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Groh: Hall will start … at punt returner

Still no word on who Virginia will be starting at quarterback Saturday in the season opener at home against William & Mary. But we do now know that Vic Hall will be returning punts.

“That’s one thing we know for sure, that we will have Vic back there returning,” UVa. coach Al Groh told reporters on Monday.

I have to think that this means Hall, a fifth-year senior, isn’t in the mix for anything more than a few snaps in a Wildcat-type look on offense. There’s no way a coach is going to subject his #1 quarterback to the trainwreck-on-steroids that is returning punts in major college football.

Which isn’t to say that Hall isn’t still a factor on offense. My assumption is that fourth-year Jameel Sewell, who led the Cavs to nine wins and a Gator Bowl appearance in 2007 before missing 2008 due to academic issues, will be the #1 guy, and that Hall will be in there for 10-15 plays a game as a Wildcat running back and slot receiver taking direct snaps, running reverses and throwing the ball.

That leaves 2008 starter Marc Verica as a #2 option. I can’t see Verica taking snaps away from Sewell unless Sewell goes down to injury.

Groh, for his part, is playing it coy, as he did heading into last season.
“Don’t necessarily have any timetable for it,” he answered a reporter’s question. “Whenever seems appropriate. Whenever the moment is right. Whenever the scales tip in one direction or the other. Probably don’t feel any great urgency to do so because if we only had one of the three participating, we would feel very good whichever one it was. With three of them we feel very comfortable with the flexibility and the versatility that we have.”


More from Groh’s press conference on the QB situation:

Q. Do the players say anything to you about the quarterback battle? Do you listen to them or seek them out, or does it work out and you just know and you know eventually?
COACH GROH: In certain circumstances it can serve a team well to get the insight of the players. Sometimes you just get that without asking. You get it through their response. You get it through their body language.
The strong impression that the staff has is that the players are very comfortable with all three individuals at that position.

Q. Do you like having a situation where you have played two quarterbacks or two quarterbacks will contribute, or would you prefer the continuity of just one person, one quarterback, that separated it?
COACH GROH: I will say that the only way that we would platoon either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning is if they were both on the same team. If we had each one of those players clearly we would be aiming for them to play the whole game, because they stand out so superior to the other players in the world at that position.
But what we do have, a fairly equal set of skills and ability, the important thing as we saw as we’ve seen every year here, and we are like every other team on every level of football, that the play at that position is so integral to the final result, we said this two or three weeks ago when we had the press conference here and I’ve said it on a number of occasions; that these are not the only three things that a team needs to be successful, but they are three of the things that every team that is successful has in common: Good quarterback play, good kicker, good defense. If all three of those things are present on a team, that team is going to have a very positive season. If one of the three is missing, it’s going to be more challenging and probably the result won’t be as high as what the expertise of the other two indicated. There’s a reason why quarterback is on the top of that pyramid, because of the control that is has over the course of the game.
So we will do whatever it takes to get that level of performance in any particular game, play one, play two, play three, play one every other play, just whatever it takes at that position to play well enough, okay.
Take the same attitude kind of like a pitcher in baseball. However many pitchers we have got to use to keep the other team’s runs down so we can win the game, that’s however many we are going to use. If the starter can go all the way and win, then he’s going to do that. Now if he needs a little relief, then we are going to do that, too.

Q. You won’t know until you play an actual game, but what does Marc (Verica) do? Do you feel better about Marc’s ability to avoid some of the mistakes that were issues last season?
COACH GROH: Yes, but I’ll put the but on it, because those mistakes seldom ever showed up last year in practice, either. We would sometimes throw a lot of passes in a row where the ball never hit the ground.
But it’s the same thing with Jameel (Sewell) and Vic (Hall), haven’t seen either one of those players throw a pass in competition for a long time, either. So I’m sure there are a lot of players who are anxious to see how all of these players do when they play, and we are equally anxious to see. We realize that maybe we have watched them in practice for now 40 practices. But still, the greatest reading comes on in the game. So as important as it is to our team and everything the coaches and players have invested in this, we are all looking forward to seeing what the results bring. It will probably take us a few games to either confirm what we see initially or maybe change what we see initially.

Q. Do you know who will be out there starting?
COACH GROH: No, not necessarily.

Q. And back on Media Day, you were saying that coaches evaluate the quarterbacks and they are progressing; how have they progressed and what percentage will you be operating at as of week one?

COACH GROH: Where is Karnack when I need him? If I knew what level of efficiency that we would operate on here right now, probably go to the movies this afternoon. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know. We are just coaching. We just try to do everything we can to get the players prepared, and do the best that we can in that area and go to the game and see how it goes and adjust as we go along.
We don’t know.

Q. If you could get one quarterback ready or all three quarterbacks ready, how challenging was it during camp to get all three guys ready as if they were going to be the starting guy?
COACH GROH: Well, it certainly does provide a challenge for you. The other side of the coin is that try to see it the other way, if one player is so superior that he gets all of the snaps, that’s a great thing. Would we like to have Manning or Brady or one of those guys in that job? Sure.
By the same token that means when the circumstance comes up, as we experienced once before, okay, we will get ready to play. Whatever season that was, Matt (Schaub) gets hurt on the ninth play or sixth play of the game we don’t have him in the next game. He was the ACC Player the Year before, we don’t need to get anybody else ready. Matt gets hurt in the next game and we don’t have anybody who is competently ready to game because Matt was ready for a superior season and was ready for that level of competition but he got all of the snaps and was to his advantage. It just wasn’t to the advantage of how we went into the second game.
Now we have these snaps being shared. Surely it would be better if one of the players for him had got one of those snaps and it went to somebody else but maybe as the season goes on it wouldn’t be as good for the team overall. Those are all what ifs and we’ll just have to see how the reality plays out.

Q. Can you just talk from a leadership standpoint, Vic (Hall) well respected by the team, Jameel (Sewell) well respected by the team and Marc (Verica) started several games last season, whichever one you choose, probably an interesting dynamic there just in terms of having all of that leadership.
COACH GROH: You’re correct, and that’s why I answered the question earlier in the session about in this particular case, the players are very comfortable, whether they are offensive players, defensive players. Players are comfortable with all three players at quarterback.

Q. Who will be returning punts?
COACH GROH: That’s one thing we know for sure, that we will have Vic (Hall) back there returning.
Q. What are risks involved and what goes into the thinking of using your quarterback as a punt returner? You don’t see it very often. Did Marques (Hagans) return punts when he was a quarterback?
COACH GROH: I don’t recall that he did. Vic is our best punt returner. That’s all that at issue. We have a chance to score on that play, and we’ll put our guy back there who gives us the best chance to do that. We want to handle the ball cleanly; to do otherwise we jeopardize our chance to win. Every time a ball is punted to us, the game is on the line and so we are going to have the best player back there that we have available to us at this time.


– Column by Chris Graham

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