Open Practice Observations With the Virginia Cavaliers

Aaron MullinsContributor IAugust 12, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01: Jameel Sewell #10 of the Virginia Cavaliers hands the ball off to Mikell Simpson #5 during the Gator Bowl against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on January 1, 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Open PracticeSunday, Aug. 9

Being the devout fan of Virginia sports that I am, I found my way to Charlottesville to soak in the sweet, sticky summertime air and watch some football.  Due to a minor mishap in my travels, I arrived about 45 minutes late.  Despite my late arrival, there was plenty of football to watch in the remaining 90 minutes. 

The following is merely my amateur observations of one practice.  My opinions of who looked good and who needs work are based on said practice, so they are obviously subject to being wrong.  Nonetheless, I will write them down anyway for your reading pleasure.

Note to the reader: This practice was not full pads.  The players donned shoulder pads and helmets only.  This practice was not full contact (Lane Kiffin is not running the show).


Jameel Sewell

Sewell looked sharp, and if the starting lineup was made based on that practice, No. 10 would be taking the first snap.  Sewell was notably quicker and shiftier than during the 2007 season. He obviously made speed a point of emphasis during his hiatus, and his newfound wheels have me very excited. 

What makes him stand out over the rest of the competition is his ability to pass from both in and outside the pocket.  Sewell’s downfield passing remains a question mark, as he struggled to accurately throw the ball beyond 20 yards. 

The other problem I saw with Sewell was his ball security while running the option.  Sewell did not tuck the ball away once he made the decision to keep it, opting instead to hold on to the ball with one hand as he turned the corner. 

Ball protection should be a problem that is easily corrected.  Throwing the long ball accurately might not be such a quick fix. 

Vic Hall

Hall is an athlete.  I just don’t feel that he’s our best option at QB. 

Hall struggled to throw accurately from the pocket and did not look comfortable between the tackles.  He was also very eager to take off and run with the ball before completely going through his reads.

He reminds me a lot of Tyrod Taylor, who I don’t feel is that great of a QB anyway. Two TDs and seven INTs and the guy is being hailed as the next great QB? Give me a break.  

With that being said, Hall is very exciting to watch once he takes off.  He is a very patient runner, and does a great job of waiting for his blockers to open up holes.  He hits the holes quickly and is gone. 

While I don’t think he should start at QB, he should get as many touches as possible over the course of a game. 

Marc Verica

He still makes bad decisions.  Some things never change.  I don’t think he’ll be seeing much of the field, and my blood pressure will be better for it. 


Mikell Simpson

The coaching staff has said that Simpson has returned to his 2007 form.  Sunday’s practice did not show it.  He was never able to get out into the open field and make people miss, which could very well be just a matter of playcalling. 

I don’t recall seeing Simpson gain more than three yards on a carry.  It’s just one practice, so I’m not too concerned, but he looked an awful lot like the Simpson from 2008…

Torrey Mack

Mack is fast.  He’s small, but he can run.  And the dude has great hands, which is what you want from a RB in the spread offense. 

His size will probably prevent him from being a feature back, but there is substantial depth at RB, and he will definitely contribute to the success of this team. 

Rashawn Jackson

Whoever said fullbacks don’t belong in the spread offense has never seen Rashawn Jackson run.  Jackson really impressed me at practice.  Like Sewell, Jackson is much faster and more elusive than in years past. 

Keith Payne

I still haven’t seen the Keith Payne that Groh raved about during Payne’s redshirt year.  The fact that practice was not full contact took away the strength of Payne’s game, but he just seems a step slow.

I can only imagine him being effective in goal line situations, but I’m not putting him in over Jackson. 


Austin Paztor

Paztor destroyed Matt Conrath on a block while the QB was rolling out of the pocket.  Paztor, like last year, will be a great player.  The line should be a very solid group.  The centers just need to make sure they get their snaps under control. 


From an outsider's perspective, the receivers are a question mark for this team.  Ogletree and Covington are both gone, leaving behind a group of inexperienced receivers.  However, these young receivers are talented and fast (can you believe that a UVA team actually has speed?).

Jared Green

Green returns from a solid redshirt freshman season and looked great in practice.  He’s a big target, has great hands, and while he’s no Darrell Green, he can run. 

Javaris Brown

True to the promise that he showed in the Spring Game, Brown continues to impress.  He is fast.  He should have a Percy Harvin-type role on this team.

Matt Snyder

At 6’4”, Snyder is a big target and is surprisingly not slow.  He got a lot of reps in practice and did not disappoint.  He has great hands and may very well be in the top four on the depth chart.

Riko Smalls

Smalls looks good in his transition from QB to WR.  If he’s not going to get playing time at QB, there is no point in wasting his athleticism.  He looked great out there, but probably will not crack the top four on the depth chart.

Neither Dontrelle Inman nor Kris Burd took part in the receiver drills while I was there.  Both of these guys are in contention for a starting job.

Tim Smith

Smith is fast with great hands and will be very good for this team someday, but I see him redshirting this year.  There’s a lot of depth at receiver and no point in wasting the kid's eligibility when he’s not entirely sure what he’s doing out there. 


This secondary is filthy. The corners are big (both Ras-I and Cook are 6’2”), and the safeties (Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley) can lay people out. 

Chase Minnifield is a boss, and he won’t even start.  The group is deep and talented, and coached by one of the best to ever play the game.  I have no doubt that these guys will have a significant impact on every game by virtually eliminating the opposition’s desire to throw the ball.

Maybe that’s a stretch, but they’re really good.

If Ras-I Dowling is not on your Thorpe Award Watch List, then you need to stop reading Heather Dinich’s debauchery of a blog and actually watch football. 

During practice, he broke up a well thrown ball on a slant route by laying out in front of the receiver and swatting the ball away.  On top of being one of the best cover corners in the nation, he can shed blocks incredibly well on running plays to make the tackle. 


I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  Everyone is talking about how this team won’t be good because they’re losing their top three linebackers from last year. Say what you will about Coach Groh, but he always develops solid linebackers.  This year will be no different. 

While the linebackers may not be the leaders of the defense, they are not a reason for concern.  Denzel Burrell is the lone returning starter and looked good in practice.  On top of Aaron Clark returning from injury, both Cam Johnson and Steve Greer are two youngsters that should make significant contributions to this unit. 


These guys looked really good and did a great job of getting pressure on the QB.  Matt Conrath is shaping up to be a very fine DE.


I only saw kickoffs, but I was impressed.  The coverage on these kickoffs was fantastic.  Chris Hinkebein has a big leg.  Ron Prince is doing a fine job.  I did not see the field goal unit but can only hope that it is better than last year.

This team has me very excited for the upcoming football season (although, I am always excited for football season).  I honestly think that my Hoos will surprise a lot of people this year.  I won’t give an exact number of wins, but I’m feeling some bowling for this team.  Oh yeah, and a win over Tech.  Both of them. 

Go Hoos!


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