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Groh has his choice of ‘backers

Story by Chris Graham

Listen to “The SportsDominion Show” to hear Virginia football coach Al Groh talk about his linebacker play. Show Length: 4:53.

algroh2.gifAl Groh does everything by the book. I can only imagine that the Groh book makes War and Peace look like Dr. Seuss.

I digress.

Groh has a number of holes to fill in his 2008 roster. One of those is at linebacker, where starters Clint Sintim, Jon Copper and Antonio Appleby return, but Jermaine Dias is moving on to a shot at the NFL.

Going by the Groh book, Denzel Burrell (6-4, 224, second year) and Aaron Clark (6-5, 254, third year) will get the first shot at Dias’ old outside-linebacker job.

“We start at all these spots, as we told the players, whoever played the most, or whoever was slated to play the most, in the last game of the season, then clearly there was a reason for that, so those players get a chance to start on the top. And once they get at that position for the first play in spring practice, then from that point on, every play and every position is competitive. So on that basis, the two most veteran players, Aaron Clark and Denzel Burrell, started over there in Jermaine’s spot,” Groh said today.

But Groh emphasized that Burrell and Clark are just the leaders on the course right now. They’re a long way from the clubhouse. And Groh said he plans to get his ‘backers – including Burrell, Clark, John-Kevin Dolce (6-2, 230, redshirt first year), Jared Detrick (6-1, 215, first year) and Aaron Taliaferro (6-2, 215, first year) plenty of work at both outside positions this spring and again in August.

“At any of these flip-flop positions like safety and outside linebacker, we just want to play left and right as opposed to strong or weak or closed or open, so any of the different formulas that can be used to designate the players – because just by putting them on left and right, eventually they end up playing on the open side, the closed side, the strong side, the weak side, the wide side, the closed side. It gives them much better exposure to all the jobs, and then we can rank them one, two, three, four, five, so that we always get the best prepared player in the game, as opposed to your strong-side linebacker is out, and your next-best player is a weak-side linebacker, but you can’t play him, because he doesn’t know strong,” Groh said.

It won’t hurt any of the young men vying for the job to have the likes of Sintim, Copper and Appleby to guide them through the process.

“It’s not really so much veteran leadership as veteran models,” Groh said. “Those three players are very experienced players, and they provide a very good model as to how to work, how to prepare, how to do the drill right, how to fit on this particular play. If those players never saw themselves on tape, but they just watched the veteran players, they’d probably have a pretty clear picture as to how to play it.”

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.

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