2008 Virginia Preview - Offense

Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Virginia Cavalier Offense

Virginia Cavaliers

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Virginia Preview | 2008 Virginia Offense
- 2008 Virginia Defense | 2008 Virginia Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Virginia Preview | 2006 CFN Virginia Preview 

What you need to know: Without QB Jameel Sewell, the offense will likely be turned over to unproven Peter Lalich, a 6-5, 225-pound flame-thrower who could be a sitting duck playing behind a rebuilt Cavalier offensive line. While the sophomore will no longer have Albert or his top two tight ends as protection, he will get WR Kevin Ogletree and RB Cedric Peerman back from serious injuries. Ogletree was slated to be Virginia’s go-to receiver before tearing his ACL, while Peerman was leading the ACC in rushing when he suffered a season-ending foot injury in October. The silver lining to Peerman’s absence was that it created an opportunity for Mikell Simpson, who responded with 570 yards rushing, 43 catches, and 10 touchdowns in just half a season.     

Returning Leaders
Passing: Peter Lalich
35-61, 231 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Cedric Peerman
113 carries, 585 yds, 5 TD
Mikell Simpson
43 catches, 402 yds, 2 TD

Star of the offense: Senior LT Eugene Monroe
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Peter Lalich
Unsung star on the rise: Senior TE John Phillips
Best pro prospect: Monroe
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Monroe, 2) Junior WR Kevin Ogletree, 3) Senior RB Cedric Peerman
Strength of the offense: The backs, the tackles
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, the interior of the line


Projected Starter: In January, Jameel Sewell went from the quarterback of the future to the quarterback of the past, failing to qualify academically for the upcoming season. His absence opens the door for strong-armed sophomore Peter Lalich, who earned valuable playing time as a rookie, going 35-of-61 for 321 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. At 6-5 and 225 pounds, he has nice size, is poised in the pocket, mature beyond his years, and forging a nice bond with head coach Al Groh. While not the scrambler Sewell was, he can sidestep pressure and is adept at locating targets on the move. Unless something goes very wrong this fall, he’ll be barking out signals when USC visits Aug. 30.         

Projected Top Reserves
: The battle for the No. 2 job focuses on 6-3, 206-pound sophomore Marc Verica and 6-3, 215-pound senior Scott Deke. Verica throws a nice ball and shows good feet in the pocket, but has yet to take a snap at this level, a sizable disadvantage in the field.

While Deke has only appeared late in blowouts, he knows the offense well and is entering his fifth season in the program. A heady veteran who isn’t going to buckle if pressed into action, he gets good zips on his passes.  

Watch Out For
... Lalich to quickly become one of the faces of the program. Not only does a void exist now that Sewell and Chris Long are gone, but he has the right demeanor and level of maturity to command respect in the huddle and become a fan favorite.
Strength: Arm strength. All of the Cavalier quarterbacks can wing it, but none more so than Lalich. He’s a prototypical pocket passer with the powerful right arm to stretch a defense and squeeze throws into tight places.
Weakness: Inexperience. None of the quarterbacks on the roster has ever started a game at Virginia, including Lalich who’s only in his second year on campus. He has tons of upside, but he still has plenty to learn and needs to cut down on the number of passes he forces into coverage.
Outlook: While it would have been nice having Sewell on campus for another season or two, it’s full steam ahead with the Lalich era at Virginia. In his first year at the controls, he’ll show the locals why he was so heavily recruited, but he’ll also make the mistakes that come with inexperience.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: When senior Cedric Peerman suffered a season-ending foot injury midway through the season, he was leading the ACC in rushing with 585 yards and five touchdowns on 113 carries. At 5-10 and 208 pounds, he’s a tough north-south runner who hits the hole quickly and is difficult to bring down when he lowers his shoulder. He also has outstanding vision, an attribute he picked up as one of the ACC’s premier kick returners. Healthy again, he practiced in the spring with an eye toward picking up where he left off last October.

The relocation of junior Rashawn Jackson from linebacker last year was a success, as he helped Virginia produce two 500-yard rushers. A physical 6-1, 253-pounder who likes contact, he’ll also be used occasionally in short yardage, getting a season-high 14 carries for 52 yards in the Gator Bowl loss to Texas Tech.

