CHARLOTTESVILLE – On a speaking tour that followed Virginia's spring football practice, UVa coach Al Groh urged boosters to get behind the Cavaliers' quarterback, "whoever he is."
Groh went on to add, "And I don't know who he is right now."
Most people assumed that Peter Lalich would get the nod after attempting 61 passes in 2007 as a true freshman, but Lalich had the least impressive statistics of the three scholarship quarterbacks who saw action in UVa's final spring scrimmage on April 12.
Lalich was the third quarterback to get on the field, but that was the result of Groh's decision to have the quarterbacks pick a number between one and 50.
Scott Deke, a rising fifth-year senior, was given the first pick and got the number – 27 – on the nose. That gave him the start. Marc Verica, who will be a sophomore, was the second QB to get on the field.
By the time Lalich played, many of the first-team players were out of the game, and he was operating behind a makeshift line. He finished 6-of-18 and was intercepted three times, although one of the picks came on the best throw of the day, a downfield dart to Dontrelle Inman that safety Matt Leemhuis wrestled out of Inman's hands.
Lalich certainly did not appear happy after the final scrimmage, but whether that was related to not starting or to his performance could not be discerned. The coaching staff has some off-field concerns about Lalich, and while he clearly is the most experienced of Virginia's returning quarterbacks, the staff is hesitant to make a full commitment without knowing it can count on him in the fall.
Following a loss at Wyoming in the 2007 season opener, many would have predicted that Lalich would supplant Jameel Sewell as the starter by the end of September. Indeed, Lalich definitely contributed to a 24-13 victory over Duke in week two and played against Georgia Tech when that game was on the line, but the Cavaliers righted their ship with Sewell at the helm.
Sewell started all 13 games for the Cavaliers (9-4). In hindsight, maybe Lalich could have redshirted, although there were four instances when Sewell left games because of injury. Even so, there was talk during the break between the regular season and the Gator Bowl that Lalich could be redshirted in 2008.
That became a moot point in mid-January, when it was announced that Sewell and three other players were not enrolled for the spring semester. Groh later confirmed that a group that also included starting cornerback Chris Cook, linebacker Darnell Carter and wide receiver Chris Dalton had been placed on academic probation by the dean's office and would miss the 2008 season.
Until then, Deke had not been a part of the picture. He had played in one game in four years, coming on the field for the final two plays in last season's 44-14 victory over Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers also appreciated the work he did in signaling in plays. But Deke seemed destined to be remembered only as the Californian to whom Virginia offered a scholarship in 2004 when it refused to commit to in-state quarterback Sean Glennon, who now has a 2-0 record against UVa as a starter at Virginia Tech.
Now Deke could have a chance to start against Glennon.
"I was not going to return as long as Jameel and Pete were both going to be playing next year," Deke said, "but the change in circumstances definitely changed things for me. Now I will be returning and definitely competing to play."
Skeptics need to look no further than the 2006 season, when Groh tapped seldom-used fifth-year senior Chris Olsen to start the season opener at Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers' starting quarterback for the 2008 opener will face the daunting task of preparing for Southern California, maybe the best college football program of the past decade, but at least that game will be at home.
The competition is certain to be a lot stiffer than what Deke and Co. faced in the spring. Gone from UVa's defensive line were the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft, Chris Long, as well as fellow 2007 senior Allen Billyk and promising junior-to-be Jeffrey Fitzgerald, dismissed from school after losing a February appeal.
Deke, who passed for the lone touchdown in UVa's 2007 spring game, completed 17 of 23 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns in this year's contest. Verica, who has the quickest feet of the top three QBs, was 17-of-25 for 110 yards.
"It was a positive day for the quarterbacks," Groh said. "This was practice (number 15), and we haven't had many where the three quarterbacks performed at the level they did today."
Two of Lalich's three interceptions came on tipped balls, and on the other redshirt freshman Matt Conrath made a spectacular, one-handed grab from his defensive end spot. At 6-7 and 269 pounds, Conrath has a chance to get significant playing time as UVa attempts to replace Long and Fitzgerald.
The story of the offseason for Virginia was the loss of players with remaining eligibility, including junior cornerback Mike Brown and redshirt freshman linebacker J'Courtney Williams. Both were arrested for some form of stealing, and both were charged with possession of marijuana. Williams, the top-rated signee in UVa's 2007 class, was dismissed from the program.
The lone bright spot in terms of a player's change in status involved Kevin Ogletree, who had a team-high 52 receptions in 2006. He subsequently sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament early in 2007 spring practice and missed the entire season, although he had a redshirt at his disposal and thus did not lose a year of eligibility.
