Meet the team, but not the Cavs’ quarterbacks
By Jay Jenkins
Published: August 10, 2008
It was not the impending thunder or lightning that shortened the session, but rather Virginia’s elder statesman at quarterback, Scott Deke, that delivered a booming announcement moments after the program’s players arrived Sunday at Scott Stadium for the annual Meet the Team Day festivities.
The contingent of quarterbacks - stretching from Deke down to newcomer Riko Smalls - would not be available for interviews with reporters, as they elected to enjoy their time in the fading sun with the autograph-seeking fans.
Deke served as the group’s spokesperson in relaying the message.
“We respect that [members of the media] are trying to do your job and we really appreciate everything that you do for us and the University of Virginia football team, but also, we’ve just decided that it’s in our best interest to just, you know, keep to ourselves and do whatever is best for this team,” Deke told reporters. “And until any of us have done anything in a game worthwhile to be talking about, I think it is in our best interest to stick to ourselves and keep working to be, to do what’s best for our team.”
Requests to interview any of the quarterbacks Saturday after the team’s first open practice were denied as university officials cited Sunday as the prime opportunity to talk with the parties engaged in the battle for the starting nod against Southern California later this month.
If a player has an edge in the battle, that includes Pete Lalich, Marc Verica and Deke, outsiders remain in the dark, perhaps explaining the silent treatment.
Virginia coach Al Groh did say that the unit had made “good progress” as a whole during the opening week of training camp, but failed to dive into details.
“That’s about it,” Groh said. “They’re all working hard, they’re all progressing. As I’ve said on a couple of occasions, we’re not keeping a daily scorecard on them.
“We’re looking at the body of work and we’re giving everybody plenty of opportunities to show us how the club will best operate.”
Deke and Lalich rotated turns with the starting unit in Saturday’s morning practice and one player hinted that the evening session highlighted Lalich’s strengths running the starting unit in the two-minute drill.
Expect more of the same as Groh is not expected to announce a starter or even a two-quarterback rotation until a date much closer to the season opener.
“Unless something dramatic happens right away where some guy all of a
sudden for five or six days is ‘Holy smoke, this is really different,’ it’s probably the best thing for the team to gather as much input as we can as not to make an inappropriately quick decision.”
Virginia’s offensive weapons also played their cards — and words — close to the vest.
“There are things to like about all three,” said tight end John Phillips, cracking a wide grin. “I like them all.”
As far as the camp itself, Groh said it mirrored many that he has encountered during a career that started decades ago as an assistant coach at Albemarle High.
“[Training camp has been] very similar to the previous 40 — there’s certainly an air of anticipation of what opportunities there are to accomplish something,” Groh said. “It’s more about challenges and opportunity for achievement than it is that kind of excitement.
“It’s a different kind of excitement for coaches, and most likely for players, than what excitement is for a spectator. But right now, it’s not too exciting. It’s just go to work every day and try to access where the team is each particular day and what we need to do each day to get better.”
Groh said defensive end Sean Gottschalk was under the weather, which explained his absence from team drills on Saturday. Gottschalk, a sophomore, is working on the right side of the defensive line with redshirt freshman Matt Conrath. Alex Field, Zane Parr and Jason Fuller are working on the left side. …. Corey Mosley, a safety, has been working extensively with the red zone packages, Groh said. That would allow the redshirt freshman to focus on learning one particular package and spell another safety.
Quarterbacks' lips are closed
Three players vying to be the starter stay mum, and Groh is saying little
Monday, Aug 11, 2008 - 12:08 AM
By JEFF WHITE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- We ain't talking.
That, in essence, was the message for the media yesterday from the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job at the University of Virginia. Graduate student Scott Deke, the senior member of the group, acted as spokesman at U.Va.'s media day, which was held in conjunction with an opportunity for fans to meet players and coaches.
The QBs were off-limits to reporters after practice Saturday morning, and the cone of silence remains in place, apparently at their request.
"No, sir," Deke said yesterday when asked if he, Marc Verica or Peter Lalich planned to answer questions from reporters at the stadium. "We're just going to come out here and enjoy the fans."
The Cavaliers' opener is less than three weeks away -- Southern California visits Scott Stadium on Aug. 30 -- but eighth-year coach Al Groh is in no hurry to name a starting quarterback. Nor is he interested in discussing the competition at any length.
