tiki Barber made his debut on NBC Sports.
Just in time, some might say, considering the NFL's tumultuous summer.
Retired or not, Barber is a recognizable name and a non-brooding, friendly face. Even a few minutes of camera time for the former U.Va. and Giants star offer relief for a league that wants to project a smart, classy - not to mention, law-abiding - image.
Football broadcasts constitute only a small part of Barber's TV assignments. Although he'll be a regular on the network's NFL coverage, he's already appearing as a correspondent on the "Today" show. It was announced the other day that Barber will play a bigger role on the show when "Today" expands by an hour.
This is working out the way Barber wanted when he announced he was retiring. He was leaving too soon, a lot of people complained at the time. You can understand how Barber would be misunderstood. Nobody goes out on top.
But Barber listened to his own voice. He used football; he didn't let it use him. Now, his second career is flourishing. Recently, he was a guest on the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno," introducing himself to a wider audience.
The same Jay Leno who has been making jokes at Michael Vick's expense made conversation with Barber. What's one got to do with the other?
Maybe nothing. But we can be pretty sure U.Va. alumni are proud of the best football player their school ever produced. They're happy to see their man on TV.
Barber is U.Va.'s all-time leading rusher. He was the ACC Player of the Year in 1996. But here's what really tickles many U.Va. folks: For two years, Barber was a member of the Academic All-America team.
Are we all in agreement that, in so many ways, Barber couldn't reflect more positively on his alma mater? Then it's impossible to deny the opposite is true of Vick, whose perp walks are constantly replayed on TV.
Virginia Tech isn't to blame for Vick's destructive life choices, but that doesn't sever the link between the most notorious football icon since O.J. Simpson and his former school. It doesn't prevent politically incorrect critics from raising eyebrows and throwing spitballs at Tech.
Who could have guessed, by the way, that Marcus would turn out to be the better-behaved brother?
The association between the Vicks and Tech is irrevocable. Same for Barber and U.Va., only in a much less embarrassing way.
As Michael Vick's sordid dogfighting scenario plays out, evidence of his recklessness continues to astound. He has taken bad judgment to new depths.
For Vick, the S-word would seem to apply. No, not "sadistic" - although that fits, too.
The word is "stupid." Only a very stupid person would risk so much on such an abhorrent hobby.
Vick's future is not in his hands. But Barber's schedule is set: He'll appear on network TV about as often as Katie Couric, another U.Va. grad.
On Sunday nights during football season, Barber will be gabbing with Bob Costas and Co. He has traded in his shoulder pads for a suit and tie.
As fashion statements go, it's a smarter choice than an orange jump suit.
UVA FOOTBALL PREVIEW: The Special Teams
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com
August 18, 2007
With little turnover in the offseason, Virginia’s special teams units return almost intact.
The most glaring departure was long snapper Tyrus Gardner, who was a reliable starter for the past two seasons.
* The Cavaliers must also replace Tony Franklin, who returned 11 kickoffs for 257 yards after being inserted into the unit late in the 2006 season. Michael Johnson (8 returns, 145 yards) played early in the year before being removed.
* Cornerback Mike Brown (ACL) is out for the season, which means UVa will also need to find a new punt returner. Brown had 14 punt returns last year for 134 yards. The departed Emmanuel Byers was used early in the season and returned six punts for 37 yards, before a costly mistake against Maryland ended the experiment.
* Former placekicker Noah Greenbaum had a year of eligibility remaining but left the team after spring practice, transferring to Liberty.
* The Cavaliers were also forced to find a new holder for placement kicks in the spring after reserve quarterback John Phillips, who was known for his accuracy, graduated.
The kicking game, which disappointed at times last year, returns some familiar faces with experience.
Chris Gould, who handled most of the placekicking duties, is back for his final campaign. Expect the senior to be used in a similar way this season - he will handle the placekicking duties and punts kicked inside the opponent’s territory.
The punting project worked - Gould dropped 29 punts inside the 20-yard line, and 16 of his 56 punts ended with a fair catch.
