Depth dilemma for ironmen
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 22, 2007
While it remains important, Chris Long did not arrive at Virginia with the goal of using his degree to propel himself into a job as a guidance counselor or a social worker.
Sure, Long is a sociology major, but like many football players, he came to play football - and lots of football.
Getting the defensive end off the field is near impossible and has been since he played on both sides of the ball at St-Anne’s-Belfield for coach John Blake.
Jeffrey Fitzgerald is of a similar mindset. The same can also be said for nose tackles Allen Billyk and Nate Collins.
Sundays are for watching football.
Yet, with a wave of talent hitting the two-deep, Virginia coach Al Groh will have a tough choice to make.
“It’s a decision that every team has to face,” Groh said. “Obviously when you substitute, in most cases, the player coming in probably isn’t going to perform to the same level as the player that went out - that is why he is not first-team.”
Call it a double-edged sword.
Give a breather to Fitzgerald and Long and logic says they will be stronger in the second half - Virginia was outscored last year 115-77 after halftime.
Throwing an inexperienced player into a game, however, could lengthen a drive or change the complexion of a game in a hurry.
Groh continues to debate the positive side of the “ironman defense” dilemma with the season opener at Wyoming just 10 days away.
“It is a good question and it continues to be a challenging question for us,” Groh said. “In this respect, those players who did that yeoman’s duty last year - while this trend was certainly showing itself in the spring - at this stage are clearly getting better and better themselves.
“The new players coming in are demonstrating more proficiency and earning more of our confidence. The issue’s going to be whether the [starters] are improving so much more that the gap is getting bigger even though the young guys are improving.”
The extended playing time also works in the Cavaliers’ favor in regards to self-assurance, a quality Groh has seen.
“I think that confidence that Coach is talking about is necessary,” Long said. “As a football player, you don’t want to be arrogant or anything like that, but while we do have the identity that we are trying to build to be a blue-collar defense, it is still possible to have a swagger.
“I speak for our side of the ball because I really see that on our side of the ball right now.”
The starters, especially in the trenches, have expressed the desire to play as much as they did last year when the reserves were waiting in the wings.
Long was on the field for 715 plays. Fitzgerald, despite going two years without live action, was in for 655 snaps. Billyk and Collins combined for 539.
“As they have expressed to us, ‘Look, I already did it once. I don’t want to come out. Why would you want to take me out this year when it went so well last year?’ But they also see the value of it,” Groh said. “We would like to be able to do it. I think it would be worthwhile if we could take a few plays off the list of most of the players out there during the course of the game.”
Good luck convincing the players of that.
“I don’t ever want to come out,” Long said. “I have a lot of confidence in the entire defensive line, but this is my final year and you want to be on the field to help your team.”
Waiting in the wings
By Drew Hansen / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7250
August 22, 2007
Chris Long’s backup isn’t exactly the most glamorous spot on the Virginia football team.
Playing behind an All-American defensive end and the face of the program is not where one would plan on getting a lot of playing time or attention this season.
For redshirt freshman Sean Gottschalk, however, it’s a spot he wouldn’t trade for the world.
“I’ve learned so much,” Gottschalk said of the tutelage he’s received from Long. “When you have a guy of that caliber at your position always talking to you, just being around him
on and off the field, just helping you out with college life in general, just listening and just shutting up - it’s great.
“It’s just the best help I’ve ever gotten.”
Gottschalk, a highly-touted prospect out of Deep Run High School in Glen Allen, said Long, the other starters on the defensive line and the coaching staff helped him immeasurably through a redshirt season where he learned to grasp UVa’s 3-4 defense and added 14 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame. He’s now up to 270 pounds, on par with other members of the defensive line.
Admittedly, Gottschalk was a little awestruck when he arrived at Virginia prior to the 2006 season.
“Last year, I was just overwhelmed with the size of these guys,” Gottschalk added. “I grew used to it as time went on. These guys were big and we were told to be aggressive going into blocks and I was kind of catching blocks.
“Right now, in camp, I’m just working on being more aggressive. As you grow older and get more experience, you become more aggressive naturally because you get more comfortable with what’s going on instead of wondering where you are. When you know where you are, you can just focus on physically going and just letting go.”
