By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Steve Greer started every game last season and led UVa’s football team with 92 tackles.
Aaron Taliaferro? He appeared in the Cavaliers’ first two games, then didn’t play again in 2009. He was in for six snaps, five of which came in the opener.
Yet Taliaferro has spent more time with the first team at middle linebacker than Greer through the first three practices of training camp this month.
“We call him Lazarus, because he kind of rose from the dead,” defensive coordinator Jim Reid said of Taliaferro, a 6-2, 225-pound redshirt junior from Gloucester.
It’s not that Greer lost his job, if only temporarily, because of poor play. His misfortune was Taliaferro’s gain. Greer, a redshirt sophomore from Solon, Ohio, missed most of spring practice with a severe sprain of his left ankle.
That created an opportunity for Taliaferro, who was an afterthought in Al Groh’s final season as UVa’s head coach. Groh’s successor, Mike London, hired Reid to install the 4-3 — Groh favored the 3-4 — and, while Greer watched, Taliaferro got extra work in the new defense during spring practice. Taliaferro received a Rock Weir Award as one of the Wahoos’ most improved players.
“Aaron played great,” Reid said.
And that’s good for the team, Greer said after practice Sunday evening. He wants to win his starting job back, of course, but he’s not complaining about his position on the depth chart.
“You want all the guys around you to play really well,” Greer said, “so I think it’s a really good thing that A.T. is playing pretty well right now.”
Greer, fully recovered from his high-ankle sprain, said it “feels good just to finally be able to get back out there. I watched a lot of film, but there are a couple formation things and stuff like that that you have to see on the field to really be able to get it done. So I’m getting there fast.”
After playing such a prominent part on UVa’s defense in 2009, Greer didn’t adjust easily to the role of spectactor in the spring.
“It was frustrating, because spring ball is a time to learn everything and pick it up,” Greer said. “So it was hard, but I just focused on getting healthy.”
At 228 pounds, the 6-2 Greer is a little lighter than he was last season. The 4-3 emphasizes speed over size, and he moves better at a lower weight.
Greer, who was one of two starting inside linebackers in the 3-4, picked up that scheme quickly after enrolling at UVa — in part because, like Jon Copper before him, he studies video religiously. But he played in the 4-3 at Solon High School and feels comfortable in that defense, too.
The biggest difference in the 4-3?
“Just more running,” Greer said. “Besides that, there’s not a lot of changes. More running and more attacking.”
Before practice Sunday, London was asked how far behind Greer had fallen coming out of spring drills.
“The biggest thing when you hurt your ankle is, it cuts your ability to condition and to run and do some linebacker drills that are important,” London said. “But I think from the mental standpoint, Steve is such a student of the game, as far as formations, tendencies, any kind of clues that may be given by the running backs or the quarterbacks.
“So he’s a very, very smart player, and it’s only a matter of time before the conditioning part catches up to his mental part, and he’ll be a significant contributor, I’m sure.”
CAUTIOUS APPROACH: Senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling, an All-America candidate, went down with severe cramps Friday in the first practice of training camp and didn’t participate Saturday.
Dowling was back at practice Sunday, on a limited basis.
“Yeah, he’ll be all right. Just precautionary measures,” London said before practice. “He’ll be out there today, doing a little bit of stuff, and then when he’s ready to go 100 percent, he’ll be out there.”
UVa’s fourth and fifth practices are the final ones open to the public this summer. No. 4 starts at 3:45 p.m. Monday; No. 5, at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday.
MAKING THE GRADE: London said it appears that tailback Keith Payne “is going to be all right academically, so he’ll be in the mix.”
Running backs coach Mike Faragalli has many options from which to choose. Working at tailback are fifth-year seniors Payne and Raynard Horne, sophomores Torrey Mack and Perry Jones, redshirt freshman Dominique Wallace and true freshmen Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd.
THE FEW, THE PROUD … Wide receivers coach Shawn Moore’s situations differs from that of Faragalli.
“I don’t have a lot of bodies,” Moore said. “I think that’s the only unfortunate part of this training camp. I got nine receivers, and you really need more than that in training camp.
“Having nine, you really gotta be careful with them. And although we’re [practicing only once a day], you just gotta be careful with the heat and the number of reps they take.
“But they’re sharp. They’re picked up on everything. I’m throwing a lot at them right now, and they’re doing a good job. Everybody’s doing well.”
Junior Kris Burd, sophomore Tim Smith and senior Dontrelle Inman have been particularly impressive so far.
VISITORS: London’s guests at practice Sunday included his brother Paul, a former UVa defensive back, and John Shuman, postgraduate coach at Fork Union Military Academy.
Four former FUMA standouts are UVa’s 2010 roster: long-snapper Danny Aiken, offensive guard Austin Pasztor, offensive tackle Morgan Moses and center Cody Wallace.
Also at practice was Doug Rhoads, the ACC’s coordinator of football officials. Rhoads met with the coaching staff Sunday and later, after dinner, addressed the players about new rules and points of emphasis for the coming season.
Rhoads said he planned to focus, with the help of video, on what will be considered unsportsmanlike conduct this fall.
Spotted in the crowd Sunday was Matt Groh, the younger of Al Groh’s two sons. UVa dismissed the elder Groh after the 2009 season, and he’s now defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Near the end of practice, the veterans went to the far field to run sprints — known as “gassers” — while the first-year players gathered on the field closest to the McCue Center for additional work with their position coaches.
Racing the players during gassers were, in the end zone, some of London’s children and strength-and-conditioning coach Brandon Hourigan’s son.