On field goals last year, Gould was 11 for 19 and finished perfect inside of 40 yards. Longer kicks proved troublesome, which helped earn Greenbaum a late-season audition.
Gould said he worked on “tempo” during the offseason and has drawn positive reviews from the coaching staff for his performance in training camp.
Should Gould struggle, Virginia might be forced to use true freshman Chris Hinkebein, but a redshirt season would be preferable.
“Right now, it is pretty clear that [our placekicker] will be Chris Gould,” said Virginia coach Al Groh. “We don’t have any preseason games so we have to form some impressions going in, and Chris was working on some things in the spring with his style and his approach and has carried on with that in the fall and seems to be making good progress with them.”
Gould will also handle kickoffs for the second straight year. Last year, 31 of his 42 kickoffs reached the end zone and only 10 of those were returned. That number could be altered with a new rule in place - kickoffs will come from the 30-yard line, five yards deeper than it had been.
* Ryan Weigand, who punted 24 times for an average of 42.4 yards, showed improvements late in the season. In fact, the 24-year-old had a 58-yard punt in the season finale at Virginia Tech and finished with the best average for a Virginia punter in six years.
Weigand, who will complete requirements for his degree after this semester, said his goal is to be the ACC’s best.
“It’s my senior season and I would like to get first-team all-conference - that’s the goal for all of us,” Weigand said. “I felt a lot more confident late last season. I got a couple of games under my belt and got the jitters out.”
Job security has also helped the California native.
“It’s nice to know if you don’t have a good day that you don’t have to worry about someone being in your spot the next day,” he added.
* Gould and Weigand should benefit from the arrival of long snapper Danny Aiken. After a successful campaign at Fork Union last year and given the need at the position, UVa elected to offer Aiken a scholarship.
Groh has praised Aiken for his velocity on his snaps.
“We are impressed with what Danny has done,” Groh said. “As had been our expectation, he has the most velocity on the ball coming back that we’ve had on our snap operations.”
Weigand added: “He really zings it. You can take a little longer to get the kicks off if the snap comes back faster.”
* Cedric Peerman, a junior, figures to handle a majority of Virginia kickoff returns - and for good reason. The running back averaged 27.3 yards on 19 returns and enters the season ranked ninth among active players with a career average of 26.5 yards per return.
Groh has mentioned Raynard Horne, Mikell Simpson, Andrew Pearman, Chris Dalton and Max Milien among those auditioning for the spot now or in the future.
“We have had six or seven guys back there,” Groh said. “Not that they will all be candidates for the start of the season, but sooner or later, whether it is this year or other times in their career, they will be, so we are taking advantage.”
* Vic Hall, a starter at cornerback, is expected to handle the holding duties for placement kicks and gives the team the option of running fakes, whether it is through the air or on the ground.
In total, Hall is on six of the seven special teams units, the exception coming on kickoff returns.
“It’s like we put him on one of those old-time store scales, where they keep putting another rock on Vic’s scale,” Groh said. “It just keeps getting heavier and heavier and heavier.
“He likes it. The more the merrier.”
In the case of an emergency, reserve quarterback Scott Deke has been trained at holder. “The coaches were quite complimentary of the work that Scott is doing there and how he has progressed,” Groh said.
* Hall may also get a shot to showcase his speed on punt returns. The sophomore, who enjoyed a record-setting career as a quarterback in high school, certainly possesses the athleticism to handle the duty and could be elusive in the open field.
“If you’re a football player and you’ve played offense before, once you get the ball it’s like you’re excited to do something with it,” Hall said.
A lengthy list of candidates to handle punt returns includes Pearman, Simpson and redshirt freshman Staton Jobe.
Pearman had 10 returns last season for 60 yards before he left the team for personal reasons.
“[Pearman] seems to be more decisive this year in the early going,” Groh said.
* Josh Zidenberg, who is listed as the back-up fullback on the two-deep, has proven his worth on special teams, which helped him earn the team’s George Welsh Award last year. In addition to blocking a pair of punts, Zidenberg had six tackles on kickoff returns and serves as the protector for Virginia’s punters.
