July 30, 2009

Apologies!

It's been over a week, and no new posts on Wahooze! I apologize... I've just been zapped by NCAA10, preparing for my upcoming fantasy football draft, and a surprisingly large amount of actual work to do while I'm at work.

Coming soon is the conclusion to the "Fight Card" series, as I'll tackle the rest of the roster in a sort of rabbit punch lightning round. Once that's done, we can really roll up our sleeves and start digging into the bedrock of this year's football team.


July 22, 2009

Fight Card -- Wide Receivers


The Main Event...

Jared Green (So.) -- Looking only at his stats (12 receptions, 144 yards, 1 TD) it's hard to say that 2008 was a true "breakout" season for Jared Green. But considering the crummy play at the QB position, the competition he faced for receptions (Kevin Ogletree and Maurice Covington were a damn good duo, not to mention John Phillips), and his clear improvement over the course of the season, I think it's easy to connect the dots and see Green emerging as a very good receiver for the Hoos in 2009. He's got his father's speed, and he's also got above-average hands and a sort of hard-nosed edge you don't normally see in wide receivers. I absolutely love Green's potential to explode in our version of the spread offense this season.


Javaris Brown (RS Fr.) -- I call it "Keith Payne Disease." Every Spring, some redshirt frosh comes off of a good year of practice during their redshirt season and shines in Spring ball. That player then gains the adoration of the fanbase, and enters training camp with lofty expectations built upon an offseason's worth of hype. This year, Javaris Brown has fallen ill with Keith Payne disease... but can he live up to the hype? He's fast and explosive, and he showed in the Spring game that he's got great leaping ability and above-average hands. Can he emerge this season as a go-to receiver, or is he still too raw to take on the huge role expected of him?


Dontrelle Inman (Jr.) -- As a true freshman in 2007, Inman caught 17 passes for 181 yards (10.6 avg.) and established himself as the next-in-line behind Maurice Covington for the typical UVA possession receiver role. Last year, he was derailed a bit by a collection of nagging injuries, but he should be ready to get back on track this season. Inman is tall, strong, and tough, and has displayed great natural receiving ability. He won't burn you deep, but he should prove to be a reliable short- and mid-range target in the passing game.


Tim Smith (Fr.) -- 73 receptions, 1681 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 5 kick return TDs in 15 games. That was Tim Smith's senior season at Oscar Smith HS in Chesapeake, numbers that earned him a high four-star rating and the distinction of being a national top-20 wide receiver in the 2009 recruiting class. Smith sets foot on Grounds as potentially the most explosive downfield receiver on the roster, and he's polished enough to play as a true freshman. In fact, he fully expects to play a major role for the team in 2009.



The Undercard...


Staton Jobe (Jr.) -- He's smart, gritty, tough, and a surprisingly great blocker. He's not overly talented and doesn't have great upside; he's not an explosive downfield receiving threat, nor is he a big, high-jumping possession guy. Staton Jobe is what he is -- a scrapper who will [as usual] carve out a role for himself on this team. The spread offense is perfect for guys like this -- he can pick his spots and pick his moments, and won't need a lot of passes pumped his direction in order to impact games in profound ways.


Kris Burd (So.) -- He's athletic, but not really special in any significant way. He comes across as a Mike McGrew-esque blue collar type of receiver, who doesn't really stretch the field, but has a knack for getting open. Last year's 7 receptions for 65 yards showed us that he can fill a role as a sub-package receiver. I expect him to step up again this season and emerge as a viable slot receiver with the toughness to go over the middle.


Matt Snyder (So.) -- Scanning the roster prior to Spring practice, I was worried that we lacked a true possession receiver after Dontrelle Inman. Enter walk-on Matt Snyder. Snyder is big (6-4, 210), strong, and tough-minded, and is said to have very steady hands. I think his do-anything demeanor will play well with this current mix of receivers.


Raynard Horne (Jr.) -- Yep, it's weird. A big power-running tailback (6-0, 215) moved to wide receiver. But the spread demands a ton of receivers, and I like Horne's upside as a player running screens and blocking downfield. I worry about his hands and overall receiving ability, but we'll see how things come together for him in training camp. He wasn't going to crack the rotation at halfback, so this switch makes some amount of sense.


Kevin Royal (Fr.) -- He was a big play receiver in a run-first offense in high school, which led to him flying under the radar as a national recruit. He's tall (6-3) and fast, but probably needs to redshirt in order to refine his skills.


Bobby Smith (Fr.) -- He's tall (6-5). That's honestly all I know about this kid, who exploded as a high school senior (54 reception, 1040 yards, 14 TDs) and drew a late offer from UVA. The coaches are excited about his potential as a possession receiver and red zone threat. Like with Royal, I have to assume he needs to redshirt in 2009.



And the Winner is...