In Ogletree's absence, the Cavaliers did not have a wide receiver with more than 21 catches (Maurice Covington) in a season when tailback Mikell Simpson led the Cavaliers in receptions (43) and tight ends Jon Stupar, Tom Santi and John Phillips had a combined 93 catches for 970 yards.
With the departures of Stupar and Santi, Phillips could become the first UVa tight end since Heath Miller to catch 50 or more passes in a season. But if the spring game was any indication, the wideouts will be featured to a much larger degree this year.
On an afternoon when UVa passed the ball 70 times in 86 snaps, the wide receivers had 22 receptions. The average during a 13-game season in 2007: fewer than six.
The pass protection, with UVa replacing three starters on the offensive line, was better than expected. Of course, they weren't blocking Long and Fitzgerald, but Groh was particularly pleased at the progress of redshirt freshman left tackle Landon Bradley. Bradley stepped in for top returnee Eugene Monroe, who was held out for mostly precautionary reasons but should be able to provide some much-needed depth in the fall.
The kicking game remained a concern, as UVa attempts to replace Chris Gould (placements, kickoff, pooch punts) and Ryan Weigand (ACC's best punting average). Redshirt freshman kicker Chris Hinkebein was erratic in the spring and could receive an August challenge from signee Jimmy Howell, who was recruited mostly to punt.
SPRING 2008 OVERVIEW
LG Branden Albert (early NFL), NT Allen Billyk, CB Chris Cook (academics), RG Ian-Yates Cunningham, LB Jermaine Dias, DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald (academics), PK Chris Gould, OC Jordy Lipsey, DE Chris Long, S Nate Lyles, QB Jameel Sewell (academics), TE Jonathan Stupar, P Ryan Weigand
LB Darnell Carter (academics), WR Chris Dalton (academics), WR Chris Gorham, S Jamaal Jackson, WR/KR Andrew Pearman, OG Gordie Sammis, TE Tom Santi, LB J'Courtney Williams (dismissed), FB Josh Zidenberg
2008 Returning Starters^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
RB Cedric Peerman 5-10/208 *Sr.
WR Maurice Covington 6-4/225 Sr.
WR Staton Jobe 6-0/182 *So.
TE John Phillips 6-6/250 Sr.
LT Eugene Monroe 6-6/315 Sr.
RT Will Barker 6-7/315 *Jr.
LB Antonio Appleby 6-4/250 Sr.
LB Jon Copper 6-0/230 *Sr.
LB Clint Sintim 6-3/254 *Sr.
S Byron Glaspy 5-11/206 *Sr.
CB Vic Hall 5-9/190 *Jr.
Special Teams (0)
- -has utilized redshirt season
^ -six/more 2007 regular-season starts
Other Tested Returnees
WR Dontrelle Inman, FB Rashawn Jackson, WR Cary Koch, QB Peter Lalich, WR Kevin Ogletree (injured 2006 starter), RB Keith Payne, RB Mikell Simpson, OG Zak Stair
DS Danny Aiken, CB Mike Brown (if reinstated), LB Denzel Burrell, LB Aaron Clark, NT Nate Collins, CB Ras-I Dowling, DE Alex Field, DE Sean Gottschalk, CB Mike Parker, CB Trey Womack
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1998 6-2 (3) 9-3 Peach Bowl (L)
1999 5-3 (2) 7-5 MicronPC Bowl (L)
2000 5-3 (4) 6-6 Oahu Bowl (L)
2001 3-5 (7) 5-7 None
2002 6-2 (2) 9-5 Continental Tire (W)
2003 4-4 (4) 8-5 Continental Tire (W)
2004 5-3 (3) 8-4 MPC Bowl (L)
2005 3-5 (5C) 7-5 Music City Bowl (W)
2006 4-4 (3C) 5-7 None
2007 6-2 (2C) 9-4 Gator Bowl (L)
ACC: 47-33 (.588)
Overall: 73-51 (.589)
Date Opponent 2007 Record
Aug. 30 Southern California 11-2 (7-2)
Sept. 6 Richmond 11-3 (7-1)
Sept. 13 at Connecticut 9-4 (5-2)
Sept. 20 OPEN
Sept. 27 at Duke 1-11 (0-8)
Oct. 4 Maryland 6-7 (3-5)
Oct. 11 East Carolina 8-5 (6-2)
Oct. 18 North Carolina 4-8 (3-5)
Oct. 25 at Georgia Tech 7-6 (4-4)
Nov. 1 Miami 5-7 (2-6)
Nov. 8 at Wake Forest 9-4 (5-3)
Nov. 15 OPEN
Nov. 22 Clemson 9-4 (5-3)
Nov. 29 at Virginia Tech 11-2 (7-1)
NOTE: Most game times still TBA.
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