Transcript from Al Groh's Weekly Press Conference
Virginia opens the 2009 football season at 6 p.m. Saturday against William and Mary. The game will not be televised but will be available online at ESPN360.com. UVa and William & Mary are meeting for the first time since 1995, a 40-16 UVa win. The Cavaliers hold a 26-5-1 edge in the all-time series, including a 20-3 advantage in Charlottesville.
Virginia head coach Al Groh held his first weekly press conference for the 2009 season on Monday morning. Here is the transcript:
Q. You’ve been doing this 40 years, is it still that same level of excitement? Are you glad to finally get to game week?
COACH GROH: It’s really the same every year, but if I was more excited 40 years ago than I am this week, then it must have been an awesome week. So we are very excited about the season and the challenges and the opportunities to achieve, and we certainly really well, we’re in it now. This is a week we can get started early.
So being involved in the research and the planning and then teaching the plan and correcting it, that’s the most fun part of the whole deal. So I think coaches, players, everybody is glad to be in there.
Q. You just touched on it a little bit but do you notice the players with training camp and preseason practice, they are champing at the bit?
COACH GROH: Very much, just the challenge of dealing it’s not so much just the hitting other people. It’s the challenge of preparing ourselves to go against other systems than what we have. And that’s really a big part of it is how you match your system on the other team’s system, how the individual player matches his skills on the player he’s going to play against. That’s what competition is and just figuring out a way to be successful collectively with that.
And that’s the exciting thing about the season, and for everything we deal with this week and then it starts all over again next Sunday with a new set of matchups, whether it’s scheme matchups or personal match ups.
Q. What’s your background with Jimmye Laycock?
COACH GROH: Similar generation, for one thing. Don’t always get a chance to say that here. Actually the last time we played one of Jimmye’s teams is back in the 80s when we were at Wake Forest, so it’s a tribute to his longevity there. You don’t stay one place as long and as successfully as Jimmye has without being an outstanding coach and his record is clearly a testament to that fact.
Q. In (assistant coach) Wayne (Lineburg), you have a when you have a situation, does a guy like Wayne, do you lean on him more for preparation and talk to him about tendencies and so forth?
COACH GROH: To certainly not do so would probably be negligent in terms of doing due diligence. I think that would be the same in any profession. If any of you were going to write a story about somebody that one of your colleagues had already written a story about him, you would at the very least read the story and also ask the person what it was like to interview that person. We simply do likewise in this profession.
Q. Is there a point in preseason where you assess what the team is capable of?
COACH GROH: Somewhere in the two to four game range, once the season starts, is usually when a coaching staff gets a real handle on who that particular team is.
You have a sense of that going into the season, but clearly, it takes competition, playing against other teams, but also teams are trying to exploit what they know about your system. You are trying to do some things that you think you can do. You find out whether or not the players involved can actually do them, so you’re exactly right. It is a little bit of a process and it takes a while to find out the identity of any particular team.
Q. When we spoke to Gregg Brandon, he indicated that you would make the decision on quarterback. He hoped that it was the same choice that he would make. When do you hope when do you plan to decide?
COACH GROH: Don’t necessarily have any timetable for it. 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.
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. About this team, what do you see that really excites you as a coach about this team? Is it the speed and versatility, depth? What kind of things really make you look forward to coaching this team this season?
COACH GROH: Really starting at the most important levels, the players have shown from the very start; that is, when we opened the gates on this raceway back during the winter, to really bond together with a strong sense of purpose, as a team and in doing so, have created the type of connections that’s needed that go beyond just being connected by winning. When players become connected by more than just winning, then you have a really united, solid team. That’s when they become connected by caring about each other and taking care of each other. We’ve really seen that grow here. That’s an important thing to do during training camp because it’s the one team of the year where literally we live together, we eat together, we meet together and we don’t really deal with too many people other than ourselves.
Now after last Monday I guess it was, all of a sudden we become separated and you have players going different directions, living different places and taking different classes and stuff. One of the things that’s been very important for us to continue the process of is making those connections even though we tend to go off in different directions for more time in the day. And I think they have been very cognizant of doing that and we have certainly seen more progress in that direction during the course of the year.
We have gone through some things that have tested us, not the way the season does, but as much as we can put in front of the team has tested our collective mind strength and resolve and energy in those areas and have responded nicely to those circumstances.
And just as you have to get physically in shape for the rigors of the season, those things that come up, so, too, does a team have to get mentally in shape for the challenges and we have got checks to come up during the course of the season. With our schemes, we have a roster that at least from the top of the roster whereas you cited, Jerry, we do have the opportunity to play with some versatility in our style and our scheme, in all three phases of the team.
And I guess another positive thing is that as we had hoped the second half would be inaudible will be the ability of some of these rookie players to contribute to the games early in the season.