Two-Wide: Jared Green and Javaris Brown/Dontrelle Inman (depending on situations)

Three-Wide: Green and Brown, with Tim Smith in the slot

Four-Wide: Green and Inman, with Brown and Smith in the slots

Five(?!?)-Wide: Green, Brown, Smith, Inman, and Burd


Whew, that was a mouthful. But the reality is that we'll be seeing a lot of different mixes at the wideout spots. At the end of the year, I expect the number of plays from scrimmage to break down something like this: #1 Green, #2 Brown, #3 Smith, #4 Inman, #5 Burd, #6 Jobe, #7 Snyder, #8 Horne. Do we have a true dynamic go-to receiver in this bunch? Not yet, but any of Green, Brown, or Smith has that kind of potential.



Wahooze-Style Fearless Prediction...


UVA hasn't really featured a star wide receiver in the passing game since Billy McMullen earlier this century. Kevin Ogletree came close, but he was playing in the wrong kind of offense (and with the wrong QBs) to put up huge numbers. Now in the no-huddle shotgun spread, the pigskin is going airborn and the receivers will be asked to assume starring roles. As a true freshman, Tim Smith is stepping into the perfect opportunity... and by the end of the 2009 season, UVA will have a bonafide star on it's hands. I don't think he'll lead the team in receptions, yardage, or TDs, but I think he'll lead the team in big plays and overall impact from the wide receiver position.



Position Grade: B


Imagine this unit if Kevin Ogletree hadn't [stupidly] left early for the NFL... Ah, that hurts. But in KO's wake we have a talented bunch of receivers, many of whom are capable of stepping up into true impact roles. I love what I've seen from Jared Green, I love what I'm hearing about Javaris Brown and Tim Smith, and I love Dontrelle Inman's chances of filling the possession role vacated by Maurice Covington. I also love the depth chart behind the top four WRs -- Jobe is a solid player, Burd has good upside, Snyder seems to be earning trust from the coaches, and Horne offers a unique twist on the position. Yes, we need a lot of good receivers in order for the spread offense to truly purr, but I like the blend of talent on hand.

July 21, 2009

O-line O-verview

I recently devoted a "Fight Card"to the left tackle position, but what about the rest of the o-line? Well, with four starters returning, I don't think there will be much of a roster battle for starting spots this summer. The closest competition would have been at center, but with Anthony Mihota finding his way to the Al Groh doghouse this Spring -- based on Mihota's inability to find some consistency with his shotgun snaps; shotgun formation being the primary staple of the GreggBrandonnohuddleshotgunspread offense -- it looks like all training camp competition has been extinguished before it could ever really begin. This is a good thing (the starting o-line can continue to practice together and gel as a unit) and a bad thing (the starting o-line won't feel much pressure from behind them on the roster, and could thus fall a bit complacent.) Anyway, it's time to take a look at the roster breakdown of the offensive line.


The Starters...

LT) Probably Landon Bradley. See the left tackle "Fight Card" for more details.

LG) Austin Pasztor (So.) -- Pasztor came from out of nowhere as a 17-year old freshman to claim a spot on the starting o-line, and he didn't fail to impress. He's big and athletic, and should be a four-year starter on UVA's o-line. Pasztor has a lot of ability as a one-on-one blocker, and if the staff can keep him in those types of situations he has a good amount of star potential.

C) Jack Shields (Jr.) -- As a converted tight end, Shields has a fair amount of athleticism for an interior lineman. He's a little on the small side and can be overpowered at times, but he's a heady guy who understands leverage. He's also improving his play recognition and line calls, which helps the entire line.

RG) B.J. Cabbell (Jr.) -- When he's at his best, Cabbell looks a lot like Elton Brown and Branden Albert as a pulling guard, getting around the edge and blocking with authority. The problem is that Cabbell is a streaky player who runs hot/cold throughout the course of games. If he can find some consistency this season, it would really help the offense, and especially the power running game. Fighting through a leg injury this Spring didn't help...

RT) Will Barker (Sr.) -- He's always had a lot of upside, a lot of unrealized potential. Now Barker heads into his final season as a Hoo still trying to complete his development into an all-around blocker. He oozes talent (some NFL scouts view him as a 3rd rounder in the 2010 draft), but lacks concentration and consistency. Can he step up in 2009 as the elder statesman on the o-line?


The Depth Chart...

OT) Lamar Milstead (So.) -- As mentioned in the left tackle "Fight Card," Milstead will likely be a primary backup at both tackle positions.

OT) Matt Mihalik & Aaron Van Kuiken (RS Fr.) -- This pair of tackles are entering their second year in the program, and are still developing. It's hard to say if either are ready for playing time in '09.

OT/OG) Isaac Cain (Jr.) -- He's an athletic battler who always finds a way to excel in practice and earn his spot on the gameday two-deep. He worked with the first team at right guard in Cabbell's absence this Spring.

OG) Billy Cuffee (So.) -- Cuffee is huge but doesn't move all that well, and might never be able to shake the "project" tag.

