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March 20, 2009

Cavs hope return of Sewell can boost offense

Virginia is turning back the clock. The Cavaliers are looking to some old faces to help revive the program after four November losses eliminated Virginia from bowl contention.

Two key players from the Cavs' nine-win season in 2007 are back, beginning with starting quarterback Jameel Sewell. Virginia also welcomes back Ron Prince, who will return to the coaching staff after spending three seasons as Kansas State's coach.

Perhaps the biggest addition, though, will be a fresh face. Coach Al Groh brought in another former head coach to run his offense in Gregg Brandon. Brandon, who had been coach at Bowling Green, is a former assistant under Urban Meyer, Mike Price and Gary Barnett. Brandon will bring the spread offense to Charlottesville.

Here's a look at the Cavs as they prepare for spring practice.

Jameel Sewell returns to lead the Cavs' spread offense after sitting out last season on academic probation.
Coach: Al Groh
Last season: 5-7, 3-5 ACC
Spring dates: March 20-April 18
Offense (5): T Will Barker, G B.J. Cabbell, G Austin Pasztor, C Jack Shields, QB Marc Verica.
Defense (6): LB Denzel Burrell, E Matt Conrath, CB Ras-I Dowling, CB Vic Hall, T Nick Jenkins, S Corey Mosley.
Special teams (2): P Jimmy Howell, K Yannick Reyering.
Positions of strength

Four starters return on the offensive line, but the Cavaliers will miss projected first-round pick Eugene Monroe at tackle. Will Barker is the best returning lineman. Defensively, Virginia's strength is at cornerback. Like Sewell, Chris Cook was an academic casualty last season. He will return this year along with Ras-I Dowling, who has five interceptions and 20 pass breakups over the last two seasons. Backup corner Chase Minnifield had two picks as a redshirt freshmen last season.

Help is needed

All eyes will be on the quarterback during the spring. Sewell is back after spending 2008 on academic probation. He was a big reason the Cavs won five games by less than a field goal in 2007. Marc Verica was pushed into duty after the dismissal of Peter Lalich last season, but he struggled mightily. Vic Hall played some quarterback last season and will play quarterback during the spring, but he may only be a situational guy at the position. Sewell is probably the best combination of passer and runner. Virginia loses its top four tacklers, including All-ACC linebacker Clint Sintim, and three starting linebackers in the Cavs' 3-4 set must be replaced. The Cavs also need to replace both starting wide receivers, the starting tailback and the starting tight end.

Keep an eye on

DE Andrew Devlin: Devlin - a former tight end - was a man without a position in the new spread offense, so he moves to defense. Devlin, a sophomore, has played defensive end before, earning raves on the scout team in preparation for the 2008 Gator Bowl.

LB Cameron Johnson: Johnson, another sophomore, should step in for Sintim. He was the backup to Sintim last season and a rush end in nickel situations. He's strong and fast, and he should have little trouble adjusting to the increased workload.

RB Torrey Mack: Virginia lost its best running back off the worst rushing attack in the ACC. Mack, a redshirt freshman, will have the opportunity to contend for the starting job. He was a four-star recruit in 2008 and has generated considerable buzz on campus in the past year.

His time is now

Sewell, who will be a senior in the fall, was the heart of the offense two seasons ago when Virginia came within a game off winning the ACC Coastal Division. He passed for 2,176 yards and 12 touchdowns that season, but he wasn't nearly as productive in the classroom. He's not a finished product by any means, but having him back could add stability to an offense that struggled mightily last season.

The buzz

Optimism is high in Charlottesville despite last season's 5-7 finish. Still, it will be an uphill climb. Virginia was last in the ACC in rushing, total offense and scoring offense and that was with a first-round pick at left tackle. Groh will be his own defensive coordinator, handing the offensive reins to Brandon. Virginia hopes adding Brandon will bring fresh ideas to an offensive staff that had promoted from within since Bill Musgrave left in 2002.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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