-- After nearly four weeks as the third man in Virginia's inside linebacker rotation, star sophomore Ahmad Brooks is back atop the depth chart for Saturday's game against North Carolina, bringing to an apparent end the most curious personnel arrangement of the Cavaliers' young season.

Despite leading the team with 117 tackles last season, Brooks lost his spot on the first-string defense to fifth-year senior Rich Bedesem for reasons Coach Al Groh and the players declined to detail.

Brooks returned the opening kickoff in Virginia's season-opening 44-14 win at Temple on Saturday but did not play on defense until the third series of the game. He made an outstanding tackle on his first play -- darting across the formation through traffic to swallow up Owls quarterback Walter Washington -- and also made four others, including a solo sack and an assisted sack.

"I told you last week everybody who had all their ideas didn't know what they were talking about," Groh said Monday afternoon, referring to public speculation about Brooks's demotion, much of which focused on his absence from preseason practice Aug. 17-18. "I thought he had a real good game. Plus, it gives Richie the opportunity to swing between [strong-side and weak-side inside linebacker], which he did during the game, [and] makes it a little bit easier for practice organization."

Brooks was not available to speak with reporters Monday, but after Saturday's game he acknowledged the importance of getting back in the starting lineup.

"It's my goal every week," he said. "Since I came here as a freshman it's been my goal to start."

Injured Mines Optimistic

Sophomore wide receiver Fontel Mines said Monday he hopes to return this season after breaking his collarbone when he was slammed to the ground at the end of a 21-yard reception Saturday.

"It's going to be a long-term injury, but some things heal quicker than others," he said, his right arm cradled by a sling. "I'm just doing a lot of rehab right now. . . . I'm very confident I'm going to come back."

With Mines out, junior Imhotep Durham and redshirt freshman Emmanuel Byers will have an opportunity to earn more playing time behind fifth-year senior Michael McGrew and sophomore Deyon Williams. Sophomore Ron Morton needs to improve, Groh said, if he is to become part of the wide receiver rotation.

"I think we're fine," McGrew said. "I mean, we're going to miss Fontel, but we've just got to do the best we can without him." . . .

Groh wasn't particularly pleased with redshirt sophomore Sean Johnson's debut as the punter Saturday. On both of his punts, Johnson had an opportunity to pin the Owls deep, but his first kick went out of bounds at the 16-yard line and his second hit about a yard deep in the end zone.

Sophomore Ahmad Brooks no longer is the odd man out of Virginia's inside linebacker rotation. After one game, he's back atop the depth chart.