ACC: Maurice Covington

Scouting Virginia

August, 7, 2009
8/07/09
11:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Where to begin with this group? How about at the top, since that's where it all starts anyway? Some think Al Groh is on the hot seat, and believe a second straight losing season could -- or even should -- cost him his job. I beg to differ. Groh's contract isn't up until Dec. 31, 2011. If Virginia makes it to a bowl, considering how much turnover there was in both staff and personnel this offseason, it should be considered a heck of a coaching job in a transition year. If Virginia doesn't make it to a bowl game, how many people will really flinch?

The best thing this team has going for it is some experience at quarterback, which wasn't an option last year. Vic Hall, formerly a cornerback, enters summer camp as the first-string quarterback, but will continue to be pushed by 2007 starter Jameel Sewell and 2008 starter Marc Verica. There are definitely worse scenarios. And all of them will be working behind an offensive line that returns four starters -- another strength that was a concern a year ago.

There haven't been anything but positive reviews on the hire of first-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon, but only time will tell how long it will take the players to adjust to the spread offense. Only five starters return on offense and six on defense. The positions that took the biggest hits were receiver and linebacker, where both groups must replace three starters from a year ago. Let's get to that now:

1. Who will catch the ball? The three leading receivers from 2008 -- Maurice Covington, Cary Koch and Kevin Ogletree -- were ranked 1-4-5 in receptions last year and combined for 121 receptions. This spring didn't reveal an answer, but maybe the summer will. The front-runners are Jared Green, Dontrelle Inman, Kris Burd and Javaris Brown.

2. How do you replace such an impressive trio of linebackers? You don't. Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim ranked 1-2-3 in tackling and combined to start 123 games in their careers. Virginia's leading returning tackler, Hall, is now playing quarterback. Steve Greer, a redshirt freshman, caught Groh's attention this spring, and is listed on the preseason depth chart as a starting inside linebacker along with senior Darren Childs. Groh runs a 3-4 defense, and senior outside linebacker Denzel Burrell is back as a returning starter, so he'll be the leader and the face of the group. Senior Aaron Clark is listed as the starting outside linebacker.

3. Can tailback Mikell Simpson be the player he was in 2007? Quite frankly, he doesn't have much choice. Simpson is a player Groh will depend heavily upon, as there's not much other experience to turn to. But Simpson faded into the background last year after making a name for himself in 2007. That season, he rushed for 570 yards and caught 43 passes for 402 more. Last year, his rushing total fell to 262 yards and he caught just 15 passes. He was also injured in the ninth week against Miami and missed the remainder of the season. Simpson will be the X-factor for Virginia this year.

Preseason predictions: Virginia

July, 23, 2009
7/23/09
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

VIRGINIA

1. Al Groh will not lose his job. Anyone can see that this is a transition year for the Cavaliers, and that includes athletic director Craig Littlepage. In addition to the numerous offseason staff changes that were made -- including a new offensive coordinator -- Groh has to replace three of his best linebackers, his top four receivers and his leading rusher, just to name a few. He has to find a quarterback he can depend on, and he has three he can choose from, which is a much better scenario that it was last year. It doesn't seem to be the time to make a change considering changes were made in the form of five new assistants.

2. Gregg Brandon's offense will struggle in the first year without the playmakers to execute it. A year ago, it probably would have flourished with receivers like Kevin Ogletree and Maurice Covington. Now the most visible face of the offense is Mikell Simpson, and he faded from the picture last year after making a name for himself in 2007. The offense will have to consist of more than just Simpson, though, to have the effect Brandon would probably like it to have.

3. Two quarterbacks will play. Jameel Sewell still has to compete for his old job, but he's a capable runner who led the team to a 9-4 season in 2007. Vic Hall, a former cornerback, is an exciting new option but a little undersized at 5-foot-9. And Marc Verica, though he struggled with the interceptions, gained some valuable experience last year. They all bring different attributes to the table and playing more than one would certainly make it tougher for defenses to prepare each week. Playing both Sewell and Hall could be the best option.