Q. Inaudible. Have you seen positively in special teams do you have any more confidence in that phase of the team?
COACH GROH: We do. By the same token, Jay, in every area, coaching, playing, offense, defense, special teams, we haven’t done anything yet, okay. It’s all nice talk.
And have we done from our perspective the proper things to this point to position ourselves where maybe we can do something? We do feel confirmed about that. We had a good off season program. We have had a good camp. We have had good performances. We have had the players really clued in hard in these first three days of preparation. All of the right things are being done, but that hasn’t won any games yet.
So your jury, our jury, everybody’s jury is still out on those things until the results actually come in.
Q. You used to say when Mike (Groh), was our offensive coordinator that he didn’t necessarily think like you but he knew how you thought, I wonder what kind of relationship you’ve developed with Gregg (Brandon) and how much autonomy you’ll give him to run the offense as he sees fit.
COACH GROH: It’s our belief that the head coach is responsible for what happens to the football. Now, in some case, head coaches take care of that because they call all of the plays themselves. In some cases, the head coach simply monitors the plays and if something comes in that he doesn’t like, vetoes that and says, pick something else. Sometimes a coach doesn’t call the plays but makes some suggestions. Sometimes a coach just stands there with his arms folded and watches the game like everybody else in the stadium. But no matter how it goes, until the end result, the head coach is responsible for what happens to the ball. So from our perspective then, that defines how far autonomy goes.
Q. Having not seen William & Mary, what do they look like on film from last year and how much of that carries over to this year?
COACH GROH: Well, we’ve had a complete (film) exchange with William & Mary, so they have seen as much of us as we have of them. It’s one of the highest scoring teams last year that they had in Coach Laycock’s 30 year tenure.
One of the more eye catching things, and while their team, because of his expertise on offense has always been known as a very, very good offensive team, this is by their release last year, this is one of the they explain it as one of the better defensive teams that they have had. So we can only take by comparison the games against NC State and Richmond, which bookended their season, clearly evident we have a very high regard for the Richmond team; that game went into overtime. And we know the competition of NC State, and that was a very challenging game for NC State. So gives us a pretty good perspective at this point of the matchup.
Q. It seems earlier in your tenure you did not play many in-state teams, and I was impressed it had been so long since you last played William & Mary. What went into the decision to start playing so many of these teams again?
COACH GROH: The 12th game, when the NCAA made the 12th game a part of every season; whereas before it was based on some type of calendar formula, how many solar eclipses there were in a particular year or whatever. Just I couldn’t figure it out. I would wait until the administration said you had 11 games or 12 games to play. But the opening up of the 12th game on an annual basis gave us the opportunity to expand our schedule and in doing so, then we thought that the best thing for all parties concerned, our fans, the visiting fans, our players, was to schedule those games locally rather than with teams from a distance.
Q. Is there anything you like to promote for player bonding?
COACH GROH: There’s a lot of things we like to do with that. One is it does have to be promoted it doesn’t just occur naturally. That’s a long process. There’s a lot of different things involved in that. But amongst the things that we see within ourselves is that clearly every team that runs through the tunnel in every stadium that has the same color jerseys on and same helmets on, people in the stands identify as being a team; that there’s really quite a difference being a team and just a collection of players in the same colored jersey. And that’s the challenge every year and that’s when we say that every year, we have to put the team back together again, because the personalities change. Players leave your team, they graduate, they go on. Players come on to your team, players assume different roles, and so those connections and those bonds and those things that really create a team, it’s a very good statement, I’ll have to I don’t have it verbatim, but I have said it enough times, but a very good statement about a player by a player, Rich Schubert, who was an offensive guard on the Giants team that won the Super Bowl, and he’s saying that in his experience, and he’d been in the league for a while, that is it possible for a team to achieve the high level without having those really strong type of connections, and then part of his statement, he went on to say, it’s not necessary that every player necessarily that every player like every player in the locker room, but that you don’t hold any grudges, you put aside your differences and for those players that you really love, that you play your heart out. That’s what creates a team.
When players at the highest level recognize it’s not just about collecting talent and that’s clearly where the mark has been missed, you see certain circumstances in the NFL, people who have owned team who maybe were not career football people, thought that they could have best record by buying all the best players. But those players just all wore the same jersey. They never became one team.
Q. You said in the past that you were excited to get Torrey Mack out on the field, can you just talk about what he does that Cavalier fans can look forward to with this player?
COACH GROH: He makes them miss. That’s what he does.
Q. I’m sure it’s not in your best interests to tell William and Mary how you’re going to use the fullback, but you’ve got a fullback listed on the depth chart; does this offense have are there occasions where you’ll have two running backs?
