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2011 Virginia Preview – Defense
Virginia LB LaRoy Reynolds
Virginia LB LaRoy Reynolds
Posted Jun 29, 2011 2011 Preview - Virginia Cavalier Defense

Virginia Cavaliers

Preview 2011 - Defense

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- 2011 Virginia Defense | 2011 Virginia Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: The switch to Jim Reid’s 4-3 defense last season brought mixed results for Virginia. Yes, the pass defense was solid, but the Cavaliers struggled to slow down opposing backs, allowing more than five yards a carry. While plenty of starters are expected back, that could change if off-field issues can’t be shaken before the start of the season. The program is loaded with veterans and potential all-stars at every level of the D. There’s DE Cam Johnson and tackles Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins up front, LaRoy Hawkins and Steve Greer in the middle, and Chase Minnifield, Rodney McLeod, and Corey Mosley on the last line of defense. It’s a solid nucleus that figures to be even feistier now that it has a full year of experience in Reid’s system.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: LaRoy Reynolds, 66
Sacks: Cam Johnson, 6.5
Interceptions: Chase Minnifield, 6

Star of the defense: Senior CB Chase Minnifield
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Rijo Walker
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB LaRoy Reynolds
Best pro prospect: Minnifield
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Minnifield, 2) Senior DE Cam Johnson, 3) Reynolds
Strength of the defense: Pass defense, the linebackers, the safeties, senior leadership
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, creating turnovers, getting to the quarterback, depth at cornerback

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The program made a successful switch to the 4-3 last season, gradually building more depth and talent up front than in recent years. Three starters return, though that number would have been four had DE Zane Parr not declared for the NFL Draft unexpectedly. After struggling to stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback, the Cavaliers are after more production from the first line of defense.

The biggest beneficiary of the alignment shift was 6-4, 255-pound senior Cam Johnson , a one-time linebacker. He moved up one level effortlessly, making 53 tackles, 14.5 stops for loss, 6.5 sacks, and breaking up four passes. A tremendous athlete, with crisp pass-rushing skills, he has the quickness to get around the tackle and the upper body strength to power through him. He’ll be playing his final season for a shot at the NFL in 2012.

With Parr gone, Virginia will look to 6-4, 255-pound sophomore Jake Snyder for help on the outside. A top recruit from the class of 2009, he debuted with 14 tackles and 2.5 stops for loss to earn his first letter last year. Also in the hunt for playing time is 6-4, 250-pound junior Bill Schautz, another former linebacker who got acclimated to the line a year ago. He played sparingly in eight games, but has a good burst and a better feel for the game.

On the inside, the Cavaliers feel set with the returns of senior tackles Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins, a pair of cagey veterans. Though built like an end, the 6-7, 270-pound Conrath can handle the battles on the interior. Using his long arms to punch opposing linemen and obstruct quarterbacks’ vision, the fourth-year starter had 36 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. A smaller, quicker version of Conrath, Jenkins, too, has been in the lineup since his rookie year. At 6-3 and 285 pounds, he gives away some weight, but compensates with a good motor and first step. Second among linemen, he had 43 tackles, three stops for loss, and a sack. The closest thing to a veteran on the inside is 6-4, 265-pound junior Will Hill , who lettered after making five stops in 11 games.

Watch Out For .... the battle at the other end spot. Johnson is set on one side, but who has his back when the inevitable double-teams come? It’s incumbent upon Snyder and Schautz to take full advantage of facing the other team’s weaker tackle and creating backfield pressure.
Strength: Leadership. In Johnson, Jenkins, and Conrath, the Cavaliers have three lead-by-example veterans who are going to bring it on every down. Outstanding role models for the younger Virginia defenders, the trio will be paying dividends long after it’s left Charlottesville.
Weakness: Run defense. Too often last season, the Cavs got mauled at the point of attack, allowing opposing runners to reach the linebackers in an instant. It’s one of the main reasons the defense yielded more than five yards a carry, a hideous result that needs to be addressed in 2011.
Outlook: There’s a blue-collar quality to the Virginia defensive line that seems to be working for the program. An experienced and savvy group, it’s going to fight and claw to the whistle. Johnson has next-level potential, but he needs more help in 2011, especially when it comes to stopping the run. Winning the battles in the trenches is a priority for a D that has to improve versus the run.
Rating: 7


State of the Unit: One starter, Darnell Carter, has graduated, but the coaching staff is confident about a group that’s dripping with upperclassmen. It’s a good thing, too, since the Cavaliers struggled to prevent backs from skirting past the first line of defense in 2010. The onus will once again be on the linebackers to clean up messes and keep those same backs from navigating any further.

The budding star on the outside is 6-2, 220-pound junior LaRoy Reynolds, a former safety excelling at linebacker. In his first year as a starter, he led the team with 66 tackles, adding seven stops behind the line of scrimmage. He’s added muscle over the past year without losing the quickness and lateral speed that allow him to chase down ballcarriers all over the field and defend the pass. Undersized at strongside a year ago, he’s moving to weakside this fall.

In the middle, the Cavaliers are counting on 6-2, 230-pound junior Steve Greer , one of the steadiest players on the roster. Even though he started just a single game, he still finished second on the team with 59 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. He has the instincts and takes the right angles to continue to be among the defense’s most active players. In order to address a need, Virginia is moving 6-2, 225-pound senior Aaron Taliaferro from inside to outside where there’s a void at strongside. One of the team’s most improved players last fall, he started six games and made 36 tackles and two stops for loss. Though just a redshirt freshman and true freshman, respectively, big things are expected from 6-2, 235-pound Henry Coley and Daquan Romero in his second season on campus. Coley lines up on the inside, while Romero will wreak havoc on the outside.