OG) Patrick Slebonick (Sr.) -- He's athletically challenged, and will probably never see much time on the o-line, but he has found a nice niche for himself as the "swinging gate" on the punt team.

OC) Anthony Mihota (So.) -- An aggressive, nasty blocker with quick feet and good athleticism, Mihota is the kind of guy for whom we need to find a role. He's probably a better player than Jack Shields, but until he improves his shotgun snaps, we'll never see him on the field with the starting o-line.


The Incoming Freshmen...

Don't forget that our 2009 class is LOADED with quality o-line recruits. I doubt any will see the field this year (unless Morgan Moses qualifies and/or Oday Aboushi beats out Landon Bradley at left tackle), but it's important to note that the future of our o-line appears very bright. These guys should redshirt and enter the mix in 2010.

Morgan Moses -- high 4-star, projects to right or left tackle, superstar potential

Oday Aboushi -- 4-star, projects to left tackle

Sean Cascarano -- 3-star, projects to tackle or guard

Luke Bowanko -- 3-star, projects to tackle

Hunter Steward -- 2-star, projects to any o-line position, was woefully underrated coming out of high school

Cody Wallace -- 2-star, projects to center


Wahooze-Style Fearless Prediction...

You've already heard my doom and gloom about Morgan Moses, so let me restore my karmic balance by offering you an optimistic take on the 2009 o-line. The Bradley / Pasztor / Shields / Cabbell / Barker offensive line is the most balanced group Al Groh has had in his nine seasons in Charlottesville. I'm not saying it's the most talented group, I'm not saying it's the best, but I am saying it is the most balanced -- there are no glaring holes on this line, no glaring weaknesses. And with a year of playing together already under their belts, this line will emerge as an absolute team strength toward the end of the 2009 season.


Position Grades:
LT -- B
LG -- A-
OC -- B-
RG -- B
RT -- B+

Overall Grade: B/B+

There are a few questions swirling around this o-line: Can Landon Bradley really replace Eugene Monroe? Will B.J. Cabbell and Will Barker iron out their inconsistencies on the right side? Can Jack Shields take the next step making line calls for an entirely new offense? Is Austin Pasztor really a star-in-the-making? At the end of the day, I have a lot of faith in this o-line, and I fully expect this group to gel into something much greater than the sum of its individual parts.

July 17, 2009

Fight Card -- Left Tackles


The Main Event...

Landon Bradley (So.) -- This is his third year in the program, and he was hand-picked and groomed to take over the position once Eugene Monroe graduated. So this roster battle might not be much of a "battle" per se, as it looks very likely that Bradley will be handed the starting position fairly early in training camp. He's not huge for a OT (6-7, 275 as compared to Monroe's 6-5, 315), but he has excellent feet and can move very well for a big dude. I actually think the move to the spread really helps a guy like Bradley, who will need to rely more on lateral movement and positioning than brute strength at the point of attack. Bradley should be adept at getting out in those o-line splits and operating in space. Translation: Landon Bradley is a great fit as a left tackle in a spread offense, where he'll be asked to move around and mirror the pass rushers instead of taking them on in a small amount of space.

Oday
Aboushi (Fr.) -- Landon Bradley is close to being a lock to start, but if he doesn't it will be a true freshman, either Morgan Moses or (more likely) Aboushi. A solid four-star recruit and one of the headliners of our 2009 class, Aboushi is said to be a very agile, active, technically-sound blocker, capable of stepping in and starting as a true freshman. At 6-6, 300, his body is already mature enough to handle the rigors of the position. I personally like to see all freshman o-linemen redshirt their first year in the program, so they can add the requisite strength and knowledge of the blocking scheme before they're asked to play. But like I mentioned with Dominique Wallace, Al Groh isn't in a position where he can afford to be patient with these young players. If Aboushi is the best option at left tackle (or if Bradley gets hurt), this redshirt will be burned.


The Undercard...

Lamar Milstead (So.) -- After being a marquee recruit in the 2007 class, Milstead redshirted in 2007 and didn't see the field in 2008. The dreaded term "bust" was being tossed around in reference to this athletically gifted yet raw player. Finally, this Spring, the light began to flicker on for Milstead, and he earned the Rock Weir Award as the team's most improved offensive player. I don't think Milstead will be able to beat out Bradley or Aboushi this summer, but he now at least deserves a spot in the conversation. He also might factor into the battle to back up Will Barker at right tackle.

Morgan Moses (Fr.) -- Landing Moses on National Letter of Intent Day in the Spring was our biggest coup of this recruiting class. This player is a superstar-level talent. Unfortunately, it's looking more and more like he won't have the SAT score to enroll at Virginia this summer, so he'll probably end up prepping at Fork Union this Fall. If we see a last-minute miracle and Moses qualifies... then I'd have to say that he becomes the favorite to start at left tackle this season. He's that good.


