By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Of Al Groh‘s assistants at UVa, secondary coach Anthony Poindexter might be the most animated during practice. But Latrell Scott isn’t far behind.
Scott, 34, is in his first year as Virginia’s wide receivers coach. During drills, he can be heard exhorting his charges to make cleaner breaks, run sharper routes and work harder after the catch.
“He’s not going to settle for mediocrity,” sophomore wideout Kris Burd said after practice today.
Scott, a former Hampton University tight end, coached at Fork Union Military Academy, Western Carolina University, Virginia Military Institute, the University of Richmond and Tennessee before coming to U.Va. this year.
“He definitely brings out the best in everybody,” Burd said. “He prides himself on toughness, and I feel like our group is getting tougher every day.”
In addition to Burd, Scott’s options at receiver include Jared Green, Javaris Brown, Matt Snyder, Dontrelle Inman, Staton Jobe, Raynard Horne, Riko Smalls and true freshmen Tim Smith and Quintin Hunter.
Injuries have limited Burd’s and Inman’s work in training camp thus far, but Burd said he expects to be cleared soon.
Horne played tailback at UVa before switching to wideout before the start of spring drills. The 6-0, 215-pound junior, one of the team’s most explosive athletes, teamed with quarterback Marc Verica on a 21-yard touchdown pass in the April 18 spring game at Scott Stadium.
“It helped my confidence a lot,” Horne said. “It let me know I could do the job and help the team win.”
Of his move to wideout, Horne said the “hardest adjustment so far is running routes, because you’ve been catching passes your whole life, but when you play against good corners like ours, it’s hard to just jump out and run routes. But I’ve been working hard with the coach, and the other receivers have been teaching me.”
Horne made seven tackles on kickoffs and six on punts in 2008. After the season, he received the George Welsh Special Teams Award for his prowess.
“Special teams is fun,” Horne said. “That’s what I tell all the young guys. Getting on special teams is the easiest way to get on the field.”
On his teleconference this morning, Groh was asked about the possibility of academic casualties. To stay eligible, several players needed to do well in summer school, which ended late last week.
“While I have not had put on my desk the official grade report,” Groh said, “every indication that we’ve gotten unofficially is that we did quite well.”
Today’s practice, the fourth of training camp, was the first one that fans weren’t allowed to attend. A special-teams drill Saturday proved to be a crowd favorite.
At one of the field were Virginia’s new special-teams coordinator, Ron Prince, and four punt-returners: Javaris Brown, Vic Hall, Javanti Sparrow and Tim Smith. The four took turns fielding punts, but with a twist: Prince told the return man to wait with a football in hand for the incoming punt.
As that ball approached the return man, he was supposed to toss into the air the ball he’d been holding, catch the punt and then gather in the second ball before it hit the ground.
Not surprisingly, this proved challenging. But when Hall pulled it off in spectacular fashion, Groh cheered and then turned to the fans, who responded in kind.
Tight ends have been featured in UVa’s offense throughout Groh’s tenure as head coach. Might that change in the spread attack that new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon has installed?
“Actually,” Groh said, “the role in which we have used those players has changed periodically … based on the skills of the player.
“So some of things that we did with Heath [Miller] were a little bit different than what we did with Tom Santi. What we did with John Phillips was kind of a combination of what we did with the two of them. So whatever we’re doing with them right now probably isn’t dramatically different than what we have done with them at one time or another during the previous eight years, but clearly there will be a higher percentage of open formations.”
UVa’s roster includes three Canadians: sophomore Austin Pasztor and true freshmen Hunter Steward and Brent Urban.
Pasztor, however, played for FUMA’s postgraduate team in 2007, and Steward starred for Kellam High in Virginia Beach last year. Urban, a 6-7, 280-pound defensive end, came directly to UVa from Mississauga, Ontario, where he did not face great competition.
Still, Groh said, Urban appears to be “probably somewhat further developed than we might have expected. As we all realize, football’s not the national sport of Canada. So while he certainly looks like a football player, maybe many of the people of that population, had they lived in America, would have been playing football, but they were off playing hockey and lacrosse and things like that.”
In the videos the UVa staff saw of Urban in high school, the opponents “tended to include quite a few smaller players,” Groh said, “and [in college] he’s going against, obviously, players that look like him … But he’s very athletic. He was a hockey and lacrosse player besides football, and so that part especially stands out.”
Eugene Monroe‘s replacement at left offensive tackle, sophomore Landon Bradley, continues to impress.
“Landon learns very well. What [offensive line coach Dave Borbely] teaches him in the meeting shows up [at the next] practice,” Groh said. “That’s a talent certain players have: the capacity to take input, whether it’s initial direction, constructive criticism, reinforcement, and to use that to progress their game.”
Don’t expect Groh to name his starting placekicker anytime soon. The candidates are sophomores Robert Randolph and Chris Hinkebein and true freshman Drew Jarrett.
Groh has been pleased with the kickoffs so far, but he said it’s likely that “this placement work is going to be a full camp project to find out just where we are and who we’re going to do it with.”