Tuesday Press Conference Notes – Wyoming

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Al Groh is excited about the season opener too.

The waiting is almost over as the countdown clock to Virginia’s 2007 kickoff approaches the three-day mark. Fans aren’t the only ones anxious to get things started, though. Players are ready to hit someone besides teammates and coaches are excited too. Al Groh said the new season is always an exciting time.

“Every [season opener is] the same and I think once they stop being the same then there’s a message in there. It’s always about the next season,” Groh said. “There’s very little reflection on season’s past. It’s always about the next season and the next challenge so as a result the next one is always the most exciting one. Those other ones are over and done.”

One theory among the media and fans is that the opener at Wyoming is especially important for Virginia in order to get the 2007 season off on the right foot. UVa’s players and coaches aren’t buying it – they all say it’s the most important game because it’s the next one on the schedule.

“It’s very important because obviously it’s the first game and we want to take it one day at a time and one game at a time,” Vic Hall said. “Right now, it’s the most important game of the year.”

“Jon [Copper] is exactly right. It’s one of 12,” Groh said. “We don’t believe that the result of this game is going to affect the result of the upcoming game. We’re going to have to get back in here on Sunday and get to work on the upcoming game.”

However, Groh did say the game in Wyoming is an especially important one for another reason. It’s the first time the team is put to the test in a real game. That’s when you truly find out if Jameel Sewell ‘s wrist is ready, if Cedric Peerman is ready to be No. 1, if Vic Hall can handle starting at corner, and so on and so on.

“Whoever it’s against, it’s the opportunity to find out about your team. There are only so many answers that come forth by practicing against yourself. Eventually you have to get into game situations and see who can rise to that,” Groh said. “It’s the same every year. It certainly takes a game, and frequently it takes a little bit more than that, to get a true handle on what the capabilities of each player and each unit are.”

Bivens Out

Bernie McKeever occupies the reserve inside linebacker spot behind Jon Copper this week as the Hoos prepare for the trip to Wyoming. John Bivens , who was expected to be the key back-up in that spot as a redshirt freshman, is out with a leg problem. He is not expected to play this week.

“John’s got a little bit of a sore leg so it’s taken him out of this week’s work,” Groh said.

Mikell Simpson and The Depth Chart

Mikell Simpson ? Much ado has been made about a new hybrid wide receiver/running back sort of role where Simpson is the main occupant. So what gives?

“Oh yeah,” Groh said in response to a question about whether Simpson was still a factor. “Because he does a lot of different things for us and versatility is part of his game, he can show up in a number of those spots. Since we decided to stick to the guidelines of a [traditional] two deep [his position isn’t on there.]… We’re real happy with Mikell.”

Also on the depth chart, true freshman quarterback Peter Lalich essentially shares the No. 2 line with Scott Deke . The QB order would likely go Deke then Lalich this weekend.

Another name that surfaced on the two deep was walk-on Isaac Cain , a 6’4″, 295-pound offensive tackle. The redshirt freshman is listed behind Will Barker at right tackle. Despite the placement on the chart, Cain is unlikely to see time in any critical situations in the near future. Zak Stair , who is listed as top reserve at left tackle, will be the first substitute at either tackle spot.

Groh said that Cain’s progress has been “pretty decent” so far but added that he “wouldn’t put him in the ready for primetime category yet.”

Vic Hall On Punts

Vic Hall is listed as one of the top two punt returners for Virginia.

Virginia fans have been clamoring for more Vic Hall since he arrived in Charlottesville. It looks like they won’t have to wait much longer. Hall started as a kickoff and punt coverage gunner last season and was the slot defensive back in the substitution packages. You can now add starting holder, starting corner, and punt returner to the equation.

Hall joins Andrew Pearman as the top two return man options on punts. That spot is at least a little bit of a surprise but only because he’s never done it before.

“I’ve never done punt returns before previous to this year. … This summer, I got with the kickers probably twice a week – they kicked and I caught so I got used to it over the summer,” Hall said.

Groh said Hall looked like a “natural athlete” on punt returns when he first started trying it though it was “apparent that he wasn’t experienced doing it.” Groh added that it “didn’t take him very long to get a feel for it” because he “tracks the ball very well visually” and that’s the starting point for being able to succeed as a punt returner. From there, you have to be able to catch the ball and run with it. Hall has no problems in those areas.

The Gretna product did say it took a little bit of adjustment to get used to the nuances of the job.

“Looking at punt returns, a lot of people probably think its just catching the ball but you also have to judge the coverage team and see whether or not you have to fair catch it,” Hall said. “So it’s a lot of little things, but it’s a big play in college football.”

Regardless of who gets a chance to return punts this weekend or this season, Groh said speed is only part of the equation.

“First move and acceleration are much more beneficial to a return man than straight-line speed,” he said.

Yards After The Catch …

  • Vic Hall and Chris Cook are expected to be the starting gunners on punt coverage. Mike Brown was Hall’s sidekick in that role last season but a knee injury has sidelined him.
  • 25 players that have never traveled before (minus scout team player of the week exceptions) are making the Wyoming trip. True freshmen making the trip: Danny Aiken , Dontrelle Inman , Jared Green , Dom Joseph , Ras-I Dowling, Peter Lalich , and Nick Jenkins . “It would take circumstances probably” for anyone other than Inman and Aiken to play. Approximately 60 players are expected to travel.
  • Funny press conference moment: A reporter started a question with you’ve obviously had a lot of experience with season openers when Coach Groh interrupted with “Does that mean I’m old?” among laughter. “No sir,” chuckling. “Well it does mean I’m old,” Groh said laughing. The media and Groh finally settled on “seasoned.”

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