"Good progress," Groh said when asked what he had seen from Deke, Lalich and Verica in the first week of training camp. "I mean, that's about it. They're all working hard, they're all progressing. As I've said on a couple of occasions, we're not keeping a daily scorecard on them. We're looking at the body of work and giving everybody plenty of opportunity to show us how the club will best operate."
If Jameel Sewell were in school, he'd almost certainly be preparing for his 23rd consecutive start at quarterback for the Cavaliers. But the former Hermitage High star was placed on academic suspension in January and won't return to U.Va. until the spring semester.
In Sewell's absence, Groh will choose among Lalich, who as a true freshman played in eight games as Sewell's backup last season; Deke, who didn't attempt a pass in his only appearance for the Cavaliers; and Verica, who saw no action as a redshirt freshman in 2007. Groh said he hopes to avoid making "an inappropriately quick decision."
If one quarterback pulls away in the next week, his thinking might change, but "the most important thing is for the team to have the right quarterback in there," Groh said.
And that's "really only proven with quarterbacks when they play in a game, and we don't have any games to play [before Aug. 30]. So it might take some games to find out exactly who the one quarterback is or who the two are that we should plan on playing, however it works itself out."
U.Va. used two quarterbacks with mixed results last season. But offensive coordinator Mike Groh, the head coach's older son, believes rotating QBs would be easier this year.
"These three guys all have basically the same game, whereas last year Jameel was a little bit different than the guy who was going in for him," said Mike Groh, referring to Lalich. "So for me I had to think two different games, whereas this year if we were to put another guy in, we're going to call from the same sheet."
With the team's most talented wide receiver, Kevin Ogletree, out with a knee injury, Sewell's running was a key component of the Cavaliers' offense last season. More weapons surround the quarterbacks this year. Ogletree is back, as are the team's top wideouts from 2007. John Phillips is an all-ACC candidate at tight end, and Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson form a terrific tandem at tailback.
"I feel really good about the playmakers that we've got," Mike Groh said. "Last year, we didn't really have anybody [heading into the season]. Kevin was hurt, and we had three tight ends. We didn't have a [starting] tailback or any starting wide receivers back, so it certainly is a 180 from last year. . . . It really does make a big difference, and I think it gives the quarterbacks confidence, too."
U.Va. Notes: Cautious optimism about Woods
Monday, Aug 11, 2008 - 12:08 AM
Cautious optimism about Woods
That one of his starting safeties will be senior Byron Glaspy, coach Al Groh left no doubt last week.
"Not only does he have the inside track, he's got ownership of it," Groh said of Glaspy, a former walk-on who has started 24 consecutive games at U.Va.
At the other safety spot, Brandon Woods has the edge. Woods, a 6-2, 211-pound junior, is a tremendous athlete, but questions remain about his decision-making, one of Glaspy's strengths.
"Byron's one of those players that this game makes perfect sense to," Groh said. "That's a talent that separates certain players. If everybody had it, this coaching thing would be a lot easier."
Woods, who played primarily on special teams last season, showed during spring practice that he's more comfortable with mental demands of his position. Still, Groh said yesterday, there are "certain positions where the changeover from practice to game is more significant, and safety would fall into that category.
"With the multiplicity of offensive formations now that defenses see, and the need to make adjustments and coverage calls based on those formations, the safety really has to take command of the operation. One mistake in that can be very telling. . . . So you can judge their progress pretty well in practice. You just have to see whether the game brings out even more clarity and decision-making or whether a guy gets stage fright."
Position a two-man job?
Of the Cavaliers' four starting linebackers in 2007, only Jermaine Dias was a senior. His spot on the outside will be filled by senior Aaron Clark or junior Denzell Burrell.
They've been rotating in practice between the first and second teams, Groh said yesterday, and "the way they're going right now, both of them will play in the game at that position. Still to be determined, based on most of the heavy work coming up, is what that rotation might be."
Former Warrior finds niche
Also on the depth chart at safety is Henrico High graduate Corey Mosley, who redshirted as a freshman last year. Pound for pound, Mosley (5-10, 197) might be the Cavaliers' hardest hitter, and he's been working with the goal-line defense.
