2009 Virginia Preview - Offense
Virginia RB Mikell Simpson
Virginia RB Mikell Simpson
Posted Jul 10, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Virginia Cavaliers Offense

Virginia Cavaliers

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Virginia Preview | 2009 Virginia Offense
- 2009 Virginia Defense | 2009 Virginia Depth Chart
- 2008 Virginia Preview | 2007 Virginia Preview | 2006 Virginia Preview

What you need to know: Enough is enough. After three straight years of 100th or lower in total offense, Mike Groh is gone as the offensive coordinator, replaced by veteran Gregg Brandon. He brings with him a no-huddle, up-tempo spread attack that figures to be far less predictable than what fans have grown accustomed to in recent years. The coach has hurdles to success, namely a green receiving corps and an average offensive line, but he’ll also have some interesting options at his disposal. Dual-threat QB Jameel Sewell returns from a one-year hiatus, looking to recapture the form he had toward the end of 2007. He’s in an interesting battle with Vic Hall, the do-it-all athlete, who’s better known for his work in the secondary and on special teams. RB Mikell Simpson, like Sewell, was getting hot in 2007, and has the all-purpose potential to finish his career with a flurry.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Marc Verica
226-354, 2,037 yds 8 TD, 16 INT
Rushing: Mikell Simpson
87 carries, 262 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Mikell Simpson
15 catches, 66 yds

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: There are more options than last season, when the ‘Hoos were 102nd nationally in passing efficiency, so there is hope for a turnaround. While no starter has been named and probably won’t be until August, 6-3, 219-pound senior Jameel Sewell will have some role in the new offense. After sitting out 2008 for academic reasons, he’s intent on building a bridge to 2007, when he shared the team’s outstanding offensive player award. A thick and mobile lefty, with good arm strength, he went 214-of-364 for 2,176 yards, 12 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, adding 279 yards and four scores on the ground. He’s the best all-around talent among the contenders, but he’ll need to shed some rust and prove his surgically-repaired wrist is not a problem.

Projected Top Reserves: Whether or not he gets the start, it’ll be worth remembering the name of Vic Hall. The 5-9, 190-pound senior cornerback is also going to play quarterback this fall—lots of quarterback if he continues to make strides behind center. He was not treated like a novelty act in the spring, spending all of his time with the offense. A dynamic athlete and one of the team captains, he had a prolific high school career at the position and rushed for 109 yards and two nifty scores against Virginia Tech last November. The question remains whether he can move the ball through the air in Gregg Brandon’s new offense.

Junior Marc Verica is the incumbent, but that was sort of by default. The suspension of Sewell and dismissal of Pete Lalich created an opening for the 6-3, 206-pound, who struggled on a weekly basis. He wound up going 226-of- 354 for 2,037 yards, eight touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, while looking lost at times. Although the game should be slowing down after last year’s baptism under fire, he still has the look of a third-stringer, who needs to make up ground.

Watch Out For
... Hall to play a significant role in the offense. Somehow, some way, he’s going to get a chance to light a spark beneath an offense that sorely needs it. He showed in the Virginia Tech game last year that he has the poise and athleticism to make things happen when the ball is in his hands.
Strength: Diversity. If you could find a way to combine the talents of Sewell and Hall in one player, Virginia would have a pretty special quarterback. In the latter, the Cavs have an explosive runner, who’s very dangerous outside the pocket. In the former, they’ve got a pocket passer, who was beginning to peak before last year’s academic suspension. Again, more options than this time last year.
Weakness: Passing efficiency. When Virginia needs to move the ball through the air, Hall and Verica are, at best, average passers. Hall is a 5-9 defensive back and Verica failed in his first test. That leaves Sewell, who was raw in 2006 and 2007, and still needs to bounce back from a year of inactivity.
Outlook: All things being relative, Virginia has a solid quarterback situation. No, it’s not ideal, but in the ACC, the return of Sewell and the emergence of Hall mean the Cavs aren’t too far behind the rest of the league. If the staff can find a way to incorporate the talents of both players, the entire offense will benefit.
: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: First dibs on the job vacated by Cedric Peerman belong to 6-1, 200-pound senior Mikell Simpson. The program’s co-offensive player if the year in 2007, he tailed off last season, managing just 262 yards and three scores on 87 carries. When he’s on and healthy, however, he can be a dynamic all-purpose weapon, hurting defenses as a ballcarrier and a sure-handed receiver. A patient runner, he has the speed and gliding gait to burst through seams in the defense and get to the secondary in a hurry.