And the Winner is... Landon Bradley

I'm sure Morgan Moses will prep, and neither of Aboushi or Milstead have the polish to start at LT this season. So Bradley wins this battle by default... but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Like I stated above, I think he's a great fit at this specific position in this specific offense.


Wahooze
-Style Fearless Prediction...

Everyone is in love with Morgan Moses as an extremely talented in-state kid with the potential to be the next great Virginia offensive lineman. His upside is limitless, and he might have more pure talent coming out of high school than D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Branden Albert, or Eugene Monroe. But between this year in prep school and Al Groh's insecure job status, I doubt Morgan Moses ever makes it to the University of Virginia. I hate to be a negative nancy, but how many times has this sort of situation gone our way?


Position Grade: B

I dislike the lack of experience at left tackle, but I like the mix of talent and ability on hand. With four returning starters on the o-line, breaking in a new left tackle shouldn't be an impossible task. The exciting thing about this position group is that all of these players can really get out and move, which should really play well in Gregg Brandon's spread offense.

The XBox Crystal Ball

I'd like to go ahead and formally apologize for this week of slow posting on Wahooze. I do have a good reason -- NCAA Football 10 came out on Tuesday. Anyone who knows me knows that mid-July is like an annual holiday for me. I love this game, and I tend to disappear for a solid week or two after it comes out.

As usual, I have cranked up the dynasty mode with Virginia. Also as usual, my first season playing as the Hoos tends to fairly accurately portend the actual football season itself.

I'm currently five games deep into the 2009 season. Here's how we're faring so far:

vs. William & Mary -- We won easily, 38-3. I even called off the dogs after halftime... I didn't want to run up the score on a team that isn't Duke, UNC, Maryland, or Virginia Tech.

vs. TCU -- I'm still getting used to the spread offense in the video game, and TCU's fast defense took advantage of two Vic Hall interceptions. We lost, 21-10.

@ Southern Miss -- Corey Mosley picked up a carom and ran it back for a pick six early in the second half in what ended up being the game-winning score. We won, 24-17.

@ UNC -- Despite Vic Hall rushing for over 100 yards, I couldn't generate enough offense in this game. Mikell Simpson's two fumbles led him to the bench, and the Torrey Mack era began in earnest. The Heels thumped our Hoos in this game, 27-14.

Indiana -- Weirdly, IU entered this game at 5-0 and ranked #22 in the nation. Didn't matter. The MackAttack ran wild (~180 yards, 3 TDs), and our Hoos blew out the Hoosiers, 31-13.

3-2 and 0-1 in the ACC near the halfway point of the season. I'd say that's pretty realistic.

July 13, 2009

Fight Card: Inside Linebackers

The Main Event...

Darren Childs (Sr.) -- In 2008, he started two games in place of Antonio Appleby, and turned in a stellar 10-tackle performance in the win against UNC. Like Denzel Burrell and Aaron Clark, this is a guy who has waited for his turn, and he enters 2009 training camp as the surest bet to be a starter of any of the linebackers on the roster. Childs is solidly built, a good athlete, and [obviously] a productive run-stopper. I feel comfortable and confident with him penciled in as a starter.

Steve Greer (RS Fr.) -- "A quicker version of Jon Copper," Greer is on a trajectory to become a four-year starter at ILB for the Hoos. Sight unseen, I've bought into the hype. As I've mentioned before, if Al Groh knows anything, he knows his linebackers. If Groh thinks Greer is good enough to start as a redshirt freshman, then I trust the coach. I am excited about Greer's talent and potential in this defense.

Darnell Carter (Jr.) -- In the same boat as Jameel Sewell and Chris Cook, Carter is returning from a year-long academic suspension. Before he was dismissed from the team, Carter was pushing Copper and Appleby hard in practice, and there were some around the program that felt he was a better, more explosive, dynamic talent than either of them. Now he's back, and is the darkhorse to start beside Childs at ILB. No doubt he'll be rusty after a year's vacation from football, but if he can regain his lost momentum, the Greer/Carter battle could be one of the best of training camp.


The Undercard...

Terence Fells-Danzer (So.) -- He paid his dues on special teams as a redshirt freshman, and now he's ready to contribute as a wave/rotation player on defense. He's big and athletic; very close to the prototypical 3-4 ILB. Hopefully the light will flicker on for TFD in 2009.

Bill Schautz (RS Fr.) -- Another young talent in the ILB pipeline, Schautz really showed up during the Spring Game. I know many in and around the program are very high on this kid, so I'm sure he'll get some action from scrimmage this season. Like Greer, Schautz is a heady player and a technically sound tackler said to be cut in the Jon Copper mold. He's active and instinctive, and one of those guys who always just seems to be around the ball.

