Saying his "personal issues" were behind him, Virginia all-American linebacker Ahmad Brooks returned to the Cavaliers Thursday and said he'll participate in practice Friday morning.

Brooks, a freshman all-American and the team's leading tackler last season, missed practices Tuesday and Wednesday, and Cavaliers Coach Al Groh and the player's father, former Redskins defensive tackle Perry Brooks, wouldn't say why Brooks was absent. Thursday, Ahmad Brooks said he was relieved to have the issues behind him as he signed autographs and posed for pictures during Virginia's "Meet the Team Day" at Scott Field.

"Everybody's happy I'm here," Brooks said. "I'm happy to be here myself."

During a news conference with reporters Thursday, Groh didn't explain why Brooks missed practices earlier this week and wouldn't say he was surprised the player was back with the team so quickly.

"I didn't have any expectation on that, but I knew he'd be back with us pretty quickly," Groh said.

Brooks, the 2001 All-Met Defensive Player of the Year from Hylton High School, wouldn't elaborate on his personal issues, and Virginia officials said Brooks would answer only "football-related" questions. Asked if Groh was correct in saying Wednesday that his issues didn't involve academics, Brooks said: "My personal issues are my personal issues."

"I never left school," Brooks said. "I'm eligible to play."

Brooks, who said his weight is up to 260 pounds, will return to Virginia's defense as a second-teamer, behind senior Rich Bedesem, who has been ahead of Brooks at inside linebacker throughout training camp. Groh said Brooks has been returning kickoffs in practice, and Brooks said the coaches have talked to him about playing running back in short-yardage and goal-line situations. But Brooks said his top priority is to return to the first-team defense.

"It's kind of devastating," Brooks said of being demoted to the second team. "I've just got to work for what I want."

Odd Man In

Left guard Ron Darden admits noticing he is the only member of Virginia's first-team offensive line who isn't a returning starter. "I'm kind of the oddball," he said.

On the field, though, the 6-foot-4, 327-pound redshirt sophomore has fit in well so far after making tremendous offseason progress.

"He's a totally different guy now," Groh said.

Already regarded as one of the team's strongest players, Darden got a shot at a starting spot when Ian-Yates Cunningham, the returning starter at left guard, was sidelined indefinitely by a spring back injury.

"Coach Groh kind of gave me the head nod and said, 'We're going to give you a shot,' " Darden recalled. "I definitely took that as a boost."

Bringing the Knowledge

On a team with only five scholarship wide receivers, junior walk-on Imhotep Durham has earned notice in camp and could factor into the team's plans this season.

Durham was with the Cavaliers the past two seasons but didn't play. A computer science major with plans of going to law school, he took a leave of absence from the team before spring practice to concentrate on preparing for the law school admissions test and securing a summer internship. After serving a clerkship with a judge in Philadelphia, he rejoined the Cavaliers this month and has proven himself a valuable spare part.

"Inspirational story, yeah," Durham said with a laugh. "I'm not Rudy, though; I'm fast. And I can jump, too." . . .

Blocking tight end Patrick Estes said he hopes to get back on the field soon after missing the past several practices because of migraine headaches. . . .

Special teams jobs are beginning to shake out, with starting center Zac Yarbrough selected to resume his old duties as the long snapper on field goals. Reserve quarterback John Phillips will hold for kicker Connor Hughes. At punter, the competition has narrowed to Kurt Korte and Sean Johnson. Tyrus Gardner and Justin Markey are the candidates to snap on punts.

Special correspondent Jim Reedy contributed to this report from Charlottesville.

Hylton All-Met and all-American linebacker Ahmad Brooks is back.