CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Virginia coach Al Groh tries to downplay the amount of transition that will be in play when the Cavaliers open their season in early September.
But a new spread offense, five new assistant coaches and a three-year cornerback-turned-quarterback add up to lots of change, especially when it seems very likely that Virginia will have to win more than it loses for Groh to avoid being transitioned himself after the season.
Lucky for Groh, one of his biggest fans will have a huge say in how it turns out.
"As a team, we don't look at it like coach is on the hot seat," first-team quarterback Vic Hall, who has started the past three years at cornerback, said Thursday after practice.
"We know he works hard for us and in return we've got to work hard for him."
Hall, who shattered many state records for quarterbacks during a four-year career at Gretna High School, moved behind center for the last game of last season . He ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40-yarder, in a 17-14 loss to the Hokies, but attempted only one pass. But with a new offense on the way in and depth in the secondary, Hall's move was made permanent, giving the 5-foot-9 quarterback one chance to fulfill his dream.
"To be honest, I dreamed about playing quarterback a lot, but that was just something I kept to myself," Hall said at the Atlantic Coast Conference media day in Greensboro, N.C.
He said he never discussed that desire with Groh.
The offense will be directed by Gregg Brandon, former head coach at Bowling Green who arrived after Groh's son, Mike, and two other assistants were let go. In all, Groh's staff includes five new football assistants, and a new strength and conditioning coach.
Groh said the move to the spread offense was already in the works last season, before academic issues took away two-year starter Jameel Sewell - he's back and battling for the job this season - and off-the-field problems caused the program to cut ties with Peter Lalich.
The shift in philosophy is geared to better utilize the Cavaliers' strengths, which for the first time under Groh, seems to include a stable of receivers who are long and can run.
"Those guys get the ball in space and they can make things happen, so it actually fits in perfectly if we can spread the defense out and get them the ball and let them go to work," Hall said, mentioning Javaris Brown, 6-2 Jared Green and Kris Burd among the playmakers.
Promising freshman include Tim Smith, who caught 24 touchdown passes as a high school senior; 6-5 Bobby Smith, who caught 14 touchdowns; and redshirt freshman Matt Snyder.
"It's kind of a new beginning for us," said Green, the son of retired Washington Redskins defensive back Darrell Green. "I think we're going to do some things that surprise people."
Hall threw only one pass in the game against the Hokies, but was 11-for-16 for 98 yards in the spring game, and had had months to work on the footwork so critical to throwing.
He also spent time this summer watching tapes of his days as a quarterback, when he amassed 13,770 career total yards (8,731 passing) to rank fifth all-time in the nation.
In the backfield with him, the Cavaliers hope tailback Mikell Simpson returns to his 2007 form, when he accounted for 271 total yards in a game against Maryland, or that 245-pound Keith Payne finally shows some of the promise that once made him a prized recruit.
Four starters return on the line, the best of whom is right tackle Will Barker.
On defense, lineman Nick Jenkins and Matt Conrath got on-the-job training last year and will need to be steady to support a rebuilt linebacking corps, the core of the 3-4 defense.
Gone are Jon Copper, Clint Sintim and Antonio Appleby, the top three tacklers from last season, as well as the next three on the list, including Hall. The replace ments, however, bring some experience. Outside linebackers Aaron Clark and Denzel Burrell each have started in the past and are among six captains, and Darren Childs has also started on the inside.
The strength of the unit is the secondary, where Ras-I Dowling has been very solid when healthy at corner, and the other coverage spot will go to Chase Minnifield or Chris Cook.
The safeties are hard-hitting Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosely.