- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

CHARLOTTESVILLE | Virginia coach Al Groh doesn’t plan to name a starting quarterback until Saturday’s season opener against Southern California.

At least whoever wins the job will have a few more options at wide receiver than Jameel Sewell did at this time last year.

While the Cavaliers haven’t publicly decided between sophomore Peter Lalich, fifth-year senior Scott Deke and redshirt sophomore Marc Verica at quarterback, they at least aren’t nearly as concerned about a dearth of wideouts as last August.

“Last year, all the questions were about wide receiver, if that answers your question,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “I think [we’re in] a lot better shape. We had to throw some guys in the fire before they were ready, but they really did a hell of a job last year.”

That’s probably a relative term. With wideout Kevin Ogletree shelved with a knee injury, there was precious little experience heading into last season. And even that took a dent when Maurice Covington missed four games early in the season with a broken hand.

It made for a creative season for both Groh and wide receivers coach Wayne Lineburg. Covington, despite his injury, led the unit in receptions (21) and yards (269) and accounted for half of the receivers’ four touchdowns.

This year, it could be vastly different.

Ogletree is back and declared his injury is far from his mind. Covington is a senior likely to build on his first extensive playing time. The same is true of sophomores Dontrelle Inman and Staton Jobe and senior Cary Koch.

It also has made camp far more manageable for Lineburg, who dealt with as raw a group as could be imagined in his first season with the Cavaliers.

“He’s walking around smiling a lot more,” coach Al Groh said. “We don’t see as many frowns on his face. It’s certainly very different for all of us.”

Ogletree’s return helps immensely. The junior led the Cavaliers in receptions two seasons ago and became just the ninth player in school history to record 50 receptions in a season.

He also kept an eye on the way Virginia squeaked out victories last season - five of them by a combined seven points - even without a consistent vertical passing attack and is eager to return that element to the offense.

“I remember every game and every corner who came through here,” Ogletree said. “You keep that in mind and use that as a little fuel to fire you.”

Certainly, he and his fellow receivers would like to match last year’s nine-win season, the program’s first since 2002. Many of the big names on the roster - notably defensive end Chris Long and left guard Branden Albert - are gone from that Gator Bowl team.

But the receivers return almost entirely intact and could prove to be one of the team’s most reliable units.

“I think our wideouts may be one of the strongest groups we have and one of the most experienced,” Covington said. “A lot of young guys got the opportunity to play last year. I think this year we’ll have something to prove, and we’ll definitely prove it.”

The best way for Covington to make a statement will to be reliable for whichever green candidate winds up at quarterback. Lalich played in eight games and had 61 attempts as a true freshman last fall. Deke has played in one game and has never attempted a pass. Verica’s next college snap will be his first.

But at least the winner of the Cavaliers’ quarterback competition will have a veteran receiver corps to work with.

“You ask those point guards playing over there in the Olympics, they certainly like playing with all those good players,” Mike Groh said. “It’s pretty easy to find an open guy. I think that’s a nice security blanket for any quarterback to have.”

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