Virginia's offense in the works before Brandon

May, 19, 2009
5/19/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Gregg Brandon is Virginia's new offensive coordinator, but the concept of his spread offense isn't exactly new in Charlottesville.

When the Cavaliers were preparing to play Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl two seasons ago, Virginia coach Al Groh and his staff were intrigued by the high-flying offense they were tasked with defending. Last season, Virginia began taking steps in that direction.

"In fact," Groh said, "we were well down that road. We played Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl and in doing all the research and the work necessary to play against them, we knew what we were up against and therefore we put a great deal of study and research into it. We were very intrigued by it and could see the application of a lot of it through the personnel we had on hand. ... We did a lot of installation in that direction and made good progress with it. Unfortunately, some circumstances short circuited that."

Although former offensive coordinator Mike Groh, Groh's son, was fired following a bowl-less 2008 season, Al Groh was still intent on implementing a similar system to what Mike Leach ran against them in 2007. What won't appear this season are some of the two tight end sets, and the two back formations. Despite the loss of Cedric Peerman, the running back position could be the deepest and most versatile position, and diverse skills are what this overhauled staff is looking for.

Mikell Simpson, who excels both as a receiver and a runner, wasn't as productive at either last year and missed the final three games with an injury. Groh said that during the course of the spring, Simpson looked much more like the player he was in 2007 when he ran for 570 yards before dropping to 262 last year.

Senior Rashawn Jackson returns as the primary fullback, and has good ball skills and is a strong blocker. Keith Payne saw time at both tailback and fullback last season in what was an injury-plagued season that saw him miss five games. Speedy redshirt freshman Torrey Mack was one of the top running backs in his recruiting class coming in and was another name Groh mentioned.

While there was progress at wide receiver this spring, Groh said none of them have established themselves yet as a go-to player. And while the offensive line should be solid, there are no freakish NFL prospects like Eugene Monroe or Branden Albert this year. The biggest difference in Virginia's offense should be at quarterback, where Jameel Sewell returns after missing last season for academic reasons, and Marc Verica and former cornerback Vic Hall are also legitimate options. Don't rule out the possibility of all three of them finding a way on the field.

"It's certainly not out of the question," Groh said. "At this time last year we had no quarterbacks who had ever started a college football game. We now have three of them. That puts us in a much more positive position than we had at this time last year.

"They all have a good range of skills and so we plan to make use of what they can all do, so certainly there is the possibility. It's worked out pretty well at some other places, especially when the quarterback brings a different style to the game. How the next 29 practices go will have a greater bearing in that answer."

The offense, though, might not be as big of a question mark as some think.

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