Given Virginia’s focus on acquiring speedy playmakers for its defense and offense, the Cavaliers should see a boost on special teams in upcoming seasons.
In the NFL, it is common practice to have rookies slotted on packages in special teams. With the addition of 21 freshmen that redshirted last year, a similar impact could be expected at Virginia, but Groh indicated that it might not be the case.
“I think it is a little bit different,” Groh said. “At the college level because you have so many more players on your roster, if your frontline guys are your special teams players by far and they give you an advantage, you can use them there and still get them some rest on succeeding downs.
“Whereas in the NFL, if your best special teams players are your frontline guys, they are probably playing every play in the game.”
* While the program will need to replace Gould and Weigand at punter with the incoming recruiting class (one-time commitment Matt Zubyk has since picked Stanford), Hinkebein appears to be the kicker of the future.
Hinkebein, who nailed a 54-yard field goal in high school, has what Groh called a “good, strong leg.”
The area of concern, however, is with his accuracy and the coach said Hinkebein is “probably a little bit nervous, which is not unexpected.”
* Aiken should be a mainstay at long snapper for his entire career.
Aiken hikes it in a snap
By Todd Merchant / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7236
August 18, 2007
When someone mentions versatile football players, it usually conjures up images of NFL stars Antwaan Randle El or Hines Ward or former standout Kordell Stewart - guys who could seemingly play every skill position on the field.
One position that definitely doesn’t enter the discussion is long snapper. But that’s exactly where one of Virginia’s most versatile players ended up.
After regularly playing as many as seven different positions during his high school and prep career, freshman Danny Aiken has come to the Cavaliers for one reason and one reason only - to snap the ball on placement kicks and punts.
And he is perfectly content to do that for the next four years.
“I just kinda had fun, and whatever I was recruited for was what I was recruited for,” Aiken said. “I just enjoy playing football.”
While he played a slew of positions during his time at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke - including defensive end, wide receiver, tight end, quarterback, running back and long snapper - he seemed most comfortable in the backfield. As a senior, Aiken completed 60 passes for 894 yards and eight touchdowns while guiding the team to a 10-2 record. He also rushed for 402 yards and eight touchdowns.
A two-star recruit by Rivals.com coming out of high school, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder chose to spend a post-grad year at Fork Union Military Academy. He spent most of his time with the Blue Devils as a tight end and defensive end, but he also
dabbled in punting and still held down the long snapping duties.
Aiken was considered equally strong as a tight end and long snapper, and when he was recruited for the latter, it came as a bit of a shock to him.
“I hadn’t expected it. It was a surprise to me when they said, ‘We want to offer you a scholarship,’” Aiken said. “You know, I wasn’t complaining.
“As of right now [I am] just specifically a long snapper. From what I know, that’s just what I’ll be doing here. If something else happens to come up - wherever they need me, I’ll play.”
Although he has the ability to play many positions, Aiken seems to be a natural fit at long snapper. While he admits there are several nuances to the position, in the end, it’s pretty basic.
“The skill? Just get it back to the punter as fast as possible,” he said. “There is an art to it, but for me, it just came easy. I don’t know how it did. Someone showed me how to do it once, and I just kinda caught on.”
His teammates would seem to agree. With the graduation of former long snapper Tyrus Gardner, Aiken has seen plenty of practice time with kicker Chris Gould and punter Ryan Weigand.
“I think he’s got great natural ability,” Weigand said. “Right now he’s probably got Tyrus’ velocity as a freshman, which is awesome.”
In regards to speed, the normal time for a snap is 1.4 seconds, and Aiken often gets it back there in less than 1.39.
Another key for a snapper is accuracy, which doesn’t seem to be a problem for Aiken.
“If he can put the ball on the right hip during a punt or put the ball in the right spot during a field goal, it makes the holder’s and the kicker’s job a lot easier,” Gould said. “He really can relieve all the pressure on the holder and the kicker and the punter just by having good accuracy.”
