CavCamp Blog: Is Ahmad OK?

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Ahmad Brooks has been cleared by doctors but isn’t practicing yet.

Of all 104 players at Virginia’s first practice of training camp, the one drawing much of the attention of fans (and reporter-types) isn’t even wearing a jersey. Ahmad Brooks spends much of the session in a compression shirt looking like he’s training for the Tour de France, not for football season. He pedals furiously on a stationary bike, jogs lightly on the sideline and does some agility drills. He also moves around with a slight limp and chats with head trainer Ethan Saliba, who examines his surgically-repaired right knee.

Which makes me wonder: Should we be worried or not?

Who knows? Brooks is UVa’s best defensive player. We all know that. He’s a physical marvel, one of the best linebackers in the country. We know that, too. What we don’t know is whether he’ll be ready for the first game, and how well he’ll play whenever he does come back.

Brooks underwent offseason surgery to regenerate bone growth in his right knee. He already missed spring practice. Now he’s off crutches and moving around, so that’s good news. But he still appears to be far away from, say, leaping over the line of scrimmage and landing on a quarterback.

So is this serious or not? We can’t ask Ahmad – players are off limits today. But Groh is asked during his afternoon press conference if he expects Brooks to play in the season opener.

“I don’t have any expectations on that,” Groh says. “We’re just going to put him out there and go through it and see what happens. Right now he’s out, so he’s not in the plans. When he’s back, he’s back.”

Groh does give more information about Brooks’ situation. Apparently it was a degenerative bone condition that started well before he arrived at UVa. It gradually became uncomfortable enough that Brooks opted for surgery before spring practice.

Brooks has been medically cleared by team doctors but isn’t ready to participate fully in practices, Groh says. And when he comes back, there’s no telling if he’ll be able to have the monster year that everyone is hoping for.

“It’s one of the circumstances of life. These things happen, so you go on. But obviously this is a player of substantial talent and very special talent,” Groh says. “After two years of playing, we had a plan in place: OK, this is what we’re really going to work on to magnify this special talent to its highest level, so next year will be different than the first two not just on talent alone, but through mastery of all these particular things.

“But, well, there really hasn’t been much physical work on that since late December. The player that we had back then was pretty good, but it’ll be one of the interesting things to see when Ahmad does come back to play, is this the same player that was playing in December – a very good player, but still the same player – or is this going to be a player that’s had the opportunity to raise his game?”

Good question.

OK, let’s look at who’s actually on the field. And that’s almost everyone, unlike spring practice, when half the guys were on stationary bikes, a peloton full of 280-pounders.

Brennan Schmidt is back. So are Keenan Carter , Connor Hughes, Tom Santi , Michael Johnson, Vince Redd , Bryan White, Marshal Ausberry , Kai Parham, Ron Darden and Brian Barthelmes.

Whew. So none of their injuries were major. Now if Brooks can come back, the offseason won’t have been a disaster. Florida State wishes it was so lucky. The way it’s looking, the Seminoles might not even escape the offseason with their nickname.

So many new faces at practice – 29 true freshmen, including walk-ons. All of them have been around, taking summer school classes, lifting and running. But thanks to the NCAA, they no longer get three days of freshman orientation. So they get thrown in with all of the older guys right off the bat. Wouldn’t you be a little nervous?

Some of them look it. The rookie receivers drop their share of passes. The young quarterbacks are a bit erratic. Mike Brown, the kid cornerback, gets yelled at by Al Golden.

But physically, it’s an impressive bunch. Brown is fast. So is Kevin Ogletree . Jeffrey Fitzgerald is a big dude, and that doesn’t even describe Eugene Monroe . Wow. He’s a massive, massive man. He even dwarfs D’Brick when they stand next to each other.

Vic Hall, on the other hand…not big, or tall. He and Hagans are the same height, give or take half an inch, and Hagans is much thicker. But you can tell Hall can ball. Plus he’s still bigger than Andrew Pearman , who wears #21 and looks just like a miniature version of his brother. Call him Mini-AP.

A few interesting tidbits from Groh’s press conference…

  • He says that Bryan White, coming off back surgery, is “feeling better than he has in two years.” Likewise, Kai Parham has “trained marvelously and really wants to prove a point.”
  • Chris Johnson, who started the final four games last season, is not on the two-deep chart at defensive end because “he didn’t make as much progress in the spring” as the coaches wanted. He also had academic issues to resolve, so Chris Long , Brennan Schmidt, Kwakou Robinson and Allen Billyk are ahead of him on the depth chart.
  • Keenan Carter ‘s weight seems to be under control. “He’s smaller. He has a zero in his weight. … The last time he had a zero in his weight, I think there was a three and an eight that preceded it.”

    Some more random observations from practice…

  • There should be an interesting competition at punter. As I watch them warm up, Chris Gould seems to have a much stronger leg than JUCO transfer Ryan Weigand . But Weigand uncorks some boomers during a drill minutes later, sending several high and deep. Gould also blasts a few. I already feel better about this position.
  • The receiving corps has quantity. There are 10 wideouts in camp, including newcomers Maurice Covington , Brandon Woods , Kevin Ogletree and Andrew Pearman , plus returnee Ottowa Anderson. But is there quality?
  • Anderson spent the past year regaining his eligibility and growing out his dreadlocks. His long dreads are matched by Mike Brown, who covers him in one drill in a dread-full matchup.
  • Deyon Williams makes the nicest catch of the day, a full-stride, full-stretch, one-handed grab on a post pattern, drawing a nice hand from the fans.
  • Eight players are wearing “Orange Crush” jerseys belonging to first-team defenders: Brennan Schmidt, Chris Long , Kai Parham, Clint Sintim , Jermaine Dias , Tony Franklin, Marcus Hamilton and Nate Lyles . You have to figure one is being saved for Brooks. But what about nose tackle and the other safety spot? Keenan Carter and Lance Evans are listed first at those positions but apparently haven’t earned their orange yet.

    Overheard on the practice field…

  • “Energy, fellas, energy! Be the first guy to your group. Run, even if you’re going five yards!” – Groh, instructing the players as they move to a new station
  • “That’s automatic! I like that.” – Marques Hagans, watching Connor Hughes drill field goals
  • “OA! OA! Oh s-, you’re back!” – Kwakou Robinson, shouting at Ottowa Anderson

    (This article would normally be for paid subscribers only, but we wanted to throw one out to everyone as an example of what Sabre Edge has to offer. We will be providing regular reports, features and blogs throughout training camp, with more in-depth coverage of the open practices. So if you want to get the full scoop from training camp in addition to recruiting news, articles, special features and interviews, please sign up for Sabre Edge.)

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