Learning to let go was probably the toughest part for Gottschalk. A basketball player growing up, he didn’t get started on the gridiron until he was in 10th grade, despite having a father who played for George Welsh at Navy and a grandfather who suited up for Michigan.
Gottschalk said one of the biggest adjustments was learning to trust his instincts in the 3-4, as opposed to relying on assignments in the 4-3 he played in high school.
“You just have to know what you’re doing at all times and make sure you’re playing with your hands and just being really aggressive,” Gottschalk said. “The redshirt season really helped with that.”
He’s made enough progress to the point where coach Al Groh said last week that it looks like Gottschalk will be the man to give Long a breather.
The All-American is fine with that.
“He’s just an athletic kid,” Long said of Gottschalk. “He definitely makes me better in practice every day, just working with each other and definitely having him behind me makes me feel really good.”
The son of two Virginia grad students, Gottschalk said he grew up less a Cavalier football fan and more just a fan of the university.
His family would make trips from Glen Allen to have picnics on The Lawn and to attend other functions. Gottschalk made it to just one UVa football game as a youngster, and it just so happed to be during Virginia’s 1995 season when it shared the ACC title.
The event inspired him enough to name a pair of pet hermit crabs “Tiki” and “Ronde,” after the Barber twins that were standouts at UVa.
The real interest in the program, however, didn’t begin until the recruiting process got underway.
“When I started playing football and watching football a lot more in high school, I’d come up here and be really impressed,” Gottschalk said. “It made me want to stay in Virginia and be a Virginia guy. It just made sense.”
Gottschalk is now the guy impressing the team’s top dogs.
“I think the mark of a good player is not only playing well but understanding when you made a mistake before the coaches even have to coach you on it,” Long said. “Now Sean has become cognizant of the mistakes he makes even before [defensive coordinator Mike] London has to get on him about it.
“I sit next to him at meetings and we’ll be watching film. Before Coach London even has a chance to tell him what he’s done wrong, he knows what he’s done wrong. And that’s the first step - being able to critique yourself.”
UVA FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Defensive line
By Jay Jenkins / email@example.com | 978-7250
August 22, 2007
Virginia entered the 2006 season with an icon and an unknown on the outside of its defensive line.
Chris Long’s career had been well-documented. Jeffrey Fitzgerald was forced to rest on his upside, albeit enormous potential.
But by the end of the season it was nearly impossible to tell which statline belonged to the junior or the redshirt freshman.
Fitzgerald finished his rookie season with 39 solo tackles, just seven more than Long. Both defensive ends had 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and caused a fumble. Each also recovered a fumble.
“They came together here for us at an appropriate time,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “Their style of game is similar. Jeffrey’s style is very similar.
“Jeffrey can execute the same style calls that Chris can, so it gives us a lot more latitude to do things.”
Certainly the almost constant double teams on Long played a part in leveling the production, but the combined output gave Virginia two of the best bookends in the ACC and helped the Cavaliers finish the season ranked fourth in the ACC in total defense.
In total, the defensive line, which included nose tackles Allen Billyk and Nate Collins, combined for 13 of Virginia’s 28 sacks.
* Keenan Carter’s final season at Virginia finished in a similar fashion to the previous models.
Carter, a reserve nose tackle, could never remain healthy enough to become a key contributor.
For the season, Carter finished with 12 tackles, including a pair behind the line of scrimmage. Despite boasting another year of eligibility, Carter applied for the NFL Draft and remains hopeful to join a practice squad with an NFL team.
* While a return has not been ruled out, Kevin Crawford was lost for the season when he left the team for undisclosed reasons earlier this month.
The defensive end saw action in five games last year as a redshirt freshman, making five tackles in 61 snaps. Crawford’s loss will be felt more in the future as he was working with the third-team defense when his departure was announced.
At least one publication liked Virginia’s defensive line enough to rank it as the 20th-best unit in the nation.
That ranking, of course, still leaves the Cavaliers behind six other defensive lines from the ACC in the poll (Clemson - No. 4; Miami - No. 5; Virginia Tech - No. 8; Clemson - No. 10; Boston College - No. 11; Florida State - No. 12).