"He's a very compact, muscled player who's got good explosion and got good toughness," Groh said. "That's what goal-line defense is, to a great deal, about. Clearly, it's a reduced area of the field with a lot less possibilities that can occur offensively. So for a young player it's not as complex a role as it would be to play on regular defense, so we're taking a look at him there. . . . If he can do that, then that might take one job off the plate of those other guys that are doing so much."
Nutritionist draws players' praise
Rob Skinner, who's in his first year as U.Va.'s director of sports nutrition, is drawing raves from football players, among them fullback Rashawn Jackson.
Jackson, who played at 254 pounds last season, said yesterday that he's down to 245.
Skinner "does a great job," Jackson said. "He pretty much lays out the game plan for us. I went to him and told him, 'I want to lose a little weight, I want to lose some body fat, and I want to be quicker in my steps.' He worked out a plan for me, and it worked to my advantage."
Jackson said he tries not to eat after 8:30 p.m. and has cut down on his consumption of juices. "So now I'm more of a green tea/water man, and it works."
-- Jeff White
Groh limits access to QBs
Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich does not address reporters during team's media day.
By Doug Doughty
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Reports of Virginia's quarterback availability on Sunday were much exaggerated.
Quarterbacks Scott Deke, Marc Verica and Peter Lalich signed autographs and mingled with fans at UVa's annual Meet the Team Day, but only Deke addressed the media and he didn't take any questions.
Deke said the UVa quarterbacks hadn't done anything on field worth talking about, "so I think it's in our best interest to stick to ourselves and keep working to do what's best for our team."
"We're looking forward to coming out here today and enjoying this media day and meeting all the fans, and it's really something that's a lot of fun for all of us. We're really thankful and blessed with a beautiful day here in Charlottesville.
"We're looking forward to it and everyone please come out and support us on the 30th to see those [Southern California] Trojans come in. So, thank you very much."
Teammates continued to talk to the media, but none were Deke's fellow quarterbacks. The weather didn't even hold up, with lightning eventually causing evacuation of the stadium with 15 minutes remaining in an autograph session.
It may be true that Deke, a fifth-year senior, and Verica, a third-year junior, haven't done much on the field. Verica has not played in a college game and Deke has been limited to two snaps at the end of a 44-14 victory over Pittsburgh.
Lalich, on the other hand, played in eight games last year and attempted 61 passes. However, there has been little discussion of Lalich or his status since he was charged with underage possession of alcohol July 13.
Head coach Al Groh said earlier this week that the matter had been addressed internally.
Two other players, including starting offensive tackle Will Barker, were charged with alcohol-related offenses July 26 following an incident at a Charlottesville after-hours club.
"Honestly, I've moved on from that," said Barker, declining to talk about off-field matters. "It's not even an issue. I'm focused on football now. It's not something I'm talking about."
Media had been advised at an open practice Saturday that neither Groh nor the quarterbacks would talk until Sunday. Groh met with reporters for approximately an hour Sunday before a team photo session that preceded the Meet the Team Day events.
On the subject of the quarterbacks, Groh was most expansive when asked for a timetable for naming a starter. Less than three weeks remain until Southern Cal comes to Scott Stadium.
"We're not keeping a daily scorecard on them," Groh said. "We're looking for a body of work and to give everybody plenty of opportunities. Unless something dramatic happens right away, it's appropriate not to make a quick decision."
If the decision were obvious, it would make sense to inform the chosen starter, "but the most important thing is for the team to have the right quarterback in there," Groh said.
"That's only really proven with quarterbacks when they play in a game, and we don't have any games to play. It might take some games to find out who the one quarterback is, or who the two are."
Coincidentally, Southern Cal faces some uncertainty over its quarterback situation after learning that likely starter Mark Sanchez had suffered a dislocated kneecap and could be sidelined for four weeks.
"It's like one of our coaches said about another of their positions," Groh said. "They just replace an All-American with a potential All-American that nobody's heard of."
The closest thing to a Cavalier expert on the subject is senior offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, who did not miss a game after suffering a dislocated kneecap in the spring of 2006 but was not right until midway through the next season.
"I haven't heard any of the [Sanchez] details," said Monroe, who did not require surgery, "but my experience is that it takes a few months."