While so many people are already singing his praises, Aiken knows he hasn’t mastered the art of snapping. And he has no problem putting in the extra effort to perfect his craft.
“He has an incredible work ethic,” Gould said. “In the few weeks that I’ve gotten to know him, when the coach gives him a task, he works 45 minutes on a single task. … I think with that being said, you can tell how his career’s going to go here.”
UVA FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Cook, Hall locking down the corners
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 20, 2007
One has adequately showcased his talents on the field.
The other has a fan following of epic proportions.
Oddly enough, the two come from the same family tree. That, of course, was something that Chris Cook and Vic Hall spent their childhoods unaware of.
It wasn’t until April 2004 at a Nike Football Training Camp in Charlottesville that the two high school juniors found out they were cousins.
Now almost three years later, Cook and Hall have fans buzzing about their potential as a duo.
Although related, the similarities are limited to desire, determination and man-to-man domination.
At 6-foot-2, Cook dwarfs Hall by five inches. At 201 pounds, Cook resembles a heavyweight in comparison to his 181-pound cousin.
And their respective paths to the starting lineup at cornerback could not be more different.
As has been well-documented, Hall was recruited to Virginia as a quarterback. The reasons were obvious - Hall passed for 104 touchdowns and a state-record 8,731 yards.
After drawing some initial turns at quarterback upon his arrival, Hall was moved to the secondary, something he has grown to accept.
“I wasn’t disappointed at all,” Hall said. “I understand as a team that you have to look out for your team, and obviously me playing defensive back was best for my team, so there wasn’t any disappointment.”
Virginia coach Al Groh has seen few players approach a new position with the results that have followed Hall.
“All the good things that happen with Vic Hall is just Vic being Vic,” Groh said. “He’s got a special quality - it is much easier to see than it is to define.
“He’s got a great energy. He’s got a really nice combination of confidence and humility. He has a humility about him that drives him to feel as if he doesn’t have the answers and there’s always more to do to get better, more to achieve.”
Despite making what he admitted was fewer than 10 tackles in high school, Hall has picked up the new position, showcasing brute force on tackles.
“I guess in high school I always tried to be as physical as possible,” Hall recounted. “There really wasn’t anybody that had to tell me to stick my head down. I understand playing defensive back that you are outweighed by the running backs a lot, so you have to be physical.”
According to the witness accounts from his teammates, highlight-reel plays have a way of following Hall.
“He’s the type of athlete where I can’t wait to see the ball thrown to his side,” said safety Nate Lyles. “It’s anticipation every time the ball is around him.”
While Hall was expected to play, the sophomore was not considered a lock for the starting lineup until junior Mike Brown tore his ACL this summer. Regardless, Hall apparently paid little attention to the depth chart.
“Champ Bailey could be over there and it wouldn’t make any difference to Vic,” Groh said. “I don’t think it made any difference whatsoever.”
Cook’s spot with the first-team defense, however, was a forgone conclusion.
After logging 648 plays and 11 starts as a sophomore, Cook is now considered the cornerstone of the secondary.
To his credit, Cook has earned his high-profile status.
“Chris is one of those guys that kinda came in a little brash and cocky, but as he has gotten older and taken the role as a team leader, Chris has really matured,” said Virginia defensive coordinator Mike London. “The things you see now, he steps up, he will call people out, but at the same time, when he is working out, when he’s running, people can look to him and say, ‘That guy is doing it full speed.’
“He makes plays in practice. He is very gifted and talented and he’s grown up. He’s not done here yet, but it is very gratifying to see a guy like him - the [phrase] is, ‘he gets it’ and Chris has got it.”
Lyles demanding perfection on 'D'
By Whitelaw Reid / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7250
August 20, 2007
Last year, in the season opener at Pittsburgh, the Virginia defense allowed Panthers quarterback Tyler Palko to connect on touchdown passes of 72 and 78 yards. The scores played a large part in UVa’s 38-13 loss.
Three weeks later against Georgia Tech, Virginia let Reggie Ball go bonkers. Ball hit Calvin Johnson for scores of 58 and 66 yards. Those letdowns led to a 24-7 defeat.
