ACC: Virginia media day 090816

Virginia OC Brandon says Cavs have personnel for spread

August, 16, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia quarterback Vic Hall compared it to Texas Tech. So did cornerback Ras-I Dowling.

Gregg Brandon, though, speaking publicly for the first time since he was hired, compared his offense to Bowling Green's.

After all, that's where he came from, and that's what Virginia's offense will look like this year.

"It's kind of a different system than what Virginia is going to be used to," Brandon said.

Fans will see an up-tempo, no-huddle offense designed to get the ball to the perimeter quickly, open up the running lanes and rack up yards after the catch. Brandon wants to get the ball into the hands of players who can break tackles and yes, he said, Virginia has the personnel to execute his version of the spread offense.

"We're not thin at receiver, but we're young there," he said. "Those guys will continue to mature and grow. ... But we're certainly good at running back, quarterback, our offensive line, four of those kids have started. We're pretty solid that way."

The depth chart, though, has yet to take shape, and that's only because coach Al Groh and his staff want to take their time in evaluating the players and give them all ample opportunity to compete for the jobs. During the spring, the core of the offense was installed. This summer, Brandon has opened the playbook more, and said he was impressed by how much the players retained from the spring.

He still has to find a quarterback, though, and at the end of the day, Groh will make the final call. One thing is clear, though -- this offense is best-suited for a quarterback who can run, and that puts Hall and Jameel Seweel at the top of the list. Hall ended the spring as the No. 1 quarterback.

"The offense is built for a quarterback who can run," Brandon said. "Sewell, Hall they're pretty nifty on the perimeter. Marc's [Verica] not as quick, fast as those two guys, but he can make a guy miss out there and get yards. The system is predicated on reading defenders and exploiting what they can do. I can tweak and fit the system to the talent I have at quarterback, and that's what I'll do, but the element of a quarterback running, that's one of the X factors of the offense. A lot of defenses don't account for it, so it's like a 12th guy."

Receivers coach Latrell Scott said about eight different receivers caught the ball in Virginia's scrimmage on Saturday, which was closed to the public, and he's excited to lead a group that will be featured more in the new offense.

"You have the ability to have anywhere from one to five kids on the field at one time," Scott said. "It's a lot of responsibility. A lot of work was put in by those guys, and they're proud of it, just the ability to spread the ball around. ... It's fun for me."

Of course, the players weren't the only ones who had to learn the offense.

"The schematics of it, I had never been in a wide-open offense like this," Scott said. "It was a little bit of an adjustment for me, but Gregg did a great job of teaching us the offense. He allowed us to do some of the things we had done, and we brought some experience from ourselves. We always want to make sure we feel good about what we're teaching them."

And how quickly they can learn will make all the difference in how the 2009 season unfolds.

Virginia's Cook ready to make most of second chance

August, 16, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- While the rest of his teammates were attending practice and playing on Saturdays last year, Virginia cornerback Chris Cook was working in a Sears warehouse, moving refrigerators, loading trucks, and making deliveries.

It was, as he called it, "making an honest living."

  Joel Auerbach/US Presswire
  Virginia cornerback Chris Cook is back after a year's suspension.
Cook, who was academically suspended, couldn't even bring himself to attend Virginia's games. On occasion, he'd come afterwards to hang out with his teammates, but he didn't want to watch them on TV.

"It was very humbling," he said. "A lot of people were doubting me back home, saying I wasn't going to go back, that I was going transfer. It makes me want to get back and prove to everyone I have the ability, I can do this, and I'm gonna do this."

Cook enrolled at Virginia again in January, and by the spring, coach Al Groh had given him a second chance on faith. Cook still had to take classes and raise his grade point average in the spring while working his way back into the good graces of the football staff.

"There was never any decision," Groh said. "Chris is one of our guys. That's what coaching is about, and that's particularly what college coaching is about, is developing young people and I've made plenty of mistakes for which people gave me another chance. I'm just trying to give him the same thing people gave me. If there's an innate goodness in a person and a willingness to be successful, those are the kind of people you go with. There was never any decision."

"That meant a lot for him to trust me that much," Cook said.

Cook hasn't quite gotten around to thanking Groh in person yet, but odds are he shows his appreciation on the field this fall. Cook should be half of the equation in one of the top cornerback duos in the ACC, along with Ras-I Dowling. Cook has yet to have that breakout season, though. In 2007, he missed three games for a sprained knee after starting the first six games. He's got 26 games worth of experience, though, three career interceptions and 103 tackles and 13 pass breakups.

"Chris is a ball hawk and that's what we need on our defense," said defensive end Nate Collins. "That's something we kind of were missing last year. We really didn't have too many people catching interceptions other than Ras-I back there. It's so easy for a team last year to not throw the ball to Ras-I's side. Now they have to make that decision, if they're going to throw it to Ras-I's side or Chris Cook's side. I feel like both of them are doing great back there. They're both ball hawk threats. Last year we were lacking in turnovers on defensively, and that's going to be a huge part of our season this year."

Virginia tied for 67th in the nation last year with 11 interceptions, and was 58th with 23 turnovers gained. They're numbers the Cavaliers are looking to improve this fall, and Cook's return should help.

"I'm always trying to get the ball," Cook said. "We work on that a lot. Since he's emphasized it a lot, everybody on the defense tries to get the ball now. They're going to have to throw at somebody. We're going to make some plays, whether it goes to me, him or somebody else on the defense."

