By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Junior Keith Payne continues to move up the depth chart at tailback, in part because he’s been healthy during training camp, but mainly because he’s grown as a football player.

The 6-3, 245-pound Payne has “really developed his game,” Al Groh said today, and the former Oakton High star is in the best shape of his college career.

“Some guys really buy into it heavily, and some guys it takes them a while to figure out that it’s to their advantage to be that way,” Groh said. “Keith is a big player to start with, so it probably wouldn’t be fair to say that he was in bad shape, but he wasn’t in the type of superior shape that a back needs to be just to go and go and go and go.

“He certainly trained hard during the offseason, and [strength coach Brandon Hourigan] did a great job with him, in particular, and it’s made a big difference.”

Payne has appeared in 17 games for UVa, rushing 63 times for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He’s caught six passes for 46 yards.

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A knee injury kept Kris Burd from practicing until recently, but the sophomore wide receiver has quickly worked back into the rotation.

Burd is “very glad to be there,” Groh said, “and he made a couple plays today that reminded me of the skills and the versatility that Kris brings to the offense.”

In 2008, Burd caught seven passes for 75 yards.

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On his teleconference with reporters this afternoon, Groh didn’t name names when asked if any of the Cavaliers’ true freshmen would play this season. But he made it clear that he won’t redshirt the entire class.

“There’s a pretty good size list that I would anticipate are going to help us this year,” Groh said. “At least at this stage, with two weeks to go [before the Sept. 5 opener], they’re showing that they certainly could solidly put themselves in the mix.”

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In the 1980s, Groh spent six seasons as coach at Wake Forest, where he compiled a 26-40 record. This is his ninth season at UVa, where his record is 56-44.

If you’d told him in, say, 1975 that he’d one day be entering his 15th season as an ACC head coach, Groh said, “I probably would have said I would consider myself lucky to have been able to do that for one year.

“Honestly, I do consider myself very lucky. I’m just an average guy who likes football, everything about it, and is committed to doing that, and things have gone my way, things have worked out nicely.

“I’m very appreciative of those things, and I consider myself to be a very lucky guy.”

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Guests at practice today included Chris Slade, who recently was hired as the sideline reporter for radio broadcasts of UVa football games.

Slade was an All-America defensive end for the ‘Hoos, and he discussed pass-rushing techniques with some of the players after practice.

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At St. Anthony’s High on Long Island, N.Y., Max Pomper was a year ahead of John-Kevin Dolce. They both ended up at UVa, where Pomper became a starting defensive midfielder on the lacrosse team.

“We were real good friends, and we still are,” said Dolce, a redshirt junior nose tackle on the football team.

In high school, Pomper played football, and he “was an awesome safety,” Dolce said.

Dolce, however, rarely picked up a lacrosse stick. “Just messing around, but never to actually go on the field with,” he said, laughing.

Pomper, who took a medical redshirt in 2006, is expected to play for the Cavaliers as a graduate student next season.

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As a redshirt freshman last season, Corey Mosley started UVa’s final nine games at safety. He played well overall, but Mosley, not surprisingly, would like to have had a few plays back.

They included a long run by Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who capitalized on a poor pursuit angle by Mosley in the third quarter.

“Yeah, I got caught,” Mosley said, “but it won’t happen again. I can just tell you, it won’t happen again. For the whole defensive side, it won’t happen again. Not just for Tech, but all 12 games.”

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Senior Darren Childs has replaced redshirt freshman Billy Schautz at linebacker in Virginia’s nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six DBs) packages.

“He’s having a real nice camp,” Groh said of Childs, who starts at inside linebacker in UVa’s base defense. “I think maybe he’s surprised himself.”

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In 2008, Vic Hall didn’t begin working at quarterback until the week of the Virginia Tech game, which he started at that position. That, however, was an unusual situation, Groh said yesterday.

In general, Groh said, “most everything that we’re going to do during the season” is introduced during training camp.

“Our experience with what we call these ‘one-week specials’ is that the team never builds up enough accumulated repetitions on it to deal with all the variables that might come up,” Groh said. “You know, when you put something in for a particular game, you only get to run it a few times. So as long as the defense or the offense that you ran it against in practice shows up, you’re OK. But if one of a myriad of other things comes up, your players are as confused as the opponent.

“There will be a lot of things that we install during camp that for a number of reasons don’t get used early, but they are things that the players will have a background in, and in that case we’re comfortable with pulling those things out at a particular time.”

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In new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon‘s system, the linemen set up farther from each other than in a pro-style attack.

“Before, in the old offense, it was at most two feet, maybe one and a half,” right tackle Will Barker said.

And now?

“It can anywhere from two feet to five feet,” said Barker, a four-year starter. “For me personally, it’s whatever I want to do to try to screw with the defense.”

With the wider splits, right guard B.J. Cabbell said, it’s “a scary feeling at first, because you’re on an island by yourself.”

Apprised of Cabbell’s comment, Barker said, “Being a tackle, I’m kind of on an island a lot, so for me it’s not really an issue. But the rest of the guys, obviously, are handling it pretty well in terms of getting used to it, getting comfortable with it.”

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Groh, who’s been the Cavaliers’ de factor defensive coordinator in recent seasons, added the actual title this year. Virginia’s new linebackers coach, Bob Trott, is a former defensive coordinator at five schools — Arkansas, Clemson, Duke, Baylor and Louisiana-Monroe — and he’s been a valuable resource for Groh.

Trott’s experience as a coordinator is “beneficial,” Groh said, “because he understands the administrative aspects that are necessary for that position. But the best experience that Bobby brings is experience in our systems. He was part of our operation with the Giants, with the Patriots and then, when he was in Cleveland, with Romeo Crennel. Romeo and I were together with the Giants, the Jets and the Patriots.

“So [Trott has] got a real good background in how this defensive system functions, and how we set up our meetings. Just all the things that go with it.”

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Until classes start, a team in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision may not have more than 105 players at practice.

A spot opened on UVa’s roster recently after Matt Kelly suffered a season-ending knee injury, and it’s been filled by Billy Skrobacz, a 5-11, 215-pound linebacker from Deep Run High in western Henrico County. That’s the same school that brothers Jake and Matt Snyder attended.

Jake, a first-year defensive end, is likely to redshirt for the Cavaliers this season. Matt, a sophomore, is contending for a starting spot at wide receiver.

Skrobacz made the all-Colonial District first team and the all-Central Region second team last season. He also was named to the Colonial’s all-academic team.


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