Projected Top Reserves: When Peerman went down, it created an opportunity for little-known junior Mikell Simpson to make an immediate splash and a name for himself as the Cavs’ new feature back. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he bolted for 570 yards and eight touchdowns on 113 carries, adding a team-high 43 receptions for 402 yards and two more scores. More of a shifty, breakaway threat than Peerman, he’s too good not to be on the field in some capacity.

When Virginia needs to soften opposing defenses or move the chains in short yardage, it might turn to 6-3, 236-pound sophomore Keith Payne, the biggest and strongest of the backs. He played in 10 games a year ago, logging 58 carries for 219 yards and two touchdowns. While no threat to become the starter, he offers valuable size and experience from the second unit. 

Watch Out For ... Alvin Pearman and Wali Lundy: The sequel. Back in 2004, Al Groh had two talented and diverse backs, so he used both of them to the offense’s advantage. Expect more of the same this fall with Peerman playing the part of Lundy and Simpson doing his best impression of Pearman.
Strength: The one-two punch of Peerman and Simpson. Now that Peerman is healthy and Simpson has proven himself, the Cavaliers have a complimentary duo that could be the next best thing to Clemson’s James Davis and C.J. Spiller in the ACC.
: Health. There isn’t a whole lot to dislike unless Peerman has an unexpected setback related to last year’s injury. It required surgery and was below the waist, which adds a little concern for a player who relies so heavily on his wheels.
Outlook: Provided Groh can keep everyone happy, there’s not much to complain about with this group. Either Peerman or Simpson is capable of being the feature back, with the latter doubling as a dangerous receiver on third and long. Jackson will be even more effective in his second season as a pile driver who can open holes for the two primary runners.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters: The Virginia passing game wasn’t the same last year without junior Kevin Ogletree, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in March. His healthy return is terrific news for the offense and new starting quarterback Peter Lalich. At 6-2 and 189 pounds, Ogletree has clocked in at 4.3 in the forty, runs tight routes, and does an outstanding job of breaking free from jams at the line of scrimmage. When last seen in 2006, he was building a foundation as one of the ACC up-and-coming receivers, catching 52 balls for 582 yards and four touchdowns.

When Ogletree was lost, it created an opportunity for senior Maurice Covington to step into the spotlight and become more of a go-to receiver. He showed some flashes, catching 21 passes for 269 yards and touchdowns, but lost almost a third of the season with a broken hand. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he’s a big, physical target who’ll benefit now that Ogletree is back to absorb some attention.

Al Groh loves to use his tight ends and never seems to have a shortage at the position. Next in line is 6-6, 250-pound senior John Phillips, who has bided his time behind Tom Santi and Jon Stupar. Country strong as a run blocker, he also has excellent hands, catching 17 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. He could be posturing for a crack at the NFL, a familiar destination for former Virginia tight ends.      

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Staton Jobe is a former walk-on who enjoyed a solid debut as a backup, catching 17 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. While he won’t frighten defenders at 6-0 and 182 pounds, he’s a precise route runner with the ability to find soft spots on short and intermediate routes.

A more imposing option in the passing game is 6-3, 191-pound sophomore Dontrelle Inman, one of only five true freshmen to play in 2007. More of a big-play receiver who can win the jump balls, he caught 17 passes for 181 yards, getting more comfortable as his first season progressed.

Once Phillips graduates, the heir apparent at tight end will be sophomore Joe Torchia, a 6-5, 255-pound with the long frame to add a few more pounds of muscle. After mostly playing on special teams as a freshman, his role is about to expand, including more chances to make plays as a receiver.  