Cook said his second chance has inspired him to work harder on his footwork, fundamentals and technique. And his teammates have noticed.

"Sitting out a whole year, he works harder, he attacks the weight room harder, conditioning, everything about him this year is working hard," Dowling said. "He always worked hard, but I see a change in him this year. It feels like he wants it more."

And now he's got another chance to do it.

Virginia motivated to avoid repeat of last season

August, 16, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia coach Al Groh looked at his watch, sarcastically noting that it's 2009, not 2008, and that's what he wants to talk about.

You can't blame him.

Last year was a rough season for Virginia, as the Cavaliers dealt with the academic suspensions of two key players in quarterback Jameel Sewell and cornerback Chris Cook, there was no experienced quarterback to turn to in the season opener against USC, two players were arrested for trying to steal beer from a bar refrigerator, and a four-game losing streak capped the end of a miserable season that could have been salvaged but instead ended one win shy of a bowl bid.

"The 2008 team had to endure more things probably than any team that I've been associated with," Groh said. "And to remain strong in the face of all of that, they did that, and for that I have a great appreciation for what they did. It's like in boxing. The less amount of body punches they can take over the course of the fight, probably the better off you are and the fresher you are at the end. That team and those players took some body punches and they shook them off, but they still take their toll at certain points. Right now we've been free of those particular things."

And it's made a difference.

In fact, the entire program looks different -- literally. New linebackers, new receivers, a new offensive coordinator, and a newfound desire to win some football games. While Groh doesn't want to spend too much time dwelling on the past, it's served as an inspiration to his team this year.

Senior linebacker Denzel Burrell said he can still picture the disappointed looks on the faces of former linebackers Clint Sintim and John Phillips, and how heartbroken they were after Virginia Tech ended their season with a 17-14 loss.

"To me that's all motivation," he said. "We want to get out there and prove ourselves and prove everybody wrong. We want to make our fans happy, our coaches and ourselves."

Defensive end Nate Collins agreed.

"No one wants to have that season," he said. "No one wants to end the season without making a bowl game. That was a huge loss for us. I feel like everyone on our team realizes that. No one wants to be in that position again. No one wants to be home for a whole month in December when you're watching all these bowl games, teams you might have beat during the season, and you're like, 'We're better than them.' Everyone is buying in. we want to have a better season and I feel like we will have a better season this year."

The reality of the situation is that it's a work in progress, and nobody knows how Virginia will look until it takes the field on Sept. 5 against William & Mary. Outside expectations are low because of the high amount of transition the program is going through. Offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon said some players have learned his offense quicker than others, but the staff has yet to determine who its starting quarterback will be, let alone the wide receivers. Still, those within the program believe they have the pieces in place to improve upon last year's 5-7 season.

"We've got something to prove this year," said offensive tackle Will Barker. "I think we've got all of the right guys and the right system to do it."

At the very least, they've got the determination.

"What I like about the players so far is they have demonstrated a very strong resolution towards what they want to get accomplished," Groh said. "We see ourselves making a lot of progress in developing the mental strength that's necessary to have the resilience and positive energy and confidence to take on all the things that happen during the course of a season."

So far, Virginia is already ahead of where it was last year in that the Cavaliers are only answering questions about football -- not distracting off-field issues.

Wide receiver position 'wide open'

August, 16, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia is implementing a spread offense under first-year coordinator Gregg Brandon, but after nine days of practice, the Cavaliers still aren't quite sure who will be catching the ball.

"The wide receiver jobs are all wide open," head coach Al Groh said. "They have been from the start. They will continue that way. Some players made some plays [Saturday], which was nice to see. All that means is they have to prove it again tomorrow. ... That doesn't make them different than other positions, but in this case it certainly does apply to the wide receiver spot."

It also applies to the quarterback position, where Marc Verica, Jameel Sewell and Vic Hall are taking equal reps.

That could start to change next Sunday, when Groh and his staff will meet with the hopes of putting "clarity to some of these situations." Virginia scrimmaged on Saturday, but it was closed to the media and no stats were released. The staff, though, has the film to grade.

"As a result of what we saw yesterday, and in grading the tape today, we're going to perhaps put some other players in some other roles -- move one up, or move one down or shift a position to find out whether by next Saturday they can be in the mix or where they should be," Groh said.

He's keeping watch for young players who might be able to help the team out right away, if not by October.

"There are certain positions we can clearly see that the addition of some of these rookie players will be very beneficial to the team at some point," Groh said. "While they might not be high enough on the depth chart for somebody on the outside to say they're going to be factors, we can see if we can bring this player along by October. Maybe that might be the first time he sees action, but all of a sudden at that time he might make the position better."

Virginia's Sewell supports Vick

August, 16, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- It was hard not to notice the Virginia Tech team colors on the bracelet on Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell's wrist as he sat and spoke with reporters on Sunday afternoon in the John Paul Jones Arena. The band read: "Support Vick. Forgive and forget. Michael Vick."

Sewell said he is a big fan of the former Virginia Tech quarterback, and used to watch him when he was with the Hokies. Now, Sewell said, he's an Eagles fan.

"I'm just a big supporter," Sewell said. "I still look up to him, regardless of what he did. What he did was wrong, but everybody makes mistakes, so forgive and forget. Let's move on. Let the man play ball."

The same can be said for Sewell, who missed last year for academic reasons.