COACH GROH: There’s a lot of occasions. A lot of occasions. His mother (Rashawn Jackson) asked us to make sure we listed a fullback because he’s a fifth year player. Yeah, there’s a lot of occasions.
Q. You mentioned on a teleconference recently that a lot of these first year guys might play, do you feel there are some guys that will play later in the season but perhaps not Saturday, or are there ones that will play now?
COACH GROH: It’s in both categories. There are those players that we think will have a chance to be pretty good contributors on Saturday. There are those players, and they are maybe not quite at that level yet but we see them fairly soon doing that and part of the development process is just to get in the games.
There are some other players that we think that we can see that if their development continues, that at a certain point later in the year may potentially move into that circumstance.
So those players continue to get quite a bit of attention, whether it’s in meetings, individual sessions with the coaches, to make sure that while they are not in the game mix right now, they are progressing mentally with the systems and applying that in practice so that either they can if no circumstances come up that they need to be used as a replacement, when they are ready to contribute, we just have more contributing players on the roster, or as often is the case, we lose players during the course of the year, and that’s where the development of those players is so important that if they are ready to step in, then the loss of any particular player at a certain point is less painful or really one of the better examples of that was in just our second year here with Brad Butler who did not play in probably the first seven or eight games and started the last three, which included the Bowl game in Charlotte, and he just kept coming on and kept coming on and kept coming on. And actually there was a circumstance where we had to move one player to fill in a vacant spot and we were able to put Brad in there and put him in another spot.
So a series of events came up that made his participation necessary and valuable for us and had we backed off just thoroughly in the year saying, no, he’s not in the mix right now, his development probably wouldn’t have put him in that position at that time.
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. First game of the season, you don’t have games to turn back to study an opponent, at least for the last couple of weeks, but when you go against a guy like RJ Archer, not necessarily a quarterback, how far does it detract from preparing for somebody like that to get a feel for what you have to do?
COACH GROH: Well, it’s certainly not the same as if he had two seasons or three seasons as a starter. But being a local player, we know a lot more about him than if he was from Detroit, just athletically. He did start one game last year, and played a good amount of time in some other games.
We have had a chance to watch some of the games that he played in previous years as a wide receiver, and we also respect the fact that we have a pretty good quarterback here in 2005 and 2006 that played wide receiver the previous two seasons. So we have had a precedent as to what a player as I recall, Marques (Hagans) first game as a quarterback after two years as a wide receiver, I think we won 51 7 or something like that.
So we have a very high appreciation of how a guy can step in and do very well, especially when he’s a veteran player.
Q. I see that at left tackle, (Oday) Aboushi, he’s 17. Does he have a role of special teams at all, or is he a true freshman on special teams?
COACH GROH: He is a backup. He is not at a primary position.
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. William & Mary has a handful of local kids on the team, any of those kids that you had looked at?
COACH GROH: We are familiar with a lot of their players. One of the things that we try to make we make sure that every coach in whatever geographical area that he’s responsible for knows about every player in his area.
So any of these players that are from the State of Virginia or any of the other areas that we recruit to varying degrees, most of them we have some awareness of.
Q. You have not said a whole lot about RJ Archer, but is your memory good enough to remember what he looked like?
COACH GROH: I couldn’t find my car keys this morning. (Laughter).
But we do have 37 passes that he threw against Villanova, so that helped me compensate for that lapse in memory.
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. You don’t have a lot of proven wide receivers, but you’ve got a lot of wide receivers going into camp. Matt Snyder was a nice story, looks like he’s probably going to start this week; what kind of camp has he had?
COACH GROH: Excellent. Progressed thoroughly all the way through. Game continues to grow. Will be, we anticipate, one of our leading special teams players in a way that players like Matt, Patch Duda, some of those kids have bought into their role on special teams, has really filtered through the entire team. And there’s a lot of players that perk up and are really interested in watching those players in special teams because they are going to do some outstanding things.
Q. Have you thought about your role during the game (as the defensive coordinator)?
COACH GROH: We have operated the same way here for last three years, so that’s one part of things I don’t have to redefine. It will be exactly the same for me as it has been ever since that game. Just means I keep flicking that button on that headset a lot to go back and forth.
Q. As somebody experienced in pro style offenses for quite a long time, how comfortable are you with the spread and what kind of things does it do that maybe are new, novel, just a different way of approaching things?
COACH GROH: What we have always been interested in, one, offensively, is making the ball move. Whatever system best fit the players that we had, that’s what we have always been interested in. So we are really not a run oriented operation. We are not a pass oriented operation. We haven’t thought of being the pro style or open offense. We just want to move the ball the best way we can with the players that we have. So when the ball moves, we are comfortable. And when it doesn’t, we are less comfortable.
So we are very comfortable with what we are doing. And we chose it. It’s like, do I like this suit? Sure, because I bought it.
