Five days before the season opener at North Carolina, Virginia football coach George Welsh has made some decisions about his starting secondary.
Defensive back Antwan Harris, who played cornerback for the Cavaliers last season, said today that Welsh has told him he will start at safety. Harris said that Welsh also told him to be ready to return to cornerback if either Tim Spruill or Dwayne Stukes gets hurt because the Cavaliers' depth is limited at those positions.
"I think there's no question Harris has to be ready to play corner and safety," Welsh said at a news conference today.
At safety, Harris will be expected to play primarily a pass-coverage role.
"We want Harris there as a good cover guy in case we get three wideouts, so he would be what we used to call a cover safety as opposed to a free safety," Welsh said. "One of the safeties has to be able to cover these days. Harris in the preseason was our best cover person, whether he's at corner or safety."
Redshirt freshmen Chris Williams and Shernard Newby are vying for the strong safety slot next to Harris. Williams has been practicing alongside Harris and appears to have the edge.
For the second year in a row, place kickers Todd Braverman and David Greene are locked in a competition for the starting job in the last week before the season opener. While Braverman is the returning starter, both place kickers have improved and have been evenly matched in preseason.
Like last year, Welsh gave both place kickers three chances to kick under pressure during practice last week to see if one could win the job outright. But both made two of three attempts. Welsh selected Braverman as his kicker the weekend before the 1998 season opener.
"I might just say tomorrow who's going to do it," Welsh said. "It seems like the more we kick off, it doesn't decide anything. Nobody seems to be able to make five in a row and then the other guy misses two." Welsh said that Greene will handle kickoff duties.
Crawford Out Returning first-team all-ACC tight end Casey Crawford will not be available Saturday. Welsh said that Crawford, recovering from hernia surgery in the spring and hobbled by a groin injury, is not yet running at full speed and cannot make cuts. Junior Billy Baber will start in his place.
Starting defensive end Travis Griffith returned to practice today after sitting out 10 days with lower back pain, Welsh said. Griffith will not participate in contact drills, however, and is questionable for Saturday's game. Junior end Kofi Bawuah, slowed last week by a knee injury, is healthy enough to start in place of Griffith.