With this season’s opener against Wyoming just 12 days away, Virginia players know they can’t afford to allow those kind of big plays in the passing game. They seem well aware of the bugaboo that played a big factor in their 5-7 campaign - nobody more so than safety Nate Lyles.
“We definitely have to work on giving up less big plays,” Lyles said. “A lot of that burden is on the guys in the secondary.”
Lyles, a 6-foot, 203-pound senior from Chicago, is being counted on like never before.
Virginia’s secondary will feature a new starter in cornerback Vic Hall; cornerback Chris Cook and safety Bryon Glaspy have limited experience.
So far Lyles’ presence has been huge.
“He tells everyone what to do out there,” Hall said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s the leader of the team. He understands how to get everyone in the right positions and does a great job.”
Need an example of Lyles’ leadership? He recently demoted himself from the starting defense because of two minor mental errors he committed during a practice - the first time any Virginia player had done that, according to UVa coach Al Groh.
Away from the gridiron, Lyles serves as a big brother to many players.
“When I first came here, Nate took me under his wing,” said Virginia sophomore Darren Childs. “He’s still looking out for me. He’s a leader on and off the field. He’s just a great guy.”
In 2005, as a sophomore, Lyles was playing well until he sustained a scary neck injury while making a tackle against Georgia Tech. He spent the entire offseason rehabbing before making his comeback last year.
Lyles said he has put the incident in his rearview mirror.
“It’s not something that I really think about any more,” he said. “But I think it definitely changed me. It made me a lot stronger. I couldn’t practice with the team, and it made me think about what I really miss.”
Lyles said retirement crossed his mind.
“Honestly, there were a couple times,” he said, “but I was just hoping that wasn’t the case.”
Lyles says a support system that included family members, teammates, doctors, trainers and coaches is what enabled him to persevere.
“They were always around me and talking to me,” Lyles said, “which really helped a lot.”
Last season Lyles started 10 of 12 games. He recorded career-highs in tackles (46) and sacks (2). He also had an interception and broke up three passes.
Now he appears primed for his best season yet.
“I’m hoping I can have a big impact out there and we can really create some excitement,” Lyles said. “I think the defense has a lot of guys who can make plays and are looking really good out there. We’re a lot more cohesive.
“I think we’re really starting to mesh. The young guys have come in and learned the system really well.”
Last season, Virginia allowed opposing quarterbacks an average of 11.9 yards per completion - a stat Lyles knows must shrink.
“We definitely plan on picking it up,” Lyles said. “I’m pushing myself a lot. I mean, I don’t have too many more opportunities.”
UVA FOOTBALL PREVIEW: The Secondary
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com
August 20, 2007
After allowing 283 yards and three touchdowns through the air against Pittsburgh in last year’s season opener, questions surfaced about Virginia’s secondary.
Would the unit be the downfall of the team? Could Nate Lyles return to his old form? Was cornerback Marcus Hamilton capable living up to the hype?
Justifiable or not at the time, major progress was made during the final 11 games - only one team, Georgia Tech, reached the end zone more than once via the pass in a game. When the season ended, Virginia actually finished ranked 15th in the country in pass defense and the defensive backs accounted for eight of the team’s 10 interceptions.
* One factoid was known long before his departure: Hamilton was going to be tough to replace. While the cornerback and former team captain was not selected until the seventh round in the NFL Draft by Tampa Bay, his stock likely dropped after a shoulder injury kept him off the field against Western Michigan and slowed him in the weeks that followed.
Despite the injury, Hamilton made at least one stop in each of his 11 games and finished the season with 39 tackles, five interceptions and a fumble recovery.
* Tony Franklin, embattled at times, was welcomed back to the program last year after being arrested for possession of marijuana in the weeks leading up to the 2005 Music City Bowl.
After spending considerable time at cornerback, Franklin finished his career at safety. Last year, he logged 475 plays and made 37 tackles, including 16 in the final four games.
