CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -The personnel losses Virginia was facing following the end of last football season already were going to be tough to overcome. Then they lost a couple more key starters.
Even with major holes still to fill and an opening date with No. 3 Southern California looming on Aug. 30, the Cavaliers feel they can build on last season's 9-4 finish.
``We have a lot of firepower,'' left tackle Eugene Monroe said.
They lost a lot, too.
The departed included defensive end Chris Long, one of the most dynamic players in Cavaliers history, as well as two-year starters quarterback Jameel Sewell and defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, both out of the mix this season because of academics.
At quarterback, senior Scott Deke and sophomores Peter Lalich and Marc Verica have shared the job, with coach Al Groh saying it could take a few games for one to grab the spot.
Of the three, only Lalich has any real college experience. He played in eight games and threw 61 passes as a freshman, but the 20-year-old likely didn't help his cause with a July arrest on alcohol charges. Neither Deke nor Verica has ever attempted a pass in college.
All three have shunned the media since camp started.
``Until any of us have done anything in a game worthwhile to be talking about, I think it's in our best interest to stick to ourselves and keep working to do what's best for our team,'' Deke told reporters on the team's media day.
Whoever wins the job will have more talent to work with at the skill positions than the Cavaliers have had in years, starting with tailbacks Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson.
Peerman was leading the ACC in rushing when he injured his foot in the sixth game last season, and Simpson splashed on the scene two games later at Maryland by rushing for 119 yards, catching 13 passes for 152 and scoring the winning touchdown with 16 seconds to play.
The return of wide receiver Kevin Ogletree (52 catches in 2006) from a knee injury will help at receiver, and tight end John Phillips is a solid pass catcher as well as blocker.
``If you ask Jason Kidd or Chris Paul or any of those guys playing in the Olympics, they're probably having a lot of fun because they have so many guys they can pass the ball to,'' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Groh said. ``That's what we want to do - make sure we're distributing the ball to our playmakers and letting those guys make plays for us.''
Groh said all three options at quarterback are similar in style, and the guys on the receiving end of passes have pledged to help make the transition as easy as possible.
``We're trying to make sure that no matter who is back there, they feel real comfortable and know they have playmakers around them and they don't have to make all the plays themselves,'' said Phillips, who caught 17 passes, two of them for touchdowns, last season.
The line returns Monroe and right tackle Will Barker, and new center Jack Shields said the unit knows that its cohesiveness holds the key to everything the offense expects to do.
``The quarterback can be the greatest quarterback in the world, but if the O-line can't protect, nothing's going to happen anyway,'' he said. ``It's important that we gel as a unit.''
It's also important that Virginia find a kicker who can turn stalled drives into points and a punter who can sometimes pin the opponent deep in its own territory.
On defense, Fitzgerald's unexpected exit means the entire three-man front will be new and puts the onus on nose tackle Nate Collins and the ends, Alex Field and either Matt Conrath or Sean Gottschalk, to return the line to its dominant ways.
``We feel like we're the underdogs of the defense right now,'' Collins said. ``We know that what those guys did, we need to do this year. We're looking forward to showing people we can.''
Three of the linebackers return, led by Jon Copper, the leading returning tackler, and outside linebacker Clint Sintim, who has started all 37 games in his career. Sintim and cornerback Vic Hall were picked as captains on defense, with Phillips and Peerman on offense.
Sintim nine sacks last season, tops among linebackers in the country, and expects more of the same playing for a third straight season alongside Copper and Antonio Appleby.
``It gives me the freedom to be a little more reckless out there knowing that I may be able to make this move and have somebody cover my back,'' the 6-foot-3, 254-pound Sintim said.
In the defensive backfield, Hall is more comfortable after a year spent learning the position, and will be joined at corner by sophomore Ras-I Dowling, who impressed in 2007.
Steady Byron Glaspy is back to man one of the safety positions.

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