Virginia Football Gives Fans a Taste of Its New Offense at Spring Game

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 19, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE, April 18 -- The 7,954 fans who attended Virginia's annual spring football game Saturday came to catch a glimpse of the Cavaliers' new offense and handicap the three-headed quarterback competition that has dominated the spring story lines and will resume when the team reconvenes in August.

The irony is that little information can be deduced from Saturday's scrimmage, especially considering Coach Al Groh's clandestine approach toward practice. Virginia Tech held an open scrimmage last weekend and footage made its way to YouTube, angering Hokies Coach Frank Beamer. The Cavaliers broadcast Saturday's scrimmage online, giving Groh even more reason to conceal his plans.

"Our attitude toward the whole operation is we're one-third through the practices that are allowed to us," Groh said. "We're allowed 44 before the first game. We've had 15 of those. If we make twice as much progress in the second third as we made in the first third, then that'll give us a chance to be ready" for the Sept. 5 opener against William & Mary.

Fans witnessed the preliminary stages of Virginia's plunge into the spread offense that new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon brought from Bowling Green. Quarterbacks Vic Hall, Jameel Sewell and Marc Verica operated out of the shotgun. The first play called was an end around for wide receiver Javaris Brown from the slot, and most of the passes were quick hits. Top running back Mikell Simpson burst for a 48-yard touchdown run. The skill positions that Groh has sought to upgrade will be relied upon to thrive in a system that uses the entire width of the field.

"When we catch the ball, we got a lot of time to do whatever we need to do," wide receiver Jared Green said. "It really brings your game out. You're going to see a new type of Virginia wide receiver."

The three quarterbacks wore orange jerseys that rendered them untouchable. Hall started, completing 11 of 16 passes for 98 yards. Verica led the trio with 148 yards on 14-of-19 passing with one touchdown and one interception. Sewell, the starter in 2007, returned after missing last season for academic reasons by completing 7 of 11 passes for 61 yards. He also threw an interception.

"It's big because it makes us pass the ball a little bit more," Sewell said of quarterbacking when running is not a factor. "It's very critical that we understand we have to make big plays."

More notable was the improvement of Virginia's special teams. Two of 10 punts were blocked, one by Green, the second by Rodney McLeod (DeMatha).

Groh has maintained throughout the offseason that special teams are the areas in which Virginia can make the biggest leap next season, and he brought back former Kansas State coach Ron Prince to oversee the unit. On a day when assessing the quarterbacks was difficult, Virginia's special teams left fans with an answer to at least one of this spring's questions.

"There's a method here. It's not just it's a try-hard deal," Groh said. "If we can get just 50 percent of that type of performance, it will be a big step up for us."

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