Rashawn Jackson, a former linebacker, is not your typical fullback. Sure, at 6-1 and 253 pounds, he has the power to open up holes, but is just an average blocker and is a surprisingly nimble runner for such a big athlete. A unique option in short yardage, he carried 16 times for 62 yards a year ago, adding 14 receptions for 79 yards.

Projected Top Reserves: For a player, who has yet to get on the field, there sure is a lot of excitement surrounding 6-0, 190-pound redshirt freshman Torrey Mack. He’s been impressive since arriving on campus, displaying enough speed and decisiveness in the hole to get immediate consideration for playing  
time. Unlike Simpson, who can dance a little too much, Mack is north-south runner, with little wasted movement.

Junior Keith Payne is around, although it’s unsure how he’ll fit into an offense that plans to spread the field with its quickest players. A big, physical back at 6-3 and 236 pounds, he’s been unable to become more than a spot player and short yardage option. After a decent freshmen debut in 2007, he disappeared last fall, getting just five carries for 36 yards. He’ll need a strong summer to avoid slipping down the depth chart.

Watch Out For
... Simpson to pick up where he left off in 2007. The one caveat will be an offensive line that won’t be nearly as effective as it was two years ago. This is still the same back, who had a 170-yard day in the Cotton Bowl and caught 13 passes in a win over Maryland.
Strength: Multi-taskers. The main tailback has the hands of a receiver. The starting fullback thinks he can be a feature runner. And the two youngsters in the mix, Mack and sophomore Max Milien, have the diverse skill sets to eventually blossom into workhorses.
: A sure-fire every-down back. Simpson is a quality back, but don’t you get the feeling he’s better as a complement and an all-purpose type player? While he certainly has value, he’s carried the ball more than 20 times in a game on just three occasions. If he’s unable to shoulder the load, a lot will be expected from one of the unproven kids.
Outlook: Even without the services of Peerman, the Cavaliers should be fine in the backfield as long as Simpson can lead the way and play the way he did two years ago. Jackson and Payne will provide some of the interior punch, while Mack and Milien jostle for more snaps and an expanded role in the running game.
: 7


Projected Starters: Out with the old and in with the new. Last year’s top five pass-catchers have moved on, forcing the offense into an unmistakable youth movement. The leading returning receiver, 6-2, 178-pound sophomore Jared Green, could also be this season’s leading receiver. The son of NFL Hall of Famer, he worked his way into the rotation as a rookie, catching a dozen balls for 144 yards and a score. Long and lean, he has the speed to get behind the secondary, now needing to refine some of the smaller aspects of his game.

The program is thrilled to have access to 5-11, 180-pound Javaris Brown, who sat out his first year as a redshirt. An exciting playmaker, with the ability to make people miss in space, he’s going to be a very nice fit in this quick-hitting offense. If Virginia can get him the ball in space, he has just enough speed and wiggle to turn a short hitch into a long play.

Now that John Phillips is in the NFL, the program’s string of next-level tight ends is expected to continue with 6-6, 255-pound junior Joe Torchia. Although a shoulder injury and a glut of talented upperclassmen have kept him quiet, that could be about to change this fall. He has the right frame and the good hands to excel as a blocker and receiver on intermediate routes.

Projected Top Reserves: When three-wide sets are employed, which could be often, 5-11, 189-pound sophomore Kris Burd is bucking to be in the lineup. After catching seven balls for 65 yards, he‘s enjoyed a good offseason, showing outstanding quickness and change-of-direction and a knack for finding the soft spot in a defense.

Going toe-to-toe with Burd in the battle for playing time is 6-3, 191-pound junior Dontrelle Inman, whose production dropped sharply from 17 catches in 2007 to just two a year ago. From his length and speed to his big hands, he has the physical tools to produce, but needs to do a better job of not getting lost in the crowd.

Like Inman, 6-0, 182-pound junior Staton Jobe got overlooked in the offense, catching just one ball a year after making 17 grabs. A former walk-on, he’s a try-hard guy with modest upside potential, but he’ll catch what’s thrown his way and do the little things to help the Cavs win. While not starter material, he’s a valuable company man to have on the roster.

Watch Out For
... Brown to eventually be very successful in this offense. Gregg Brandon wants players, who can stretch the width and the length of the field, which is why No. 9 is being looked at with such excitement. While still a little raw, the physical characteristics are there for him to become an impact player.
Strength: The future. Of course, the Virginia receivers are young, but with youth comes gobs of excitement about the future. Green and Brown, in particular, bring a combination of size and burst, respectively, which will vex opposing secondaries in the not too distant future. Plus, Torchia is capable of becoming a force at tight end once he gets a full season in the vault.
Weakness: Inexperience. All of the potential in the world cannot replace game reps and live experience. This group has precious little of either. In fact, checking under the hood reveals zero starting experience and a slew of underclassmen dotting the three-deep.
Outlook: There’s a lot to like about this group of receivers…in 2010. Wideouts, like Green, Brown, and Burd, have high ceilings, but they’re about a year away from being really good and really dependable. For now, there’ll be more inconsistency than steady play, especially as the program weaves in a new offense.
: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Another year. Another first-round draft choice that needs to be replaced. A year after losing Branden Albert, Virginia is coping with life after all-everything tackle Eugene Monroe. The unenviable task of replacing him could belong to 6-7, 275-pound sophomore Landon Bradley. Although he has very limited experience and needs to add a little girth, the staff feels he can eventually become the next in a long line of pro-caliber linemen. Constantly learning and improving all the time, he has the long arms and light feet to evolve into a top-notch pass-protector.

Over on the right side is the team’s top overall blocker, 6-7, 315-pound senior Will Barker, a fourth-year starter. At times, he can be physically imposing, using his length and heavy hands to wall off edge rushers and escort them out of the play. For such a tall player, he plays with surprising leverage and will drive linemen off the ball, but still needs to bring it on every down in order to impress NFL scouts.

Manning the pivot will once again be 6-5, 289-pound junior Jack Shields. A former heralded tight end, he’s adjusting nicely to his new assignment gaining confidence and consistency throughout the 2008 season. He’s packed on some more muscle during the offseason, yet hasn’t lost the quick feet or burst off the snap that aided his development a year ago.

The veteran among the guards is 6-6, 304-pound junior B.J. Cabbell, the choice on the right side of the line. One of the strongest players up front and a good athlete for his size, he’s able to maul opponents when he can lock on and beat them up in a phone booth. Once he’s forced out of the comfort zone, however, he’s liable to get exposed.

On the left side, sophomore Austin Pasztor is already making a concerted push to be the Cavs’ most reliable guard. The 6-6, 310-pound Canadian started the final seven games of 2008, and despite being predictably unpolished, held up unexpectedly well. A physical blocker, he has the strong base to be particularly ornery forging straight ahead on running downs.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Lamar Milstead received the team’s most improved player over the spring, solidifying a spot in the rotation at tackle. A 6-5, 290-pound former blue-chipper from the 2007 class, he’s been a little slow to emerge, but still has the quick feet and athleticism to develop into a standout in pass protection.

The top guard off the bench, provided he doesn’t crack the lineup, will be 6-5, 310-pound sophomore Billy Cuffee. A little limited in his overall ability, he needs to work on his technique and improve his footwork when he starts to pull. While he’s had trouble getting on to the field in the first two years, that ought to change in 2009.

Sophomore Anthony Mihota will provide insurance at both center and guard. The versatile 6-4, 285-pounder can play both positions, even starting the Virginia Tech game when Shields was hobbled. He plays with a high level of aggression and is one of the program’s best overall athletes.

Watch Out For
... the academic situation of incoming freshman Morgan Moses. Assuming he does qualify for 2009, the can’t-miss 6-7, 332-pound is the type of tackle prospect, who’s going to make it very difficult to keep him off the field.
Strength: Pass protection. Even without Monroe, Virginia should be above average at protecting the pocket and giving the quarterbacks time to throw. It’s a rangy bunch, with enough long arms and light feet to again be among the ACC’s better teams in sacks allowed.
Weakness: Run blocking. The Cavs did an awful job a year ago at opening holes, sharing the responsibility for an offense that was 108th nationally on the ground and averaged just 3.4 yards a carry. Even with the new offense, Virginia needs to establish the running game, which requires much better blocking at the point of contact.
Outlook: For the first time in years, Virginia won’t have the luxury of an elite blocker who the rest of the line can rally around. Barker is good, but he’s not Albert, Monroe, Elton Brown, or D’Brickashaw Ferguson. The returns of four players with starting experience is a plus, but it’s important that the novice at left tackle doesn’t perform like a weak link.   
: 7


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