Q. Your wife probably bought it.
COACH GROH: No, I picked this one out. And it’s the same thing with the offense; I bought it. I picked it out. But I’m very comfortable with it.
Q. She picked that today.
COACH GROH: No, she’s out of town. Probably matches, too, doesn’t it. (Laughter) And the color of blue is basically the same blue as the tie. Doesn’t mean I know how to call plays but I could pick my tie out. (Laughter).
Q. Going over to the defensive side of the ball, a lot of people have been wondering about the new linebackers, what are the things you like out of those guys and how comfortable are you going into the season with them?
COACH GROH: The two inside players, Darren Childs and Steven Greer have been a real pleasure to work with. Both have been really purposeful. Darren has been fun to watch. He certainly has probably exceeded his expectations. He’s done a really nice job in camp. He’s on top of his stuff. His techniques, his diligence, the practices, his attention to detail, his techniques have jumped up immeasurably. In terms of just how he’s supposed to hit on the play, he’s say very reliable player.
Steven has gone about it and certainly we saw evidence of him being a Jon Copper style type person, as well as player, during the recruiting process, and he certainly took every advantage of being a model in how Jon went about preparing for practice, made the call, all those things.
Again, this is another one of those, nothing has been done yet in the game but all of the things have been done in practice of a very positive nature.
Denzel (Burrell) and Aaron (Clark) have a background in the system. Clearly that Denzel profited from playing in the majority of 12 games last year. And Cameron Johnson has come on well here during the latter part of camp. We can see that this game clearly makes sense to him. And it’s just a question of getting him continued exposure in that when he with put him at outside line backer last year, which we knew ever since he committed where he was going to end up but when we officially said here is where you go for drills, that was the first day he was ever an outside line backer. So he really started his college career from scratch. We are really pleased with where that’s going.
Q. Not to take anything away from William & Mary, they are not USC, and you opened up against them (USC) last year, a different type of team. What are the advantages and disadvantages of starting the season against William & Mary?
COACH GROH: Well, the disadvantage is we are starting the season against USC, apparent to almost everybody who plays them, ask Ohio State how they felt last year. Outside of that we don’t see a disadvantage. We are not looking at it that way. We are just trying to figure out what it takes to play the best we can against the team that we are playing.
Q. Going off of that, maybe a team with the caliber of national notoriety of USC, but do you see the same energy level going into the season opener last year?
COACH GROH: The last three days we have been in our game preparation, we are well pleased with how the players have approached it. We have a lot we want to get done this season and it’s going to take a long time to get that done. We have four or five more days to get ready for it, but where we are here on Monday is in a good place. We’ve still got quite a bit more to do. It’s fortunate for us that we don’t play at 6 o’clock tomorrow night. But we are in a good place to where we need to be during this week right now.
Q. Following up on the special teams question earlier, you lost a couple kicks in spring game and open practice, has that continued during camp getting a chance to block kicks and can you only use a certain way to block a kick once or can you try things over and over?
COACH GROH: A lot of it has to do with the technique of the individual player, not with the scheme and so it’s really built more on that than some magical schemes or Star Wars looking stuff. That’s where we are enthused about the progress we are made because of the buy in of some of the players, and the reinforcement that they have gotten from other players who are not necessarily participants on that. For example, offensive and defensive linemen who participate on a lot less than some other players who have the opportunity to have been very encouraging and supportive of their teammates who have the opportunity on one play to make a play that can dramatically impact the outcome of the game. And so there’s a good collective realization of that and a good level of support for those players who have those very important roles.
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.
Q. To clarify that list means kick returners and punt returners?
COACH GROH: I wrote a whole bunch of names down there. They are all in the mix as kickoff run guys. Vic is the punt returner. You don’t need to know the other names, it’s going to be Vic. (Laughter) he probably wants a few other jobs, too, if we let him have them.
Q. Speaking of kicking, how are your place kickers doing? Have they got to the point to where you’re comfortable with them?
COACH GROH: More so, yes. This is a circumstance that we certainly do go into the first game with a heightened expectation of success than we had a year ago. I would love to see exactly what that brings but we have done quite a bit every day of live, competitive kicking.
So as much as any unit that we have offense, defense, goal line offense, goal line defense, dime defense, kickoff return, whatever it might be, those two units have taken more live playing than any other unit, so we have a pretty good feel for it. They just don’t get stage fright, which is clearly something that happens to some kickers.
But the only element that will change then will be that there are more people watching. The goal post is the same. The rush is going to be strong. The snapper is the same guy. The holder is the same guy. So all of them have done a nice job during camp.
Q. Just to follow on that, is that similar to the way you would treat a quarterback, like if he doesn’t look on the first kick, you go to the next kicker; is it similar?
COACH GROH: No. I think every situation is a unique one in itself.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. That will wrap it up today.
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