* Ryan Best entered the 2006 campaign on the second-team defense at safety, but the former goalkeeper for Virginia’s soccer team was not credited with a tackle. Best, who has one year of eligibility remaining, has joined the ever-growing population of former Virginia players at Liberty University.
* Ben Parziale, a seldom-used safety, blocked a punt last year against East Carolina. He had a season of eligibility remaining but left the team after graduating with a religious studies degree.
Virginia could make history this season.
After going 11 years without a first-team All-ACC cornerback, junior Chris Cook appears primed for the spotlight.
While Cook has yet to display the talent that Ronde Barber showcased on a consistent basis, flashes of brilliance in practice and games last year could be a sign of things to come.
“[Cook] can be great,” said fellow cornerback Vic Hall. “He’s a great-sized corner with great speed and technique. That is probably one of the best defensive backs in the country.”
Cook led the secondary last year with 58 tackles, including 10 against Wyoming after he replaced Chris Gorham in the starting lineup
* When cornerback Mike Brown tore his ACL this summer, Hall was thrust into the starting lineup, a position he may have earned anyway.
Last year, Hall was on the field for just 151 defensive plays, which includes special teams, but a solid spring raised his stock and the sky remains the limit.
“He demonstrates, he shows that he is going to be successful in what he is doing,” said Virginia coach Al Groh.
The list of candidates searching for playing time behind Cook and Hall is rather lengthy thanks to the past two recruiting classes.
Mike Parker and Trey Womack, a pair of redshirt freshmen, opened the season working with the second-team defense. Since that time, two true freshmen, Ras-I Dowling and Dom Joseph, have been given chance to secure spots on the reserve unit.
Chase Minnifield, who is recovering from a torn ACL and being closely monitored, could also see time at cornerback or safety in future years.
The depth chart behind Cook and Hall would be best served being written in pencil.
* Nate Lyles, an expected starter at safety, pulled off the biggest shock of training camp last weekend. After running with the first-team defense, Lyles traded in his “Orange Crush” jersey, one that denotes a starter’s job security.
The move proved that the senior demands perfection from himself, but it did not shock his teammates.
“Nate is definitely a great role model,” said fellow safety Byron Glaspy. “He is always taking notes in meeting and trying to get everything right. He is a great guy to model yourself after.”
Last year, Lyles registered 46 tackles, broke up three passes and had a 47-yard interception return against Pitt.
* Glaspy’s remarkable story remains one of the best in program history.
After roaming The Grounds as a regular student as a freshman, Glaspy joined the team and found himself playing shortly afterward.
After opening the 2006 season as a reserve at safety behind Franklin, Glaspy was thrust into the starting lineup in the second game. He made the most of his audition - he made 58 tackles, broke up three passes and never relinquished his spot in the starting lineup.
Having that experience, Glaspy remains excited about the upcoming campaign.
“I am a lot more eager to get into the season,” Glaspy said. “I feel like there is a lot more responsibility and leadership on my shoulders.
“Along with everyone else, I am just eager to start out right and have a good season.”
* Glaspy and Lyles appear safe bets as starters in the season opener, but Groh has said that senior Jamaal Jackson would see significant playing time at safety.
After a lackluster campaign last year that included only 10 tackles and 180 plays, Jackson resembled a new player in spring practice.
“I would say it is the best camp and spring that Jamaal has had in the four years that I have been here,” Lyles proclaimed. “He has really taken the next step.”
The depth behind the three veterans remains unproven but intriguing.
Sophomore Brandon Woods, a converted wide receiver, has made a strong push of late and had an interception for a touchdown in a recent practice.
“That is encouraging,” Groh said. “He is finding the ball and making some plays back there. We would like to see that continued because, for all of his efforts, in some respects, he was kind of stalled at a certain level for a while.”
Woods must remain consistent. If so, Groh said that “would show that he is getting into a playing time position.”
A pair of redshirt freshmen, Rico Bell and Matt Leemhuis, turned heads last year on the scout team.
It would take some serious research to find a collection of defensive backs at Virginia that possessed as much promise and potential as the current crop.
