Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Where to begin with this group? How about at the top, since that's where it all starts anyway? Some think Al Groh is on the hot seat, and believe a second straight losing season could -- or even should -- cost him his job. I beg to differ. Groh's contract isn't up until Dec. 31, 2011. If Virginia makes it to a bowl, considering how much turnover there was in both staff and personnel this offseason, it should be considered a heck of a coaching job in a transition year. If Virginia doesn't make it to a bowl game, how many people will really flinch?
The best thing this team has going for it is some experience at quarterback, which wasn't an option last year. Vic Hall, formerly a cornerback, enters summer camp as the first-string quarterback, but will continue to be pushed by 2007 starter Jameel Sewell and 2008 starter Marc Verica. There are definitely worse scenarios. And all of them will be working behind an offensive line that returns four starters -- another strength that was a concern a year ago.
There haven't been anything but positive reviews on the hire of first-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon, but only time will tell how long it will take the players to adjust to the spread offense. Only five starters return on offense and six on defense. The positions that took the biggest hits were receiver and linebacker, where both groups must replace three starters from a year ago. Let's get to that now:
1. Who will catch the ball? The three leading receivers from 2008 -- Maurice Covington, Cary Koch and Kevin Ogletree -- were ranked 1-4-5 in receptions last year and combined for 121 receptions. This spring didn't reveal an answer, but maybe the summer will. The front-runners are Jared Green, Dontrelle Inman, Kris Burd and Javaris Brown.
2. How do you replace such an impressive trio of linebackers? You don't. Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim ranked 1-2-3 in tackling and combined to start 123 games in their careers. Virginia's leading returning tackler, Hall, is now playing quarterback. Steve Greer, a redshirt freshman, caught Groh's attention this spring, and is listed on the preseason depth chart as a starting inside linebacker along with senior Darren Childs. Groh runs a 3-4 defense, and senior outside linebacker Denzel Burrell is back as a returning starter, so he'll be the leader and the face of the group. Senior Aaron Clark is listed as the starting outside linebacker.
3. Can tailback Mikell Simpson be the player he was in 2007? Quite frankly, he doesn't have much choice. Simpson is a player Groh will depend heavily upon, as there's not much other experience to turn to. But Simpson faded into the background last year after making a name for himself in 2007. That season, he rushed for 570 yards and caught 43 passes for 402 more. Last year, his rushing total fell to 262 yards and he caught just 15 passes. He was also injured in the ninth week against Miami and missed the remainder of the season. Simpson will be the X-factor for Virginia this year.