Contest at quarterback is wide open
Posted to: College Football Sports Virginia
By Ed Miller
© August 11, 2008
For a group not known for its elusiveness, Virginia's quarterbacks displayed some nimble feet Sunday.
The three pocket passers dodged a media rush at the annual "Meet the Team Day," declining to answer any questions about their competition for the starting job. Instead, fifth-year senior Scott Deke read a brief statement on behalf of fellow quarterbacks Peter Lalich and Marc Verica, and then bolted.
The text of Deke's statement was not available, but the gist was that he and his fellow quarterbacks just wanted to spend the afternoon mingling with fans.
Some of those fans presumably would like to hear how the quarterback competition is going, and who might be under center when Southern California comes to Scott Stadium in a little under three weeks. The vacancy was created when Jameel Sewell, last year's starter, left school because of academic issues. Those questions were fielded by coach Al Groh at a press conference prior to the fan and media event.
"We're not keeping a daily scorecard on them," Groh said. "We're looking at the body of work."
None has much of one. Lalich, the youngest of the trio, has the most game experience, with eight appearances as a true freshman last year. Deke has been in the system since 2004, but has never thrown a pass in a college game. Ditto for Verica, a redshirt sophomore.
The highly recruited Lalich was expected to be the frontrunner for the job. He appeared to take more repetitions with the first team at Saturday's open practice, according to the Roanoke Times.
Groh, however, said the competition is wide open, and could remain that way for a while. He said the staff wants to avoid making an "inappropriately quick decision."
"It might take some games to find out who the number-one quarterback is or who the two are. It might take a couple games to figure that out," he said.
Groh has rotated quarterbacks before. Matt Schaub and Bryson Spinner traded off starts in 2001. Schaub and Marques Hagans each started early in 2002. In 2006, Christian Olsen began the season as the starter. He was replaced by Kevin McCabe, before Sewell finally won the job in the fourth week.
3 competing to follow Gould as placekicker
Another three-way competition is under way at placekicker, where Chris Hinkebein, Yannick Reyering and Robert Randolph are vying to replace Chris Gould.
Hinkebein was one of the nation's top high school kickers two years ago. Reyering is a former Virginia soccer standout from Germany. Randolph is a freshman walk-on.
All have a ways to go to become as reliable as Gould, Groh said. "We've gone from horrible to hopeful," he said. "It was horrible in the spring and now it's hopeful."
Communication key for new offensive linemen
The other major question on offense is the interior of the line, where three starters - center Jordy Lipsey and guards Branden Albert and Ian-Yates Cunningham - must be replaced.
Stepping in at center is Jack Shields, a redshirt sophomore. The guards are B.J. Cabbell, also a redshirt sophomore, and Zak Stair, a fifth-year senior.
Shields is a converted tight end. Stair has spent his entire career as a reserve tackle. Cabbell played in four games last year, on extra points and field goals.
"Overall, they probably have a little more size" than last year's group, offensive line coach Dave Borbely said. "We probably have a little more pop in there maybe than we had. Right now, we're trying to go in there and make sure we can gain the element we had a year ago, which was great communication."
Groh runs 'tight ship'
7:51 PM EDT, August 10, 2008
Al Groh's edict is brief, clear and firm. Most important, it appears non-negotiable.
"We say this to the team," Groh said Sunday. "If a player does anything that brings discredit on himself, his team, his school, his family then we will respond to that in whatever fashion we think is necessary.
"That means there's going to be a response."
Suffice to say, Groh spent much of this offseason responding.
No fewer than eight of his University of Virginia football players, most of them front-liners, encountered academic or legal issues.
Now before proceeding, let's get one thing straight: The Cavaliers are not unique.
Ask Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, or any college coach. Ask your neighbor, co-worker or spouse.
Kids mess up. They drive fast, chug beer and flunk tests — academic and otherwise.
Sometimes it's worse. Red-flag worse — Google "Fulmer Cup" if you're not convinced.
Collectively, Virginia's recent incidents don't reach that level.
This is not the drug trafficking scandal that rocked the program in the mid-80s, or the rash of arrests that fouled Virginia Tech in the mid-90s. But Groh's handling of the tempest is revealing and encouraging.
