QB not yet named; Reyering steps up as kicker

Starting quarterback job remains wide-open contest among Lalich, Deke, Verica

Going into the 2008 football training camp, Virginia faced a number of questions about who would fill the holes left by 2007 graduates as well as departed and suspended players. While Chris Long is clearly the biggest name the team will have to replace, Virginia coach Al Groh also went into camp with the task of finding starters at quarterback, kicker, punter, both offensive guards and the rest of the defensive line in the team’s 3-4 scheme.
Here is the latest on the status of these positions as Virginia heads into its final week of training camp.

The big question – who will be Virginia’s No. 1 quarterback? – has yet to be answered, at least publicly. It would seem that highly touted sophomore Peter Lalich is best suited for the job, since he is the only player who has thrown a pass in a Cavalier uniform. Virginia coach Al Groh, however, has said throughout the summer and continues to say that the competition is “wide open” among Lalich, senior Scott Deke and sophomore Marc Verica. Groh has even been suggesting the possibility that he could use more than one of the hurlers in combination.
The quarterbacks themselves, meanwhile, have adopted a policy of remaining silent with the media. Deke made this statement at meet the team day Aug. 10, the last time the media has heard from any of the quarterbacks.
“It’s in our best interest to just, you know, keep to ourselves and do whatever is best for this team,” he said. “Until any of us have done anything in a game worthwhile to be talking about, I think it is in our best interest to stick to ourselves and keep working to be, to do what’s best for our team.”

This situation was finally resolved, in one of the most intriguing stories on the team to date: Groh said Thursday that former All-ACC soccer player Yannick Reyering, in his first year playing the American brand of football, will get the nod at place kicker. The senior was allowed only three years of soccer eligibility by the NCAA because of time he spent with a semi-pro German soccer team before enrolling at Virginia; he therefore has one year of eligibility to play another sport.
An All-ACC select at forward, Reyering led the Virginia soccer team in goals all three years he was in the program. He beat out redshirt freshman Chris Hinkebein and walk-on freshman Robert Randolph for the kicking job.
“As [Reyering] explained it to me, kickoffs are like kicking a penalty kick,” Groh said. “He’s also said to us that you’ve got to make a lot of kicks in soccer when the other guys are running at you ... he’s been able to relate that circumstance to field goals.”

Defensive line
The Cavaliers must not only replace Long, but also the departed Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who transferred after off-field issues caused him to leave the program, and nose tackle Allen Billyk. Next in line at these spots are junior nose tackle Nate Collins, senior defensive end Alex Field and sophomore defensive end Sean Gottschalk.
So far in camp, this hasn’t changed. Collins returns with the most game experience, having made appearances in all 25 games in his career while making 48 tackles. Sean Gottschalk took a leave of absence for several days in mid-August, but it appears the missed time will not keep him out of the starting lineup. Gottschalk will likely line up on the right end, Field on the left.
Collins, meanwhile, is optimistic about this group, even saying he expects this line to match or exceed the production of last year’s defensive line.
“We’ve all been waiting for this time,” Collins said. “Everyone who’s in position right now, they’re ready to go.”

Offensive guards
With first-round NFL Draft choice Branden Albert and fellow graduated guard Ian-Yates Cunningham out of the picture, it will be senior Zak Stair and sophomore B.J. Cabbell who will fill in on the interior of the line, accompanied by returning starting tackles senior Eugene Monroe and junior Will Barker.
Groh knows the importance of his offensive line gelling not only to protect a young quarterback, but also to spring junior Mikell Simpson and senior Cedric Peerman in the running game.
“The way for us to build on our strengths and take advantage of our proven personnel is to be able to establish the run early in the season,” Groh said. “We’ve got the two runners to do it, so if we can open up some holes for them, that would make it a lot easier for the management of the game for the quarterbacks.”

From the beginning, Groh said true freshman Jimmy Howell had a shot at the starting job, and in camp he cemented that spot, winning the job over senior John Thornton and sophomore Nathan Rathjen. Howell is no average freshman punter in stature, standing 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds.
“We anticipated from the start that Jimmy would start on the top of that bracket, and so far he’s remained there,” Groh said. “He seems to be getting a little more comfortable and kicking a little better actually with each practice.”

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