Dominique Wallace (Fr.) -- Arguably our best recruit of the 2009 class, Wallace was signed to play halfback... before Gregg Brandon was hired to bring his spread offense to Charlottesville. Now Wallace (a bruising 6-1, 235-lb. power back) is a Hoo, but a bad fit at halfback in the new UVA offense. In high school his second position was middle linebacker, and some say that is his best position projecting to the future. I think he'll end up slotted at linebacker this summer, and I think there's a good chance that we'll see his redshirt burned this season so we can get his elite talent on the field. Al Groh is in a position where he needs to "smoke 'em if he's got 'em," after all.


And the Winner is... Darren Childs and Steve Greer

Childs doesn't have a lot of game experience, but he's been in the program for four years already. 2009 will be his fifth year as a Hoo, and to me, that's experience. I think he'll play and play well. At the other ILB spot, I think Greer will just barely edge out Carter and Wallace for the starting spot. Brains and toughness go a long way in the middle of the 3-4, and Greer seems poised to pick right up from where Jon Copper left off. Meanwhile, the presence of Carter, Wallace, TFD, and Schautz makes this one of the deeper positions on the team --- I feel confident in any of our ILBs if they earn some playing time.


Wahooze-Style Fearless Prediction...

I'm already out on a limb predicting that Dominique Wallace will end up at linebacker and that Al Groh will burn his redshirt in order to get him on the field... so I'll just go all the way to the end of that limb and say that this season, Dominique Wallace will give us some Ahmad Brooks-ian flashes of brilliance, and that we'll all be excited to see him take over a starting spot in 2010. This kid has limitless upside, he's a hard worker, and he's already a devoted ambassador of Virginia Football. The sky is the limit, and we'll start to see some of that potential become realized in 2009.


Position Grade: B+

Replacing both starters at ILB is a daunting task. Most of the names are new, but this is a deep, talented group of players at a position that is generally featured in the 3-4 defense. I think that as the season grinds along, the ILBs will emerge as a strength of the UVA defense. I expect this group to control the middle of the field and easily outshine their counterparts on the outside.

July 10, 2009

"Bennett Lets High School Coaches Know They Are Important"

I'd like to take a quick timeout from the Football Fight Cards to direct you guys to this article from today's RTD. It's a quick read, and just another glowing example of why we should all be so high on Tony Bennett as our new basketball coach.

Richmond Times Dispatch: "Bennett Lets High School Coaches Know They Are Important"

July 9, 2009

Fight Card: Outside Linebackers

The Main Event...

Denzel Burrell (Sr.) -- Aaron Clark emerged from 2008's preseason training camp as the starter opposite Clint Sintim, but it was Burrell who stepped in and did a very solid job after Clark was lost for the season in the USC game. Burrell is a heady, tough player, but he's not really a special talent in any way. He's also not much of a pass rusher, which is a bummer for an OLB in the 3-4 -- this is the glamour pass-rush spot on the UVA defense (see also: Clint Sintim and his 27 career sacks at UVA). Burrell is what he is, a good player and a solid starter who won't make many mistakes but also won't make many game-changing plays.

Aaron Clark (Sr.) -- Clark is back from his knee injury, and by all accounts he's ready to pick up where he left off, after registering five tackles in the first half against the Trojans. Clark is a bigger guy (6-5, 250) and more of a threat off the edge than Burrell, but he's still not an elite caliber pass rusher... which really worries me. We need at least one of our starting OLBs to be a sack artist, and while Clark has decent potential in that arena, he's far from a sure thing. That being said, this is a player who has worked his butt off through four hard years (and now a devastating knee injury) for his chance to start. It's hard not to pull for the guy.

Cam Johnson (So.) -- For those of us, myself included, who long for a Sintim-esque explosive pass rusher in the lineup, meet Cam Johnson. He's easily our most athletically gifted outside linebacker, and he got his feet wet last year. He's a little on the small side, but hopefully Mr. Hourigan has helped him add some strength to his frame. Cam Johnson is our most dynamic option at outside linebacker, and he might end up being the "make-or-break" player of the entire defense. If he can play at a high level and consistently wreak havoc in opponents' backfields, the D will be a much better unit.


The Undercard...

Jared Detrick (Jr.) -- So far in his career, Detrick has been a special teams standout but hasn't really seen much action on defense. This year, his speed and tackling ability should be assets off the bench and in the regular rotation. Don't look for him to sacrifice his role on special teams, however.

Aaron Taliaferro (So.) -- He is pretty much a complete unknown, after spending two years in the program after being highly recruited in the 2007 class. He was a great pass rusher in high school (61 sacks!), so I hope he's ready to get after the QB for us on Saturdays.


And the Winner is... Aaron Clark and Cam Johnson

I just think the OLB rotation will be strongest if we have Burrell coming off the bench to spell the two starters. The Johnson/Clark combo gives us the best pass rushing ability, and a higher overall ceiling for production. Al Groh can be stubborn, but he knows his linebackers and he knows what it takes for his 3-4 defense to be most effective. I feel confident that he sees how easily the defense could be short-circuited by starting Clark and Burrell and not producing enough pressure off of the edge. Don't get me wrong -- I assume our only returning starter at linebacker will start the season opener, but I just think Burrell will eventually find his way back to the second team, and the D will be better off with him playing a wave role.