Most of those teams cannot take comfort in sending a two-time team captain with the playing experience that Long boasts and a player with Fitzgerald’s potential onto the field.
And the two can now be moved from spot to spot to create more havoc on offensive lines.
“We do have the facility to create matchups or to avoid people ganging up on one of our defensive ends,” Groh said, “or the other to flip-flop those guys and play them on different sides if we want to.”
* After limited playing time as a true freshman thanks to a bout with mono, Long has been on the field for almost 1,500 plays the past two years.
More importantly, Long is a natural-born leader.
“He is the standard-setter,” Groh said. “He was a high-motor, high-energy, high-ambition player when he came here and that’s the key to having that kind of personality on your team.”
Long, who is considered a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, is not resting on his laurels. He is hungry to get Virginia back into the postseason.
“Football’s easier to play when you’re angry,” Long said. “It’s easier to get ready to play football when you’re angry.
“You’re [a] 5-7 [team]. If you’re not upset with yourself, there’s something wrong. We didn’t perform well enough. We have to be better. I think that comes down to we have to demand more of ourselves.”
* The bar has been raised for Fitzgerald.
After storming onto the scene last year as a redshirt freshman, the Richmond native has secured himself a spot on opponent’s scouting reports.
From what the coaching staff has seen in training camp, expect Fitzgerald’s impact to be the same, if not even greater.
“He can make very quick improvement on things,” Groh said. “Some players, every day is the first day or every drill is the first day they did it. It takes tremendous repetition for certain things to click in.
“Jeffrey picks it up very easily and continues to improve on what he initially picked up easily. He is constantly moving forward with different aspects.”
* Playing nose tackle in a 3-4 defense ranks among the most thankless jobs in college football.
Slamming into a pair of defenders with hopes of winning the battle is far from a walk in the park.
Just ask Billyk, but add in three injuries to get a true feel of how the senior felt last year in the middle of the line.
“Allen, last year, sprained his ankle pretty significantly in the early part of training camp,” Groh said. “Into the season, he sprained his other ankle. He had a little bit of hip difficulty during that period of time. He kind of had to labor through all of that during the season.”
Finally healthy, Billyk has secured his spot as a starter in the season opener.
“Coming back in the spring, he was absent of those circumstances and it has carried forth here into camp so far. We are seeing Allen really being able to operate without any of those limitations,” Groh said. “He is catching up with the guys on either side of him in terms of his overall performance.”
* Groh has often said when players are ready to play that he is ready to play them.
Apparently Collins was ready last year. In fact, the nose tackle was the lone true freshman to see action.
Collins averaged 1.4 tackles per game and was credited with five quarterback hurries.
Expect Collins to be on the field and bypassing Billyk has not been ruled out.
* Training camp remains to be a time when a player can be spotted - young or old.
Alex Field, a junior, has thrust his name into that category. While slowly filling out his 6-foot-7 frame, Field has steadily improved, making him “too valuable” to redshirt this season (he played his first two years at Virginia), according to Groh.
Field, who made 10 tackles during just 77 snaps last year, should see time spelling Fitzgerald.
“He is doing a real nice job with what he is doing,” Groh said.
* Sean Gottschalk could join Field to relieve the starting ends or late in lopsided games.
Gottschalk redshirted last season, but drew rave reviews from his teammates during the spring and training camp.
“[Gottschalk] has gotten bigger, faster, stronger,” Virginia defensive coordinator Mike London said. “He can provide some depth where you can rest some guys and you don’t feel like they have to play the entire game. That’s the overall depth of the defense.
“Whether they played or not, they have a year of experience behind them.”
While loaded with talent at wide receiver and in the secondary, the recruiting class for 2007 did not land huge numbers for the defensive line.
Groh hopes quality ranks ahead of quantity.
* Nick Jenkins, a player that many think will play this season as a true freshman as a reserve nose tackle, earned first-team All-State honors as a senior at Good Counsel High in Maryland.
Several of Virginia’s players commented about the great footwork that Jenkins possesses.