Watch Out For ... Ogletree to erupt after sitting out all of last season. It’s been years since Virginia has had a wide receiver of his caliber, and the school plans to maximize his talent. He has all of the ingredients for a coming-out party, including a strong-armed quarterback who can reach him on fly patterns.
Strength: Size. Jobe aside, all of the Cavalier receivers are long, lean, and capable of plucking balls out of the air. When Ogletree and Covington are on the field at the same time, they’ll create mismatches once the USC opener is completed.
: Wide receiver depth. After Ogletree, the drop-off comes in a hurry. In three years, Covington has yet to evolve into a scary talent, and Jobe and Inman are a couple of sophomores still learning the ropes.
Outlook: Ogletree’s return will make a world of difference for a passing game that was painfully reliant on the backs and tight ends a year ago.  He’ll help open up the field and create more space for Phillips and the receivers to make plays. Still, more help is needed if the Cavs are going to open up the attack as planned.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: While Virginia has lost one star blocker to the NFL, Branden Albert, it gets back another who’ll be playing on Sundays before long. Senior LT Eugene Monroe is already being hailed as a possible first round selection next April depending on how he closes his Cavalier career. Entering his third year as a starter, he’s a 6-6, 315-pound brick wall with the footwork and athleticism inherent to elite tackles. He didn’t allow a sack during the regular season, which should give comfort to the new starter under center.

The unenviable task of replacing Albert at left guard falls to 6-6, 304-pound sophomore B.J. Cabbell. One of the line’s strongest players and a good athlete for his size, he’ll need to quickly overcome having played just four games in his career.

At the pivot, untested sophomore Jack Shields is being counted on to replace the departed Jordy Lipsey. A terrific athlete for a 6-5, 289-pounder, he’s been packing on the pounds in the weight room since arriving from Massachusetts as a heralded tight end.

The right side of the line will be anchored by 6-7, 315-pound junior Will Barker, a third-year starter at tackle who’s been in the lineup for 25 games in-a-row. While he still needs to improve as a pass protector, he drive blocks like a guard, registering 44 knockdowns a year ago, which was good for second the team.

The new starter at right guard is a familiar figure, 6-6, 300-pound senior Zak Stair. One of the most versatile and experienced of the offensive linemen, he has earned a letter in each of the last three seasons, pitching in at guard and tackle. A tough, heady blocker at the point of attack, his time has arrived to be more than just a spot starter. 

Projected Top Reserves: A serious lack of depth is an unavoidable issue that’s going to plague Virginia all year long. The closest thing the Cavaliers have to a veteran on the second unit is junior G Patrick Slebonick, who made one brief appearance last season. At 6-5 and 298 pounds, he has a great work ethic and ample upper body strength, but it hasn’t been enough to get him regular reps on offense.

After Slebonick, there’s a long line of redshirt freshmen fighting for playing time. Tackles Lamar Milstead and Landon Bradley, and G Billy Cuffee have worked their way into the two-deep, with an eye on earning their first letters. The 6-5, 290-pound Milstead was a top recruit from a year ago, showing considerable upside as a pass protector once he adds more bulk and sharpens his technique.

Bradley arrived in Charlottesville with fewer accolades than Milstead, still needing to add a considerable amount of mass to his 6-7, 275-pound frame before being ready to compete against the ACC’s top rushers. He’ll learn from Monroe this fall before competing for an expanded role in 2009.

Cuffee is big and strong at 6-5 and 310 pounds, with enough agility and foot speed to be an integral part of the offensive line for the next four seasons. With a strong summer, he’s capable of becoming the first Cavs’ first guard off the bench.

Watch Out For
... Monroe to play his way into the first round of next year’s NFL Draft, following Albert and D’Brickashaw Ferguson into that hallowed circle. He’ll begin the season as one of the nation’s top 10 tackles, living up to the hype that came with being the nation’s top high school lineman of 2005.
: Monroe. He’s the one rock on an unstable line that could struggle all year. With the senior protecting Peter Lalich’s blindside, it’ll be one less thing the quarterback has to worry about.
Weakness: Proven talent on the inside. With three new starters slated to slide in at guard and center, the interior has to grow up in a hurry of the Cavs will have problems with physical defensive lines that can bull rush the middle and generate backfield pressure.
Outlook: While the tackles are in good hands with Monroe and Barker back, the line will only go as far as the interior linemen take them. If injuries crop up, label it a major crisis because most of the reserves are a year away from being ready to compete in the ACC.
Rating: 7