Wahooze-Style Fearless Prediction...

Cam Johnson will emerge as a star this season.
It's a cliche, but the best way to identify breakthrough players is to look for situations where talent meets opportunity. Cam Johnson stepping into a starting OLB spot is a perfect example of that. I'll stop short from predicting double-digit sacks like Sintim provided in '08, but I could easily see Cam pitching in 7 or 8 sacks, lots of pressure in the backfield, and a load of tackles-for-loss. There's a reason Al Groh allowed this kid to wear Lawrence Taylor and Darryl Blackstock's #56 jersey.


Position Grade: B-

There is talent and depth at the OLB position, but not an overabundance of either. For example, if Johnson gets hurt or fails to live up to his advance billing, we could be in trouble from a pass rush perspective. But if this unit can stay healthy and live up to its potential, I think the position group will prove to be effective.


Coming soon...
The inside linebackers!

July 6, 2009

Fight Card: Quarterbacks

First off, I'd like to give a special nod to JHoo for his excellent "Summer Reading" series on The Sabre, and also to Chris Wallace and Jamie Oakes for their outstanding "Countdown to Camp" series on Cavs Corner. If you're looking for a broad overview of each position group coupled with some great analysis, those two series can't be beat... especially if you're reading them together as complementary works.

With my position-by-position fight cards here on Wahooze, I'm not trying to rehash what JHoo, Jamie, and Chris have already floated out into cyberspace. Instead, I'm trying to give you one fan's view, including all the bias and braggadocio I've accumulated along the way. At times my take will be complementary to "Summer Reading" and "Countdown to Camp," and at times it will be contradictory.

Now let's get into it.


Fight Card: Quarterbacks

The Main Event...

Vic Hall (Sr.) -- He showed us what he could do in the 2008 Tech game... but he didn't throw a single pass in the game. How good is he as a passer? We have no idea at this point. The fact that he's lining up as a QB for the 2009 season is a testament to his ability and also to Al Groh's level of desperation. (For what it's worth, I still think slotting this kid at cornerback was one of Groh's most damning mistakes of this decade.) We know Vic Hall has serious wheels, so if he's even mediocre as a passer, he'd be tough not to start at QB.

Jameel Sewell (Sr.) -- He's back after a year-long suspension for flunking out of school. He did all the right things to make it back onto the field, and I appreciate that. That being said, I have a few issues with Sewell: 1) How in the HELL does your starting QB flunk out of school? Way to be a team player, buddy. And if laziness wasn't the problem, how can we justify having a dumbass playing the QB position? 2) Sewell has never been an accurate passer, and the Gregg Brandon spread offense calls for quick, accurate passes. 3) Maybe it was bad luck, but Sewell missed a lot of clutch, 4th quarter situations due to ticky-tack injuries two years ago. The Virginia Tech and Texas Tech games immediately come to mind. Maybe I'm way off base, but I have to question the guy's toughness. (Even though he did lead us to many gutty nailbiter-type wins that season.) 4) He's been away from football for an entire year. Rust has to be a factor here. I don't mean to dog Sewell too badly, but I think he's far from a sure thing as our starting QB.


The Undercard...

Marc Verica (Jr.) -- Let's be direct here. He never should have seen the field in 2008. He wasn't ready to play, and he didn't have the proper supporting cast to be able to succeed when he did play. That being said, I actually think that Verica did a nice job for the most part last season. He's good in the pocket, and great at throwing to a spot. He gets himself into trouble trying to rifle passes through tight windows, but that's no different than what we've seen out of Jameel Sewell in the past. He threw a lot of interceptions last year, but I honestly think Verica has earned his fair shot to start this season. He deserves a fair shot, but I'm not confident that he'll get it. Turnovers tend to put players in Al Groh's doghouse, and once you're in that kennel, it's very difficult to escape. {Cue Bad Newz Kennels joke here.}

Riko Smalls (RS Fr.) -- I loved what I saw from Riko in the Spring Game. He reminded me of Marques Hagans, but with a quicker, more compact delivery, better accuracy, and a touch more size to almost be able to see over the line. I think this guy is a great fit in the spread, and the change of offense conceivably puts him on a level playing field with Hall, Sewell, and Verica. But we all know how much Al Groh (dis)likes to start young QBs, so Smalls will probably need to wait patiently for his turn, which might come as soon as the 2010 season.


