ACC: Alex Field

Three questions for Virginia

August, 4, 2008
8/04/08
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Let's stay in the Commonwealth, shall we?


1. Who will be Virginia's starting quarterback be against USC?

Al Groh would like to know as much as you would. He's been insistent that Peter Lalich's experience is not an advantage over Scott Deke or Marc Verica, neither of whom have played a down in a college game. And Lalich's run-in with the law this summer (he was charged with underage possession of alcohol) has to make Groh question just how bad he wants it.

2. Who will replace Chris Long?

Nobody with any starting experience, but it's not the like Cavaliers don't have other playmakers on defense. Inside linebacker Jon Copper led the team in tackles the past two season, and junior Vic Hall was in on 58 tackles, the most among Virginia's cornerbacks. Senior captain Clint Sintim has started all 37 games in his career and was the team's third-leading tackler a year ago. As for defensive end, the two starters penciled in on the preseason depth chart are Alex Field and Sean Gottschalk

3. Will Groh be on the hot seat if the Cavaliers have a losing season?

His contract runs to the 2010 season, so he should be safe. That doesn't mean the masses won't be calling for change - it's as trendy as the ties in Charlottesville. In 2006, after a 5-7 finish, athletic director Craig Littlepage declined to add another year to that deal, saying, "The expectations for our program are higher than a 5-7 season." They should be higher off the field, too, and Groh's players certainly showed a lack of discipline this offseason.

Virginia position battles

July, 23, 2008
7/23/08
11:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Granted, the pool at the Ritz, the lake and the top shelf drinks were somewhat of a distraction this past weekend, but I didn't forget to finish up the remaining position battles left in the ACC. You guys have been doing a great job of reminding me if I'm too heavy on one school or another, so keep keeping me balanced.

All the more reason not to forget the end of the alphabet.

Here's a look at the top spots still up for grabs in Charlottesville, and since there are only 10 returning starters, get comfy:

QUARTERBACK -- This is the most obvious spot, but according to Al Groh, there's not an obvious candidate. It's not like he hasn't dealt with this before. It's the fourth time in Groh's tenure at Virginia that the quarterback job has been contested during fall camp. Scott Deke, Peter Lalich and Marc Verica split time during the spring. Lalich has the most experience, as he completed 35 of 61 passes for 321 yards and two TDs as a true freshman last season. Deke, a senior, played in one game last year and was the starter in the spring game, while Verica, a sophomore, has yet to play.

KICKER/PUNTER -- The most likely replacement for placekicker Chris Gould would be redshirt freshman Chris Hinkebein. The situation at punter is wide open. Senior John Thornton joined the team as a walk-on two years ago but has never played, nor has sophomore Nathan Rathjen, who rejoined the team in the spring after not being on the roster in '07 (he walked on in 2006). Jimmy Howell was one of the team's signees in February and could be in the mix as well. Groh has used true freshmen as punters before (Tom Hagan in 2002, Gould in '04).

DEFENSIVE LINE -- The only thing we're certain of here is who's gone. Junior nose tackle Nate Collins worked with the first unit during the spring in place of the graduated Allen Billyk. Collins has significant experience and is likely to be backed up by redshirt freshman Nick Jenkins, a promising player.

Alex Field, a 6-foot-7, 270-pound senior, is probably going to be Chris Long's replacement at one end. He got the most work there this spring. Redshirt freshman Zane Parr will also be given a chance to get in the rotation.

Sophomore Sean Gottschalk finished with four tackles in nine games last season and will battle redshirt freshman Matt Conrath at the other end spot formerly manned by Jeffrey Fitzgerald. Conrath has good size at 6-foot-7, 269 and is still growing into his body.

OFFENSIVE LINE -- Both tackles are back, including Eugene Monroe, who might be the best left tackle in the league. Center will be contested between sophomore Jack Shields and redshirt freshman Anthony Mihota. Shields, who came to Virginia as a tight end, played in only one game last year. Senior Zak Stair and junior Patrick Slebonick will start out in the competition to replace first-round draft pick Branden Albert at left guard. Stair, previously a tackle, moved inside this spring. Slebonick has made just one appearance in his career. Sophomore B.J. Cabbell took the most snaps at right guard in the spring and is trying to replace the graduated Ian-Yates Cunningham. He's expected to battle redshirt freshman Billy Cuffee.