Virginia spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
9:10
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia Cavaliers
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 5, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

C Jack Shields, QB Marc Verica, QB Jameel Sewell, CB/QB Vic Hall, CB Ras-I Dowling, T Will Barker, TB Mikell Simpson

Key losses

WR Maurice Covington, WR Kevin Ogletree, WR Cary Koch, T Eugene Monroe, TB Cedric Peerman, TE John Phillips, OLB Antonio Appleby, ILB Jon Copper, OLB Clint Sintim

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Cedric Peerman (774 yards)
Passing: Marc Verica* (2,037 yards)
Receiving: Kevin Ogletree (723 yards)
Tackles: Jon Copper (101)
Sacks: Clint Sintim (11)
Interceptions: Ras-I Dowling* (3)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sept. 5 William & Mary
Sept. 12 TCU
Sept. 19 at Southern Miss
Oct. 3 at North Carolina
Oct. 10 Indiana
Oct. 17 at Maryland
Oct. 24 Georgia Tech
Oct. 31 Duke
Nov. 7 at Miami
Nov. 14 Boston College
Nov. 21 at Clemson
Nov. 28 Virginia Tech

1. Quarterback, not cornerback. Yes, Vic Hall really is playing offense. Al Groh has committed to getting Hall involved on the offensive side of things, whether it's at quarterback or other situational plays and opportunities. That's where he spent the entire spring -- not in the defensive meetings.

2. In good hands. With the departure of the top four receivers, one of the questions this spring was who would step up. The players felt like Kris Byrd and Javaris Brown answered that question, and they're also confident in sophomore Jared Green.

3. Buzz about Brandon. Make no mistake -- the offense isn't where it needs to be yet. But there is an excitement about Gregg Brandon's scheme, and it was well-received by the players. It's no-huddle, and they're trying to get the plays in fast to keep the defenses on their heels. Just remember -- nobody thought Georgia Tech's offense would flourish in its first season, either.

Fall questions

1. Ah, quarterback. The emphasis this spring was not to determine who the starter was, but to let all of them get enough reps so the coaches could start to judge who could best manage the team in the new offense. Just because Hall and Sewell are versatile athletes doesn't mean the other candidates won't be involved in the offense in some capacity.

2. Looking for linebackers. It's not easy replacing veterans like Antonio Appleby, Clint Sintim and Jon Copper. There's not a lot of playing experience to choose from, and it will take some time for the young players to grow into those spots. The staff was pleased with Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter.

3. Kicking game. Yannick Reyering couldn't get through spring practice because of knee problems and is no longer with the team. The staff is looking for someone to take over that position. Robert Randolph and sophomore Chris Hinkebein were effective in the spring scrimmage, but neither has won the job.

UNC receivers looking for edge this spring

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
10:44
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Speaking of replacing receivers ... North Carolina has some issues. The Tar Heels bumped back the start of their spring practices from Monday to Wednesday (it doesn't affect the date of their spring game). Obviously coach Butch Davis will need to find a few guys who can catch the ball this spring, but the bulk of the competition at the position is expected to come during summer camp. The players who are on campus now, though -- like freshman Joshua Adams -- will obviously have a head start.

UNC only lost eight starters from its 2008 bowl team, but five of them were on offense, including the top three receivers. Last year's group of Brandon Tate, Brooks Foster and Hakeem Nicks accounted for 114 receptions, 1,932 yards and 17 of the 21 receiving touchdowns. The Tar Heels return just 18.1 percent of their receiving yards from 2008. The only other ACC school with a smaller returning percentage is Virginia, with 17.6 percent (the Cavaliers lost Kevin Ogletree, Cedric Peerman, John Phillips, Maurice Covington and Cary Koch).

Here's a look at who will be in the mix in Chapel Hill this spring to try to account for that lost yardage:

Joshua Adams -- ESPN.com has Adams rated as the No. 36 wide receiver in the class of 2009, although he committed to UNC on signing day with the class of 2008. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Adams played both receiver and defensive back in high school. He is from Cheshire, Conn., but played his first three years at Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge & Latin before transferring to Cheshire for his final season. He had 56 catches for 1,131 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior.

Todd Harrelson, rs. Fr. -- He was considered to be the No. 60 receiver in the class of 2008, and has the potential for that fun YAC (yards after catch) stat. Our experts say he's got the ability to turn a short catch into a long gain. Harrelson is from Chesapeake, Va., where he caught 46 receptions for 892 yards and 13 touchdowns while leading Oscar Smith High to a 13-1 record as a senior.

Dwight Jones, soph. -- He was an outstanding recruit three years ago, and it's his second year in the program. Jones signed with UNC in the class of 2007, but failed to qualify and went to Hargrave Military Academy in 2007-08. He played sparingly last year, and is still waiting for his first collegiate catch, but is a big, physical receiver who can create some mismatches.

Rashad Mason, rs. soph. -- He redshirted in 2007, and didn't make any catches last year. Mason finished his senior season with 26 catches for 610 yards and 13 touchdowns at Pearl-Cohn High School in Tennessee.

Virginia's recruiting needs

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia is having more success in the Tidewater area than in the past and some of that has been attributed to head defensive coach Bob Pruett, who used to be a high school coach in Virginia and is entering his second season on Al Groh's staff. Regardless of where they come from, the Cavaliers will need to bring in some wide receivers and linebackers in this class.