From all indications, he did not, and does not, excuse his players' missteps.
While administrators ruled on academic cases, Groh earlier this month booted Mike Brown for repeated arrests. In previous years, he sent Ahmad Brooks, J'Courtney Williams and Vince Redd packing.
Good for Groh. Time demands notwithstanding, college athletes are livin' large, and expecting them to attend class, avoid YouTube hijinx and dodge the cop shop is not unreasonable.
Recently, police cited three Cavaliers for misdemeanors related to alcohol. One, offensive tackle Will Barker, is a returning starter. Another, quarterback Peter Lalich, is competing for a first-team job.
"There's certain things that we weren't pleased with and we've dealt with them internally," Groh said last week, "but, frankly, there are plenty of people out there who want to stir it up. I don't necessarily need to contribute to that."
Chief among those "people" are keyboard jockeys like me. So Sunday at the team's media day I raised the subject.
Now Groh wasn't about to say if he ran the offenders 'til they puked, demoted them on the depth chart or limited them to one trip through the Ben & Jerry's buffet. But he did discuss his philosophy.
"Every case is different," Groh said. "Two people if they do the same thing and one has built up 31/2 years of goodwill and somebody else … it's a repeat, then the response is different."
What about players policing themselves?
"If you are a good teammate, then you are responsible for your teammate's behavior," Groh said. "There's a line in the Bible, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' Yes you are.
"If this guy has an academic issue and he's your roommate and he's not attending class, you're culpable for that fact."
But also realize that, by extension, the coaching staff is accountable, too. After 41 years in the profession, the last seven-plus at his alma mater, Groh understands as much.
He also has concluded that a coach occasionally needs to consult team leaders on disciplinary matters.
"Sometimes we've taken quite a bit of input from what the team thought or what the leadership element of the team thought," Groh said. "Sometimes it's just been my decision on what to do. …
"Those things, the dynamic of a team, keeping your team together and the communication that's necessary, handling those things are as important as the schemes you draw up in the playbooks."
Groh's schemes haven't produced as many victories as some would prefer — the Cavaliers are 51-37 since his arrival. But aside from one verbal gaffe regarding the academic shortcomings of his 2006 recruiting class, he has been refreshingly strict and keenly aware of UVa's expectations.
"He sticks to his word," Barker said. "He runs a tight ship. Groh treats everyone the same way. Everyone is equal in his eyes."
Barker, 21, would not discuss his punishment or the incident — he allegedly swiped beer from a cooler at a local club — that prompted it. But he appeared genuinely contrite.
"There's good knowledge within the players that this is the culture," Groh said. "These are the standards. This is what's acceptable."
Cavs assistant lets views be known
By DAVID TEEL AND NORM WOOD | 247-4636 | 247-4642
10:12 PM EDT, August 10, 2008
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Like Virginia head coach Al Groh, first-year
defensive coordinator Bob Pruett has been coaching football for more than 40
years, but this season marks his first in decades running a 3-4 defense.
"Every year is an opportunity to learn," Pruett said. "That makes it fun and will keep you young."
As a long-time friend and former co-worker of Groh's, Pruett apparently won't be shy about voicing opinions, contrary or not, to his boss.
"As an assistant, it's your responsibility to tell (the head coach) what you're thinking," Pruett said.
But if an assistant doesn't agree with the overall picture the coach is trying to create, "then you go get yourself another job," Pruett added.
After compiling 13,770 career yards at Gretna High in Gretna, UVa junior cornerback Vic Hall knows a thing or two about moving the ball from the quarterback position.
So, did he ever approach coach Groh after last season or in the spring about getting into the mix in UVa's unstable quarterback race?
"I never did," Hall said. "He's the coach and I do what he wants me to do… To be honest with you, all I've had my mind on is playing defensive back."
CAPTAINS IN CONCERT
Two of the Cavaliers' captains indicated they didn't feel the need to address the team regarding its offseason legal and academic issues.
"All that does is create division," senior tailback Cedric Peerman said. "If we want to win games, we have to gel as one."
Senior tight end John Phillips said the matters "are behind us. We're just focused on (training) camp."
From 2002-05, UVa played an average of 101/2 true freshmen per season, but that trend has changed in the last two seasons.
