-- As the Virginia Cavaliers work through the final days of preseason training camp, they appear fairly settled at most positions. But no one knows for sure what to expect from the wide receivers.
For the second season in a row, the Cavs have opened with a drastically revamped wide receiving corps. And this time, the passes will come from Marques Hagans instead of all-ACC quarterback Matt Schaub. Hagans, of course, spent most of last season at wide receiver.
Although the Cavaliers have only six wide receivers on the roster, they don't lack for talent. Fifth-year senior Michael McGrew, a starter in 2001 and 2002, is healthy after missing last season because of a broken leg. Sophomores Fontel Mines and Deyon Williams and redshirt freshman Emmanuel Byers seem to have the talent to make up for their lack of experience. The quartet has the potential to surpass last season's steady but unspectacular wide receivers.
"We don't have a lot" of depth, McGrew said. "But I think we have enough. We've got enough guys that are talented enough to step in."
Said Coach Al Groh, "I think we're very comfortable with them."
With tight end Heath Miller and running backs Alvin Pearman, Wali Lundy and Jason Snelling around, Virginia's passing game won't need to rely exclusively on the wide receivers, but certainly they will need to carry their share of the load. McGrew might be most important, particularly early in the season as Mines, Williams and Byers get used to playing much larger roles than last season.
It's hard to know what to expect from McGrew, who has the polish of a player with 24 career starts but hasn't proven himself as a number one wide receiver. In two seasons as the second option, McGrew has 58 receptions for 730 yards and four touchdowns. Of course, he was playing behind Billy McMullen, the program's leader in receptions and receiving yards.
"Oh, I'm better than I was in 2002," he said. "I feel a whole lot better."
Last season's injury adds to the uncertainty that surrounds McGrew.
"If you watched Michael perform," Groh said, "you wouldn't suspect that he was injured last year. . . . We'll have to see how his early-season performance is. He's done a nice job [in training camp]. He's getting a lot of competition on his own team right now from Fontel Mines."
McGrew will be counted on for his leadership and teaching abilities as much as his catching and blocking skills. Mines is a big wide receiver in the mold of McMullen but has been working on his stamina and his releases off the line of scrimmage. Williams shows ability in flashes -- and "when he flashes, it's pretty bright," Groh said -- but needs to be more consistent. Byers catches the ball as well as anyone on the team, but after not getting on the field last season, he still doesn't have the offense down cold.
All of them can learn from McGrew.
"McGrew's a big help," Mines said. "We call him the old guy around here. He's been around here a long time, so I kind of look to him for advice and somebody to lean on when I need that extra push to get through practice. He gives me a lot of encouragement, a lot of jokes."
Said Byers: "Every day on the field, you can come to him with a question. He'll have an answer or he'll relay what we need to do."
McGrew will help any way he can. Mostly, he's just thrilled to be off crutches and able to run again. After breaking both major bones in his left leg in a collision with a teammate on Aug. 12, 2003 -- at about 2:30 p.m., he says, the memory leaping instantly to mind -- he endured nearly a year of slow progress before finally pronouncing himself 100 percent ready last month.
Now he's almost all the way back, which is why he broke into a smile last week at Scott Stadium as he stood on a concourse above the field. He looked down toward the end zone before pointing to the stands where he spent last season.
"I think I'll have a lot more fun down there than up there this year," he said.