Fall Practice 2006: High Tempo Expected at UVa

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Al Groh expects his practices to run with an up-tempo style.

The Virginia football team suited up in full pads for the first time Tuesday and wrapped up practice with a short scrimmage. Coach Al Groh said it looked like the players enjoyed the chance to do some hitting before taking off Wednesday to prepare for exams.

“We were able to do a lot more full contact work and a lot more team work. We had a little, short scrimmage at the end,” Groh said. “I think the players enjoyed the opportunity to cut loose with no holds on them.”

The final summer school session concludes Thursday and many of the players had at least one exam to take. Chris Cook , who has two exams this week, missed Sunday’s practice to focus on those classes. The players will resume their fall work with a closed practice late Thursday afternoon. The weekend provides four opportunities for fans to see the team in action during open practices:

  • Friday, August 11 – 2:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, August 12 – 8:45 a.m. and 6:45 p.m.
  • Sunday, August 13 – 2:30 p.m.

Those practices are all expected to be in full pads, which changes the dynamics a little bit from last weekend’s open sessions – those days mostly featured just helmets. When asked if the change from individual style drills to team contact drills reveals revealed some players’ strengths and weaknesses in more game-like situations, Groh said that it did.

“Unfortunately there’s always a few circumstances like that on every team. Obviously, we hope to minimize them but that usually turns out to be the case,” he said. “It’s like the guy that wows you at the driving range.”

One thing that will not change with the shift in equipment? Coaches’ expectations. Virginia practices are run like clockwork with air horns signifying the end of one drill and the start of another. During any kind of drill, you’ll hear coaches barking instructions like ‘Pick up the tempo!’, ‘Keep moving!’, or ‘If you’re walking, you’re wrong!’. All of these things relate to how Groh wants his practices to operate.

“It is an ‘all practice’ thing. We like practice to run at a real ‘moving’ pace, with a tempo or rhythm or whatever you want to call it. … It’s upbeat, it’s continuous – there shouldn’t be any particular lulls,” Groh said. “In what you see from standing on the side, there should be movement the whole time, whether it’s moving to and from drills or from the end of the play back to the huddle or from the huddle up to the ball. There should be a continuous flow of action, movement, and rhythm to what you see. Clearly when you get going offensively – because the offense does control the rhythm a little bit – we like to maintain that and have a pretty good pace to what you do. We try to have a pretty high pace to what we do.”

New Coaches Bring Fresh Voices

When Al Groh hired four new assistant coaches this offseason, he talked about hiring guys that fit the system so there would be limited need for “coaching the coaches.” Basically, he wanted to bring in assistants that had “the background in things that fit cleanly into our system so that for our players, we could pick right up without losing any strides.” Clearly, the additions of Mike London, Steve Bernstein, Dave Borbely, and Bob Diaco accomplished that mission – all of them have been noticeably active/in tune during spring and fall practices.

Still, each of those coaches brings his own unique style to the table as well – after all, hiring coaches with any previous experience means that they have can bring new things to the table as well. Groh said that the four new guys have done that at Virginia. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the quartet is overhauling the system.

“At practice specifically, each one has his own set of drills that he’s comfortable with and has developed over the years that he’s using to train the players to do the things that we do. That creates a little bit of freshness for the players,” Groh said. “In certain areas of the offense, Dave Borbely has had some impact, particularly in some ideas on the running game. I don’t think there will necessarily be a lot of ‘new’ plays, but some new wrinkles to how we’re going to make some of the calls up front.”

Ready to Shine?

Kevin Ogletree hauled in
19 touchdown catches as a high school senior.

With the injury to starting receiver Deyon Williams , the competition for a key receiving role opened at Virginia. Groh said that Kevin Ogletree , Theirrien “Bud” Davis, or anyone else that steps up to challenge for playing time could see snaps in Williams’ place.

Of course, Ogletree was one of the first names to be mentioned by fans and analysts as a potential candidate. And why not? At 6’2”, 184 pounds, Ogletree brings a distinct athleticism to the position. Size, speed, shiftiness – he has all of those things. Plus, his high school credentials are incredible. As a senior at Holy Cross High in New York, he hauled in 61 passes, for 1,170 yards, and 19 touchdowns, setting league records in each category. That earned him New York Daily News and Newsday Player of the Year recognition.

Groh said that Ogletree has all the tools to be a great receiver, but like many young players, he still is working on the other areas of being a football player.

“Kevin’s got very good ability; he’s a natural pass-catcher. He’s got some real elusiveness, he’s got some real good acceleration, and he’s a quality player at that position,” Groh said. “A point that relates to the entire position – and it certainly relates to Kevin – is that we’re working to establish the mentality at that position that guys who play out there can either be pass-catching specialists or they can be football players. … So it’s blocking on all the runs, running routes not only to get open, but if you don’t get the ball to open it up for somebody else. That’s really one of the things young receivers have to do – move beyond being just pass-catching specialists to being real football players. Kevin’s working hard at that. He shows he’s got all the skills to do those things. Now he’s just got to continue to break into those levels.”

Yards After the Catch …

  • Freshman offensive lineman B.J Cabbell has not started to participate fully in practice after having cartilage removed in his knee nearly two weeks ago.
  • The depth chart at outside linebacker includes Aaron Clark , Marvin Richardson , Olu Hall , and freshman John-Kevin Dolce .
  • Defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald weighed in this fall at around 280 pounds, Groh said.
  • True freshman defensive lineman Sean Gottschalk is coming along, but not at such a fast pace that he is expected to play this season. “It would appear, at the present moment, that there’s not an immediate need to rush him forward,” Groh said.
  • The Cavaliers certainly have some All-Name Team candidates. My nominees: Marc Verica , Simon Manka, Cain Ringstaff, Crutcher Reiss, Patch Duda, Staton Jobe , Zach Mendez-Zfass, Byron Glaspy, Rico Bell , Jackson Andrews (sounds kind of presidential doesn’t it?), Denzel Burrell , and Bernie McKeever.

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