ACC: Allen Billyk

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.

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