The young collection of cornerbacks, which includes Dowling, Joseph, Parker and Womack, gives defensive coordinator Mike London a much-needed dose of speed.
They also appear to have a solid foundation in what is needed to play on the outside.
“They have their different style but with all of them what you can tell that they want the ball,” Lyles said. “And they know how to hold it down, and that is exciting as a safety because I know I don’t have to worry about them.”
Entering the spring, Woods appeared stuck in second gear. That has changed of late and, with his athletic ability and an impressive vertical leap, the sophomore could factor into future plans.
“Woods is a great athlete,” Lyles added. “He is looking real good at safety.”
He may have some company with Bell, Leemhuis and Minnifield pushing for reps with the second-team defense.
“In terms of everybody’s questions at safety, there are a lot of guys out there that can play, and it just makes us compete more and play better in practice and games,” Lyles said.
“No job is safe.”
Schaub shows steady improvement
New Texans QB keys win over Cardinals
Published on: 08/19/07
Glendale, Ariz. — Matt Schaub looked at ease and Matt Leinart responded to a week of "tough love'" from his coach.
The starting quarterbacks were terrific in the preseason game between the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals.
The defense, well, that's another matter.
Schaub was 9-of-12 for 108 yards and ran 5 yards for a score and the Texans went on to beat Arizona 33-20 on Saturday in new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt's home debut.
Schaub seemed right at home in his new role as Houston's starter.
"He's got great presence in what he's doing, runs the football team extremely well," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "I would expect him to just get better and better and better. I'm very pleased with his effort today."
Leinart, who coincidentally wears No. 7 for Arizona (0-2), went 7-for-7 for 70 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Edgerrin James.
"He got a little tough love this week," Whisenhunt said of his second-year quarterback. "He was told to pick up his game, and he responded. That's all you can expect from a young quarterback. He told me the day before the game that 'I'm going to go 10-for-10 coach.' He wrote it down on a piece of paper and gave it to me."
Texans rookie Jacoby Jones had an impressive afternoon, gaining 24 yards on a pair of reverses, catching two passes for 32 yards and returning a punt 80 yards for a third-quarter touchdown.
"Boy, that play he made on the punt," Kubiak said, "to even field the punt. I'm on the headset expecting him to make a fair catch. He's fearless, he's a playmaker and we got something special right there."
Backup Sage Rosenfels threw 40 yards to Charlie Smith for another third-quarter as Houston scored 17 straight third-quarter points after Arizona tied it at 13-13.
Rosenfels was 8-for-13 for 125 yards.
The second-half big plays didn't seem to concern Whisenhunt.
"That's part of preseason," he said. "That's going to happen. Both teams had big plays out there today. The biggest thing for us was in the third and fourth quarter, our intensity dropped off. That's something that we've got to work on."
Schaub, backup to Michael Vick in Atlanta before being traded to Houston in the offseason, fooled the defense with a fake handoff, then ran left untouched to the end zone to put the Texans ahead 7-0 with 3:06 to play in the first quarter.
"It was just a bootleg," Schaub said. "We had a receiver on the route but our guy in the flat got held up at the line of scrimmage so he wasn't an option for us. I had the edge and decided to take off and run."
On the Cardinals' next possession, Leinart went 5-for-5, including a 41-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald to set up the short TD toss that tied it at 7-7.
"I was upset with the way I played against Oakland (last week)," Leinart said. "As a starting quarterback, I need to play better and lead this football team. I thought myself and the starting offense did very well today in the brief time we were in there."
The Texans burned cornerback Antrel Rolle on a 39-yard pass to Andre Johnson to set up Kris Brown's 25-yard field goal that put Houston up 13-10 with 10:45 left in the half and brought an end to Schaub's day.
Arizona wide receiver Ahmad Merritt was carted off the field after dislocating his right ankle early in the second half. Merritt caught four passes for 61 yards in the second quarter. His 20-yard reception from backup Kurt Warner set up Neil Rackers' 38-yard field goal that cut Houston's lead to 13-10 with 5 seconds left in the half.