With recent hires of offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon and receivers coach Latrell Scott, Virginia will need some receivers for the spread offense the Cavaliers will implement in 2009.

The staff isn't really looking for anyone who will play immediately, but with the new offense, the departure of wide receiver Kevin Ogletree for the NFL draft and starter Maurice Covington graduated, freshmen receivers will have a chance to get on the field if they're capable.

The staff recently took an interest in receiver Bobby Smith (Richmond, Va.), and has three commitments from receivers. The other glaring holes on offense will be left by the graduation of tailback Cedric Peerman, tight end John Phillips and left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Virginia will also have to re-stock the linebacker position, where three of the four starters will have graduated and the fourth starter -- Denzel Burell -- will be a senior. Virginia will sorely miss starting linebackers Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim.

ACC's lunchtime links: Who's going where?

December, 3, 2008
12/03/08
1:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The bottom line is this: We likely won't know any more about which team is playing in which bowl until Sunday, after the ACC championship game. Until then, there's no harm in guessing:

Is Florida State a frontrunner for the Champs Sports Bowl? Maybe, but don't count out Virginia Tech.

The Miami Hurricanes would be a logical choice for the Emerald Bowl -- and they're wanted in it -- but with the way things are going, nothing is guaranteed.

Boston College do-it-all Billy Flutie walks by the statue dedicated to his uncle every day. There are a lot of expectations that come with his last name, but there's no place he'd rather be than BC.

BC and Virginia Tech have seen each other so often in the past two years that center Ryan Shuman said "it's almost boring."

Virginia's season might be over, but receiver Maurice Covington is hoping his career isn't.

ACC's Internal Affairs: Week 10

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON: Entering Saturday's game at Boston College, the Tigers have a chance to be as healthy as they've been all year, and that's saying a lot. Clemson has had 12 injured players miss games and seven are offensive or defensive linemen. As a result, Clemson has started five different offensive line combinations in the first seven games and it could have another different lineup in Chestnut Hill. Starting defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson, a team leader who hurt his knee during summer camp and hasn't played a down all year, has been practicing this week. Running back C.J. Spiller, who hasn't played the past seven quarters, has looked pretty mobile at practice, and starting guard David Smith, who hasn't played since he sprained his ankle in the first half against South Carolina State, could also be back. The bye week might have been the best thing to happen to the Tigers this season.

FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles' run-based offense took a hit last weekend when leading rusher Antone Smith and his backup, freshman Jermaine Thomas, were both injured against Virginia Tech. Smith's biggest concern right now seems to be his ribs, but he is expected to play. Thomas, though, had a concussion and his availability is less certain even though he practiced this week. Depending on how much they've healed, it's possible that receiver Preston Parker could be used more in the running game like he was last year against Maryland. He was forced into the starting role after all three of the Noles' scholarship runners were injured. Both Smith and Thomas, though, seemed determined to play at Georgia Tech. Smith is the fourth-leading rusher in the ACC with 77.1 yards per game, but leads with 11 touchdowns.

VIRGINIA: Virginia coach Al Groh said this week that he expects tight end John Phillips to be among the leading tight ends in the nation before the season is over. Last year, with receiver Kevin Ogletree injured and the production from the receivers down, three Cavs' tight ends combined to catch 93 passes. Some of those plays this year have gone to Ogletree and Maurice Covington. This year, Groh said he expects his tight ends to get 50-55 passes. Phillips has shown his versatility this season and is second on the team and tied for fifth in the ACC with 35 catches for 300 yards and a touchdown. That's more production than he had in his first three seasons combined (21 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns).

DUKE: The Blue Devils' coaching staff faces an interesting challenge this week. For the first six games of the season, Wake Forest ran a spread offense, and then last week, the Deacs made a sudden change to the I-formation and surprised Miami by throwing the ball just eight times. Duke's staff is now forced to prepare for two different offensive styles. While the Blue Devils are comfortable with their base defense, they're expecting to have to make adjustments. Duke's defense has been inconsistent this season, looking good against Navy's run, but unable to stop anything at Georgia Tech. Odds are Duke will see a more balanced Wake Forest offense on Saturday.

WAKE FOREST: Filming for the movie "The 5th Quarter" will take place during Saturday's home game against Duke. The movie is based on the Demon Deacons' 2006 championship season during which linebacker Jon Abbate was driven by the death of his 15-year-old brother, Luke. The crew purchased about 150 tickets for the game and will sit in section five, where Abbate's parents used to sit. The actors will be reacting to the game as it goes on, but since some scenes take place in September and others in November, they're going to have to change from short-sleeves to parkas during the game.

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