In the '06 season, the Cavaliers played just one true freshman, and last year five got on the field. The prospects of potentially having more experienced players in the future is encouraging to Groh.
"You can clearly see the advantages," Groh said. "We always recognized the advantage of long-term development…Our policy with our player has always been that when they're ready (to play), we're ready."
When offensive coordinator Mike Groh scanned last year's preseason depth chart for playmakers, all he saw were two tight ends — Jonathan Stupar and Tom Santi.
This year couldn't be more different.
"Now we've got four wide receivers who have made big plays," Groh said. "We have a big tight end and two tailbacks. ... I feel real good about the playmakers we've got."
Groh spoke of receivers Kevin Ogletree, Staton Jobe, Maurice Covington and Dontrelle Inman, tight end John Phillips and tailbacks Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson.
In QB shopping, Cavs seek one for the price of three COLLEGE
August 11, 2008 12:15 am
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
When the University of Virginia coaching staff learned Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez might miss the Cavaliers' season opener against the Trojans on Aug. 30 with a dislocated knee cap, there wasn't much hope for a drop-off in production.
Sophomore transfer Mitch Mustain could start for supremely talented USC, and, like Sanchez, he was a heralded high school recruit.
"It's the same thing that one of our coaches said about it," Cavaliers head coach Al Groh said. "They just replace one All-American with a potential All-American."
The Cavaliers wish they could boast such a claim.
Instead, they must choose between three inexperienced signal-callers in fifth-year senior Scott Deke, and sophomores Peter Lalich and Marc Verica.
Groh said neither of the quarterbacks has emerged as a front-runner to claim the position, and a season-long starter might not be determined before or after they face the Trojans at Scott Stadium.
"The most important thing is for the team to have the right quarterback in there," Groh said. "As I've said on a couple of different occasions, that's only proven with a quarterback when they play in the game. And we don't have any games to play. So it might take some games to find out who the one quarterback is or who the two are."
That doesn't sound prom-ising to Virginia fans. And if they're looking for reassurance from the quarterbacks, they won't find it there, either.
At yesterday's Meet The Team Day at Scott Stadium, Deke was the only quarterback to speak to the press. He made a statement saying that neither signal-caller has accomplished enough to speak to reporters and left immediately.
While media members were miffed, Cavaliers offensive coordinator Mike Groh said it showed that the players are united. He said it was probably Al Groh's idea to have Deke, Lalich and Verica avoid questions about their progress.
"I think it shows the maturity level of all three of them," Mike Groh said. "This could've been their opportunity to say, 'Hey, finally I got a microphone in my face, and I get a chance to answer questions.' But they're more focused on the team than they are themselves, and I think that says a lot about them."
Their play on the field doesn't say much. That's because Deke and Verica have never attempted a pass in a regular season game. Lalich appeared in eight games last season as the backup to former quarterback Jameel Sewell, who was suspended from school in January for academic reasons.
Still, the Cavaliers insist they're not worried the quarterback situation will take down their season. It may help that all three are pocket passers who can run the same type of plays.
"We know whoever is back there is going to be capable of making the throws and making the plays," senior tight end John Phillips said. "We've just got to make them feel comfortable."
Lalich is the only one with any experience. He completed 57 percent of his passes for 321 yards, two touchdowns and one interception last season.
However, he hasn't been able to take control of the job this offseason. He struggled in the Cavaliers' spring game in April, and last month he was charged with underage possession of alcohol, a misdemeanor.
Al and Mike Groh said Lalich didn't separate himself from the others in the spring or so far this summer.
"They're all [No.] 1. They're all 2. They're all 3," Al Groh said. "They're really all the same."
Al Groh said he doesn't want to make a knee-jerk decision on his next starting quarterback. He said he wants to get as much information as possible and judge the players' body of work instead of daily showings.
He said unless Deke, Lalich or Verica string together five or six days of practice performances that make coaches say, "Holy smoke. This is different," the situation will remained unsettled into the season.
"I think it would be foolish and arrogant to think that this should be a unilateral decision," Al Groh said. "They're a lot of people who see a lot of different things Probably the best thing for the team is to provide ourselves the opportunity to get as much input as we can, and not make an inappropriately quick decision."