And the Winner is... The Vic Hall / Jameel Sewell Two-Headed Monster

Based on what I think I know about Al Groh and Gregg Brandon and Gregg Brandon's offense, Vic Hall will get the first crack under center, and should start the William & Mary game. But Jameel Sewell didn't go to PVCC and work so hard to make it back in order to ride the pine as a senior. I think we're looking at a true timeshare, with Marc Verica being the odd man out. Due to the fact that Hall and Sewell are both better runners than passers, I'm almost certain that our 2009 version of the spread offense will look more like RichRod's run-first West Virginia version than the Kansas or Texas Tech air circus versions. I like our would-be two-headed monster at QB... as long as we don't need to generate explosive plays in the downfield passing game in order to win games. Hopefully Vic Hall can prove me wrong and can chuck it with the best of 'em, but I'll be skeptical until I see it. The good news is that Brandon excels at catering his offense to his team's strengths, so two scramblers at QB should give him two versatile weapons to unleash upon defenses.


Wahooze-Style Fearless Prediction...

We run a two-QB system, but by the end of the season it becomes very clear that Vic Hall is our best option at quarterback... especially since he leads the team in rushing. That's right, I predict that Vic Hall will lead the Hoos in rushing yardage in 2009. No offense to Mikell Simpson, Torrey Mack, or any of the other halfbacks on the roster, but I think the runners will be splitting carries pretty evenly and getting a lot of their "carries" via short passes. Meanwhile, Vic Hall (if he plays like he did at Tech last November) should be able to rip off some big gains on scrambles around the edge and in the read option. It's just a hunch, but I think we'll see Vic get up to somewhere around 700/800 rushing yards this season, which will add a very interesting element to our new offense. (Consider: Pat White averaged 1000+ yards per season while operating out of WVU's run-first spread. Now, I don't think Vic Hall is in the same stratosphere with Pat White, but they do offer very similar athletic characteristics. I think Vic Hall will be running the ball A LOT, and I think that will be a very good thing for the Virginia offense.)


Position Grade: C+/B-
I think we'll get slightly above-average play from the quarterbacks this season, based largely on this group's running ability and relative experience level. It won't be a strength of the team, but QB play won't damn us either.


Coming soon...
The linebackers!

July 3, 2009

2009 Football Schedule, Part IV




Heading into the stretch run at 5-4 (3-2 ACC) will be enough to energize the fanbase and rally almost everyone around the program and its beleaguered coach. I assume the offense will have found some sort of comfort level as a run-first spread attack, ala West Virginia under RichRod. The defense should be solidifying into a good unit at this point in the season -- we know our d-line and secondary are stacked, so as long as the linebackers can gel, we should be in business. In other words, I fully expect the UVA football team to be rounding into form at around the three-quarters point of the season. But will it be good enough to handle these last three games?

Boston College
There is an excellent chance that BC will be the worst team in the ACC in 2009. They enter the season without an established or experienced head coach, with a new quarterback, and missing several standouts from what was a very good defense in 2008 -- Brian Toal, Paul Anderson, Ron Brace, B.J. Raji, and Mark Herzlich are all off of the roster in '09. There's still talent in the BC program, but I don't see enough for them to be able to beat us in Scott Stadium. I actually think we'll roll in this game. Hoos 38, BC 10.

@ Clemson
Heading into this game at 6-4 (4-2 ACC), we might have vague aspirations for a spot in the ACC championship game. At the very least, we'll be playing for an appearance in a fairly prestigious bowl game. Clemson could be in a very similar spot, and they have superior speed and talent on their roster. This game being played in Death Valley really hurts us, as I think Klempsun will be loaded on defense and fully prepared to play a grind-it-out type of contest against us. To win this game, we'll need to generate a handful of explosive plays in the passing game... and I don't have confidence in any of our quarterbacks (or receivers, for that matter) to come through with those in such an oppressively hostile environment. Plus, do we have any hope of containing C.J. Spiller and/or Jacoby Ford? Clemson 27, Hoos 13.

Virginia Tech
Ahhhh, here's the 800-pound gorilla. What can we do with the Hokies? How will we handle this game? Can we even hope to compete? I've got a few assorted and random things to say about this game, so here are some bullet points:
  • Every UVA fan on the planet needs to be pulling for Alabama when they play VT on Sept. 6th. Obviously, we relish seeing our most hated rival lose. But perhaps bigger than that, we probably need them to lose this game so they aren't heading into the Nov. 28th game against us undefeated. Follow me here. If the Hokies are in the national championship hunt when they play UVA, we will very likely be crushed. So... ROLL TIDE!
  • The above being said, I think that Virginia Tech is wildly overhyped this year. Yes, their defense will be nasty. (Isn't it always?) Yes, they have a stable of running backs that could challenge any in college football. But I think their o-line is fairly ordinary, and they have way too many eggs resting in Tyrod Taylor's flimsy basket. I think Tech is beatable, especially if you can get to Taylor and knock him around early in the game. He is SOFT, and he is FRAGILE.
  • To be certain of saving his job and returning to the good graces of the almighty "powers that be," Al Groh needs to win this game against Tech. It's almost a must-win for him, I think. I know that many, many, many UVA fans would have a hard time stomaching a 1-8 record against the Hokies. Groh needs to get to 2-7 (even though that doesn't look a hell of a lot better.)
  • The spread offense that Gregg Brandon ran at Bowling Green matches up well with what Tech likes to do on defense. Basically and in a nutshell, it punishes you for overpursuing, and it uses your lateral speed against you. If we can find some offensive rhythm by this point in the season, I really do think we have a puncher's chance to beat Tech.
Where the rubber meets the road, I am optimistic that we'll be able to beat Tech this season... but in an effort to be as realistic as possible with this season preview, I just cannot predict a win in this game. Our rivalry with the Hokies has been too much like the nail's rivalry with the hammer. And as much as I want to believe in Al Groh's coaching ability, I just can't see him being able to rally his troops for a victory in this game. I sincerely hope I'm wrong. Hokies 28, Hoos 20.