Warner, in his brief second-quarter appearance, was 7-of-9 for 89 yards, leaving Arizona's quarterbacks 14-of-16 for 159 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said it didn't matter that the reserves were on the field when Houston blew the game open.
"Anytime you step on the field you want to win," he said. "There's really no excuse for it. We lost the game. They came in and executed what they wanted to do."
The Cardinals opened with a trick play, with Anquan Boldin throwing deep to Fitzgerald. Pass interference was called against C.C. Brown for a 55-yard penalty but the drive stalled when James failed to get a first down on fourth-and-1.
Notes: Texans' starting right guard Fred Weary left with a sprained right ankle early in the second quarter. ... Houston rookie QB Jared Zabransky made his NFL debut in the fourth quarter in the stadium where he directed Boise State to its Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma last season.
For Cavs, Experience Breeds Confidence
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 18, 2007; Page E04
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- At this point last year, Mike Groh prepared for his maiden season as Virginia's offensive coordinator, not knowing what to expect from the position or, more so, his inexperienced players. Now, despite losing several key playmakers, Virginia believes returning the core of its offense will provide improvement for a unit that, a year ago, was one of the least productive in the country.
"Whereas last year you felt like there were lots of things you had to manage on down-in, down-out basis, now there's things that we just know we can do, things we know we can go to," Groh said. "My job is certainly a lot easier. If they're confident, they're just going to play fast. We're very confident."
The most significant upgrade is at offensive line, where the Cavaliers improved by simply staying the same. The entire starting offensive line returns this season, a rare luxury in college football. With Jameel Sewell, Virginia is also settled at quarterback, a position that saw three starters in the first three games last season.
Also returning is Groh as offensive coordinator. He had never held a coordinator position until last season, and he admitted the year was something of a learning experience.
"Anytime you take on new responsibility and doing things for the first time, I don't know if it's uncertainty," Groh said. "But once you have an opportunity to go through it once, you really know what to expect."
In his first season heading the offense, Virginia sputtered. Quarterback shuffling and inconsistency on the offensive line coupled to create a horrid start, and the Cavaliers hardly gained traction the rest of the season. Virginia averaged 257 yards and 15.1 points, good for 113th and 110th out of 119 division I-A teams, respectively.
Fans directed most of the ire at the coaching staff, particularly Mike Groh and his father, Coach Al Groh. Mike has not held a coaching job under any other head coach, and Cavaliers followers used that as ammunition against him.
"I'm not concerned with that," Mike Groh said. "Fans are always going to blame the coach. That's the way it goes. If you have thin skin, you shouldn't have a job where 65,000 people come watch you work every week."
Mike Groh maintained his personal confidence last season, in part, because he knew he had been handcuffed by a series of events during or on the eve of training camp. Wide receiver Deyon Williams was lost for nearly the whole season because of an ankle injury in preseason practice, and Bud Davis, a possible replacement, was arrested and suspended from school. Fullback Kevin Bradley was also suspended from school. Guard Eddie Pinigis quit the team.
"All of a sudden, it's a whole new cast of characters," Mike Groh said. "There was a lot to manage."
On the surface, there would seem a lot to manage this season, too. Leading rusher Jason Snelling graduated. The Cavaliers' best wide receiver, Kevin Ogletree, was lost for the season in spring practice because of a knee injury. The returning receiving corps caught a combined seven passes last season.
But the expected emergence of Virginia's offensive line should help alleviate concerns about making big plays, as will having its top three tight ends -- Tom Santi, Jonathan Stupar and John Phillips -- all back.
Rashawn Jackson moved from linebacker in the offseason, which finally gave the Cavaliers a replacement for Bradley. Having a fullback allows Virginia to use its "21" personnel package, something the Cavaliers have not been able to utilize for two seasons. The formation gives running backs a true lead blocker, and Jackson also has shown the athletic ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
A few weeks before preseason practice began, Santi expressed optimism when asked about the apparent lack of weapons on offense. A week into practice, he was asked if he still held the same view.
"I don't if optimistic is the word, because we're seeing it now," Santi said. "It's confidence."