Cavalier Camp: Cavs Conclude Tough Training Camp

Elton Brown

With Wednesday’s pair of practices, the Virginia football team wrapped up its most physical training camp in Al Groh’s four years as head coach. Tomorrow the players will move out of the Cavalier Inn, where they have stayed the past two weeks, and get the day off. Friday they will reconvene and begin preparing specifically for Temple.

In recent years, UVa has relied mainly on finesse and execution to win games. But Groh believes this team has the personnel to be powerful, so he emphasized toughness and physical play throughout camp.

“It’s been tough but it’s worth it,” said senior guard Elton Brown. “We want to play power football, so that’s what we’re working on. It’s getting back to basics. Beating the guy in front of you. Hitting guys in the mouth. We want to be stronger, meaner and nastier.”

Those words don’t leap to mind when describing the Cavaliers of the past five years or so. Scrappy, maybe. Resourceful and resilient, sure. But not rough and tough. Groh’s teams have been defined by a short passing game and an undersized, bend-but-don’t-break defense. That’s been good enough to produce a 22-17 record and two bowl wins. But to go to the next level, Virginia must add more power to the equation.

“I think this team can play that way. We want to be a tough team,” said junior defensive end Kwakou Robinson. “Now we have a physical offensive line and a physical defensive line. We have the big guys. We have the strong guys. We just have to play tough.”

How’s this for big and strong? Brown and Robinson are among five Cavaliers listed at 324 pounds or more (Ron Darden, Keenan Carter and Marshal Ausberry are the others). Other players, like D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Chris Canty, have gotten markedly bigger and stronger over the past few years. The linebacking corps is huge and Virginia doesn’t appear to be undersized at any position. (Other than quarterback, perhaps, but no one questions Marques Hagans’ toughness.)

“I think we have a chance to be the most physical team that we’ve been,” Groh said. As a result, he can finally do what he’s always wanted to do – coach power football.

During camp, Groh incorporated different drills that were designed to instill toughness. One day he brought all of the players over near the sideline for an up-close, 3-on-3 blocking drill. “It’s simple,” he told them. “Try to push your guy backward.”

As usual, Groh did not allow flying tackles – or any tackling to the ground – in order to avoid injuries. But he used more close-quarter drills with plenty of pushing and shoving than he had in previous training camps.

Did the work pay off? We’ll see this season.

“Matt Schaub won a lot of games for us just because he’s a great quarterback,” Brown said. “But when it’s cold and windy, we need to be able to win in those conditions, too. We need to be able to line up and overpower people. That’s our attitude as an offensive line and as a whole team.”

News, Notes and Observations

Chris Long
  • Since the Cavaliers have good depth at defensive end, most people assumed that heralded freshman Chris Long would redshirt this season. Not so fast. Long was impressive during training camp and is likely to see action in 2004.

    “I would be surprised if we don’t use him this year,” Groh said. “It’s certainly going in that direction.”

  • The secondary is among the biggest question marks for Virginia, but the coach in charge of that unit is considered an excellent teacher. Bob Price, a former head coach in the Canadian Football League, is in his eighth year as a UVa assistant. He was the only coach from George Welsh’s staff that Groh retained, and he remains a vital part of the operation as the oldest and most experienced assistant.

    “Age was never an issue,” Groh said of his decision to keep Price. “It was energy and ambition and passion

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