6-6 (4-4 ACC) to end the regular season. A trip to a ho-hum bowl game (EagleBank!) in which Al Groh will face a true "win or you're fired" situation. That's what I think we probably have in store for us in 2009.

What I haven't taken into account, of course, is the specific quality of our own team. Will Vic Hall win the QB1 job and win some games we shouldn't win with his scrambling ability? Will the new linebackers gel together quickly and turn our defense from a good unit into a truly great one? Will we [finally] find some stability in the kicking game and enjoy a renaissance of special teams under Ron Prince's capable supervision? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

This roughshod look at the schedule provides us with a baseline. .500 is how I think the season will unfold if all of the questions on our own team end up receiving lukewarm answers. I actually think the 2009 edition of Virginia Football has the potential to perform much, much better than I've predicted. And we'll start to drill down into that optimism when we begin exploring each position group in more detail in [you guessed it] future Wahooze blog posts.

Coming soon... a look at the quarterbacks!

July 1, 2009

Two "Must-Reads"

Hey guys, here are two "must-reads" from yesterday's Washington Times.

Virginia Basketball, 1996-to-present

Tony Bennett attempts to re-establish the Virginia Basketball brand

These two short articles, working together, do a great job of framing up where we are exactly when it comes to UVA hoops. Coach Bennett has a huge job ahead of him, but at least he has a plan. That's more than we might have been able to say for Pete Gillen and Dave Leitao.

2009 Football Schedule, Part III


I'm predicting a .500 record (3-3) through the first half of the season, which leaves six games for Al Groh to get this team to a bowl game and ultimately save his job. The ACC is going to be defined by its parity again this season, but most of the teams will be improved over the 2008 version. That is especially true for each of our opponents in games 7, 8, and 9...

Georgia Tech
With the Paul Johnson flexbone offense in its second season in Atlanta, GT will be one of the best rushing teams in the nation in 2009. Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt, Roddy Jones, and Lucas Cox all return to power the scheme. The GT defense could be weaker than the 2008 version; with three starters (including ubertalented freak Michael Johnson) gone, the front line could be the weakness of the unit. Virginia will be the underdog in this game, but we proved last year that Al Groh has the coaching chops to slow down this gimmick offense. I think this game being played in the Hook also gives us a huge advantage --- we're usually very tough against the Yellow Jackets in Scott Stadium. I see our run-first version of the spread being very effective in this game, and I see our defense being able to slow them down just enough. GT is a quality team, and will be battling for the Coastal division championship, so I'm going waaaaaaaay out on a limb predicting a win here. But a win I will predict. Hoos 24, GT 19.

Duke
At 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference, we're going to start feeling a little bit optimistic. Adding fuel to that fire will be Dook's visit to CVille in what will be for all intents and purposes a revenge game for the Hoos. Make no mistake, Duke is improving under Cutcliffe, and they have the best QB in the ACC in Thaddeus Lewis and a dynamic option at tailback in Re’quan Boyette (returning to the team after a knee injury wiped out his 2008 campaign). However, this team features a rebuilding o-line and a defense that loses eight starters. The overall talent level is improving at Duke, but there's no reason we shouldn't win this game at home... especially considering the embarrassing 31-3 whipping they laid on us last year serving as ample motivation for the team. If we lose this game, I'll personally escort Al Groh out of the stadium and onto the street. And I'll be rough about it. Hoos 31, Duke 13.

@ Miami
Remember the last time we played at Miami? The glorious 48-0 shellacking we provided them as a fitting closure to the Orange Bowl? Yes, I'm sure coaches, players, and fans of the U remember that game, too. This year's trip to Miami won't be nearly as fun for the Hoos. The Canes' defense will once again be fast and fierce... and a year improved from the inexperienced unit they fielded in '08. Miami's offense could be ordinary, but I don't think they'll need much offense to beat us in this game. Miami 28, Hoos 14.

So here we sit at 5-4 (3-2 ACC) through the first three quarters of the season. The last three games of the season -- BC, @ Clemson, VT -- will be clutch-cargo for Al Groh and the entire Virginia football program.

Part IV, coming soon...