Check back tomorrow for Virginia Tech, and I'll wrap it up on Friday with Wake Forest.

ACC position rankings: Defensive line

July, 17, 2008
7/17/08
6:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

1. Georgia Tech: This veteran defense should help take some heat off the offense while it figures itself out. Senior tackles Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, along with defensive end Michael Johnson are legitimate NFL draft picks and should have their best seasons yet under first-year coordinator Dave Wommack.

2. Clemson: Three of the four starters return, including seniors Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson, and junior Ricky Sapp, who had 10 tackles for loss, five sacks and 22 quarterback pressures as a sophomore when he started all 13 games. And don't forget freshman Da'Quan Bowers, who will work his way into the rotation at defensive end with Kevin Alexander as they try to fill the void left by Phillip Merling.

3. Boston College: The Eagles had the No. 1 rushing defense in 2007 (75.5 yards per game), and that was without academically ineligible B.J. Raji and injured end Alex Albright, who had 8.5 sacks despite missing the last few games with a broken left forearm. Now they're back, along with senior tackle Ron Brace.

4. Florida State: Defensive end Everette Brown is the leader of this group and could be one of the best in the ACC. He led the team in sacks last year, when he was in a part-time role, and led all linemen in tackles and tackles for loss. Benjamin Lampkin converted from linebacker to end in the Music City Bowl. Budd Thacker started eight games last season and missed four because of an injury. Paul Griffin didn't start a game last year, but had 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

5. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have to replace their top end in Jeremy Thompson, and fifth-year senior Anthony Davis, his backup, will inherit the job. Matt Robinson missed 2006 with a broken kneecap and then suffered a high ankle sprain last season and missed the three games. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility and will play as a grad student. Their strength will be inside with returning starter Boo Robinson at nose guard. John Russell is simmering with potential. Ted Randolph moved from tight end to defensive tackle midseason last year.

6. Virginia Tech: Only three ends with playing experience and one tackle return. Redshirt senior Orion Martin is the only returning lineman who started every game last season. Redshirt sophomore Jason Worilds should be No. 1 at the other end spot heading into fall and Nekos Brown and Steven Friday are competing for the backup spots. Demetrius Taylor has moved inside to tackle and will compete with John Graves, Cordarrow Thompson and a few others.

7. Duke: Junior tackle Vince Oghobaase is the real deal. He had 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season. He's one of four returning starters, along with defensive ends Greg Akinbiyi and Wesley Oglesby, and defensive tackle Ayanga Okpokowuruk.

8. Miami: Hurricane fans have good reason to be excited about freshman Marcus Forston, but there's little that's certain about this line. Allen Bailey's move here from linebacker should help, but this offseason he's been slowed by a pectoral injury. Eric Moncur has struggled to stay healthy, along with Courtney Harris. Senior left tackle Antonio Dixon, Joe Joseph and Dwayne Hendricks are competing with Forston for the tackle spots.

9. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace two of the league's best linemen in tackle Kentwan Balmer and end Hilee Taylor. There are plenty of options at tackle, where Aleric Mullins is a returning starter, but Taylor's absence will be felt. Darrius Massenburg broke his wrist and didn't participate this spring, Darius Powell is more of a third-down guy, and Vince Jacobs is a converted tight end.

10. Maryland: Jeremy Navarre is the veteran of this group, having started a team-high 35 games, and should move from end to tackle. Mack Frost is expected to take Navarre's end position, but he missed this spring because of knee surgery. Trey Covington has plenty of experience at the Terps' LEO position, which is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. More is expected of nose tackle Travis Ivey, who played sparingly last year mostly in goal-line situations. Walk-on Bemi Otulaja passed him on the depth chart this spring.

11. NC State: Defensive end Willie Young and tackle Alan-Michael Cash are two certainties in an otherwise questionable line. While the move of Ted Larsen and John Bedics helped out the offensive line, it hurt the depth on defense. Markus Kuhn is a viable option at defensive end, and Antoine Holmes could help at tackle.

12. Virginia: With Chris Long and the lone answer to his departure, Jeffrey Fitzgerald, no longer on the team, the Cavaliers have a serious hole to fill, and there's not much experience at end to choose from. Alex Field played sparingly in every game and Sean Gottschalk played in nine.

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