* Zane Parr, a two-star recruit from Williamsport, Pa., has the frame needed to play on the line but a redshirt season seems likely.
Reynolds to play pro ball in Italian League
By Doug Doughty
In the days leading up to the NBA Draft, J.R. Reynolds felt that his immediate future hinged on his performance at the NBA Summer League, whether he was drafted or not.
It didn't take long for Reynolds to change his outlook.
"After draft night, I think he had it in his mind to go overseas," agent Stu Lash said Tuesday. "Believe it or not, by not playing summer league, it allowed us to get the deal even quicker.
"That wasn't the exact plan going in. Every year, there are guys who don't play summer league and I think it's made out to be even more than it is. We didn't have a concrete team willing to extend him a lot of time.
"I think J.R. landed in a great place."
Lash said that Reynolds, a Roanoke native who finished his college career as the No. 10 scorer all time at Virginia, will play for Vanoli Soresina in the Italian League's A-2 Division.
The franchise is based in Cremora, approximately 50 miles outside of Milan.
Lash said that rookies traditionally cannot command contracts in the Italian League's A-1 Division, but Reynolds can expect to make $100,000 or more for a season that went 34 games last year.
Former Kansas standout Keith Langford played for Vanoli Soresina last season and averaged 20.5 points per game. Teams are allowed to have two Americans; Reynolds will be joined this year by 34-year-old Montana State alumnus Quadre Lollis.
"J.R. had a lot of interest from some big teams overseas," Lash said.
"We said, 'We can push and grind to get you on a summer-league team, but is it really going to help you?' His goal is to play professional basketball for 10 plus years. We felt this was a good first step."
Torrey Mack, who committed to Virginia's football program in June, is rated 10th among the 33 running backs named to SuperPrep's preseason All-America team. Mack rushed for 1,690 yards and 21 touchdowns last year at Stratford (Conn.) Prep. He also had 145 tackles.
n UVa is back in the market for a punter with the announcement that Matt Zubyk from San Diego has committed to Stanford. Zubyk, a protege of one-time Cavaliers place-kicker Michael Husted, had committed to Virginia on June 29.
Wide receiver Cary Koch, who was listed as co-No. 1 with Staton Jobe entering preseason practice, has been sidelined with a sprained knee. He joins a growing list of injured wideouts that includes Kevin Ogletree (knee) and Kris Burd (herniated disk).
Ogletree and Burd have undergone surgeries and expect to sit out the 2007 season as redshirts.
In addition, Andrew Pearman was moved to running back from wide receiver.
Fifth-year safety Jamaal Jackson and second-team defensive tackle Alex Field have seen practice time at wide receiver and offensive tackle, respectively, to provide depth in case of emergency.
n Gordie Sammis, listed as a second-team guard, will be ineligible for the first two games as terms of an NCAA decision to award him a fifth season of eligibility.
Third-year sophomore Patrick Slebonick (6-5, 296) will take Sammis' place on the depth chart. Slebonick has not played in a college game.
From the NFL
All-time Virginia scoring leader Connor Hughes, signed by Pittsburgh as a free agent, had a 19-yard field goal with 1:31 remaining in overtime as the Steelers defeated host Washington 12-10 Saturday.
It was one of two field goals for Hughes, who is attempting to unseat six-year veteran Jeff Reed, who was 20-for-27 on field goals last year.
Hughes went to camp with New Orleans in 2006 but the Saints elected to stick with 42-year-old John Carney.
n Former Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans had five receptions for 71 yards and St. Louis' only TD Saturday in a 30-13 preseason loss to San Diego. ... Ex-UVa offensive lineman Brian Barthelmes was waived by New England.
Feud developing between Tiki, Eli
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Tiki Barber wanted a more intense, fiery Eli Manning. The New York Giants quarterback gave Tiki what he wanted in a loud ripping voice on Tuesday.
Two days after being criticized on national television by Barber for a lack of strong leadership, Manning ripped his former teammate and current NBC football analyst for distracting the team last season with his early retirement announcement and his criticism of coach Tom Coughlin.
