Injury to UVA's Bratton opens CB competition

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Thursday's practice at the McCue Center marked the conclusion of the first week of the Virginia football team's preseason camp. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall described his team as being "relatively" healthy to reporters afterward.

But a setback for junior Darrius Bratton has opened the door for some competition at the second cornerback spot opposite All-American Bryce Hall on UVA's first-team defense.

A hamstring injury has kept Bratton off the field since the Cavaliers' second practice last weekend. That second cornerback spot belonged to Bratton until he got hurt, Mendenhall said Thursday morning. In his absence, junior Nick Grant and sophomores Heskin Smith and Germane Crowell have been battling for the job, with redshirt freshman Jaylon Baker "not far off."

"It's so close right now," Mendenhall said. "Our secondary has a lot of depth. On any given day it's hard to say who's who out there. The second corner. Bratton had it. Those are the chasers and they're making ground up while he's hurt and there's man, between those four I mentioned, it's anyone's right now."

Bratton described his hamstring injury as a "minor setback" on Thursday, though Mendenhall wasn't sure how long it would keep the corner off the practice field.

Bratton played in all 13 games for the Cavaliers last year, including five starts, and spent much of the season pushing now-NFL rookie Tim Harris for playing time opposite Hall. His seven pass breakups were tied for fourth on the UVA defense.

"I benefited a lot from just being out there and actually playing the game, and being out there on the game level," Bratton said Thursday. "It was just great, great experience for me and for the team. Knowing and having that confidence and swagger to be out on the field is great."

The group working to fill Bratton's void lacks that in-game experience. Baker redshirted last year, while Crowell only played in four games before a concussion ended his season. Smith and Grant saw most of their time on special teams, with Smith appearing in eight games and Grant playing in 12.

Grant has drawn praise for his work this summer, when he became one of six players to reach black, the highest tier of performers in off-season workout. After Thursday's practice, he talked about working to seize the opportunity at cornerback in camp this preseason.

"My redshirt freshman year, competition, I didn't win. Redshirt sophomore year, competition, didn't win. Got a little bit of playing time; didn't really get what I want," Grant said. "So it's essentially, what really drives every person is getting what you want. That's all I know is getting what I want and achieving my goals, that's all I want."

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