"I guess I'm just happy for Tiki that he's making a smooth transition into the TV world," Manning said. "You know, I'll be interested to see if he has anything to say (about a team) besides the Giants, and what his comments will be on that."
Normally reserved and never one to criticize a coach or teammate, Manning seemed to enjoy going after Barber, the Giants' all-time leading rusher who retired after last season at age 31 to pursue a television career.
Speaking during the halftime show of the Sunday Night Football game between the Giants and Baltimore Ravens, Barber had said that Manning's attempt to lead an offensive meeting in the 12th week of the last season was "comical" at times.
Manning didn't find the comment funny.
"It's just one of those deals. I'm not going to lose any sleep about what Tiki has to say," Manning said. "I guess I could have questioned his leadership skills last year with calling out the coach and having articles about him retiring in the middle of the season, and he's lost the heart (to play).
"As a quarterback you're reading that your running back has lost the heart to play the game and it's about the 10th week," Manning said. "I can see that a little bit at times. But I'm not going to get concerned. I'm going to go out there and play ball."
Speaking on his radio show "The Barber Shop" on Sirius NFL Radio, Barber said he was glad that Manning stuck up for himself, even though he felt his comments were tame and honest.
"I'll tell you this," Barber said. "It was not said maliciously."
Giants teammates came to Manning's defense on Tuesday.
Wide receiver Amani Toomer, who played his entire career with Barber, was stunned.
"I thought Tiki and Eli were pretty good friends," Toomer said. "It's kind of strange to have him say something like that and to make a point of it like that. Maybe he had somebody else in his ear kind of coaxing him into saying stuff, because I don't believe he really believes that. I don't know why he'd say something like that."
Manning's father, Archie, said at a charity bowling event in Indianapolis for his other son, Super Bowl MVP Peyton, that he had not counseled the Giants quarterback on how to handle the situation.
"He talked to me a while ago and said Tiki got after him a little bit the other night, and he said it's not a big deal," Archie Manning said. "He told me a whole lot of people in the Giants organization were proud of what he said.
"Eli's not a controversial guy and he's not going to be. I feel like if Eli did something like that, it would come from his heart."
Center Shaun O'Hara said that Manning is progressing as a leader, especially for a fourth-year player.
"I don't have any problems with Eli's leadership and the way he does it," O'Hara said. "He's doing it his way. I think players appreciate that. It's a shame everybody wants Eli to be somebody they think he should be instead of just letting him be himself."
O'Hara noted that Manning might be under the microscope more than most young quarterbacks because he is the brother of Peyton Manning.
"For me, you can be Johnny Rah-Rah, but if you're not doing your job, if you're not pulling your weight, it doesn't matter what you say," O'Hara said. "Being loud, that doesn't make you a great leader."
Tackle David Diehl said Manning showed his leadership Sunday night, getting the offense lined up right when the Ravens threw a couple of new looks at them on defense.
Giants new quarterback coach Chris Palmer added that Manning does everything a coach wants.
"Everybody leads in a different way," Palmer said. "If you buy any business books, there are 101 ways to lead. He'll lead in his own particular fashion."
While Barber praised Manning at times for his play, he also questioned whether he could be a leader of men and make plays when the chips were down.
"His personality hasn't been so that he can step up, make a strong statement and have people believe that it's coming from his heart," Barber said on the show.
Barber then told the story about Manning being uncomfortable talking to the offense in Week 12.
"He didn't feel like his voice was going to be strong enough and it showed," Barber said. "Sometimes it was almost comical the way that he would say things."
While Barber rushed for 1,662 yards last season, the second highest single-season total in Giants history, he also was a distraction in an 8-8 season that saw the Giants make the playoffs.
He went on record in early October saying that the 2006 season would probably be his last. He also created problems for Coughlin when he criticized him for pulling away from the running game too soon in a loss to Jacksonville in November.
It was the second time he went after his head coach.
After a playoff loss to Carolina in 2005, Barber said Coughlin was outcoached by Panther coach John Fox, a former Giants assistant.
While Coughlin refused to get involved in the controversy, he was happy Manning defended himself.
"Well, he thought about what he was going to do, and he decided he would say exactly what he felt," Coughlin said. "More power to him."