Watch Out For .... the whereabouts of junior Ausar Walcott . A starter on the outside, the junior served a suspension for his role in a January assault and burglary. The 6-4, 230-pounder has great size and showed promise last season, finishing third on the team with 56 tackles. The team is flirting with using him at defensive end as well.

Strength: First line experience. In Reynolds, Greer, and Taliaferro, the Cavaliers have three players who’ve started games at this level. That’s a stark contrast from a year ago and a big advantage for any group of linebackers. Collectively, they’re instinctive, have good range, and will make plays in space.
Weakness: Depth. While the situation with Walcott can alter this discussion in one direction or another, Virginia is still facing a crisis of depth as the season approaches. Yes, some of the kids, like Romero, have enormous upside potential, but they’re still kids and prone to making rookie mistakes.
Outlook: Although no one on this unit is going to vie for the Butkus Award, the Cavaliers like their mix of talent at linebacker. Reynolds and the kids are playmakers. Greer provides a steady presence in the middle. And Taliaferro brings a senior’s leadership outside. If the freshmen are as good as advertised, this could be an exciting group in the second half of the year.
Rating: 7


State of the Unit: Virginia continues to shed talent in the secondary, yet always seems to regroup without much incident. This season, the Cavaliers begin life after star CB Ras-I Dowling, one of the top defensive backs in America. However, the program sort of got a sneak peak of that in 2010, as the cover boy played in just five games because of injuries. His absence allowed the D to work in new defensive backs and build depth.

Replacing Dowling as the face of the secondary is 6-0, 185-pound senior CB Chase Minnifield , who’ll begin 2011 as one the premier cornerbacks in the country. The son of former Pro Bowl corner Frank Minnifield and an All-ACC first teamer, he busted out with 48 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a team-high six interceptions. He has good size and the technique and ball skills to be considered a legit lockdown corner and a coveted NFL prospect for 2012.

The only other scholarship cornerback on the roster during the spring was 5-10, 185-pound sophomore Rijo Walker . In just his second year out of high school, he lettered in his debut, making five tackles in 12 games. He has upside potential, but could get exposed if left on an island. The safety position has no such uncertainty.

Seniors Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley are returning starters at strong safety and free safety, respectively. Despite missing two games, the 5-10, 185-pound McLeod was fourth on the team with 54 stops and two picks. A former cornerback he lacks ideal size for the position, but compensates with a great motor and instincts. The 5-10, 200-pound Mosley packs a little more punch, making 52 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two picks in 10 games. Adding more depth and experience at the position is 6-1, 190-pound senior Dom Joseph , a long-time veteran on this defense. He started three games in 2010, making 34 tackles and displaying good cover skills.

Watch Out For… the whereabouts of 5-11, 205-pound junior CB Devin Wallace . Like Ausar Walcott at linebacker, Wallace is another returning starter currently serving a suspension for off-field problems. The Cavaliers need him back, especially after he started seven games and broke up a team-best six passes.
Strength: Defending the pass. Not only is Minnifield one of the nation’s top cover corners, but the safeties do an effective job of breaking on the ball and cutting off throwing lanes as well. After ranking 25th nationally against the pass, Virginia should be every bit as stingy in 2011.
Weakness: Depth at cornerback. There’s Minnifield … and a lot of question marks. Walker is still young and Wallace has ground to make up with the coaching staff before having his suspension lifted. After that trio, there’s nothing but youth and uncertainty at the position.
Outlook: If the Cavaliers can solve their depth issues at cornerback, they have a shot to have one of the ACC’s stingier pass defenses. Even if the No. 2 spot remains a little questionable, Minnifield, McLeod, and Mosley are talented enough to pick up the slack and pick the pocket of opposing quarterbacks.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Most of last season’s key parts on special teams are back, meaning there won’t be much competition in the offseason. Instead, the Cavaliers will look to fine-tune the unit, maximizing everyone’s potential. An exception is underrated Danny Aiken, the only long-snapper to be invited to April’s Combine and a tough individual to replace.

Senior Robert Randolph is once again expected to handle placekicking duties. Underutilized, yet accurate, he hit 10-of-14 field goal attempts and has a proven ability to reach the goal posts from 50 yards out. Fellow senior Chris Hinkebein has a stronger leg, but is far less consistent. However, he’s an asset on kickoffs, causing 17 touchbacks in 2010. Senior Jimmy Howell returns for his fourth and final season as the Virginia punter. A powerful 6-6, 238-pounder, he’s gotten steadily better, averaging 42.2 yards a year ago.

The Cavaliers’ best return man, Raynard Horne, has graduated, leaving senior Chase Minnifield and junior Perry Jones as candidates to put a spark into the return game.

Watch Out For… Randolph to make a run at All-ACC honors. He never quite got on the radar last season due to a lack of opportunities, but that could change if the Cavs stall more frequently in the red zone. Remember, this is the same kicker that was 17-of-19 on three-pointers two years ago.
Strength: Veteran kickers. That includes the punter as well. In Randolph and Howell, Virginia has the two most important special teams positions covered, including a kicker and punter with all-conference potential.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Cavaliers weren’t porous in 2010, but they were no better middling at preventing yards on punts and kickoffs. That’s unacceptable for a coaching staff that expects tighter coverage on special teams.
Outlook: While there’s always room for improvement, Virginia knows it’s in good shape on special teams. Randolph and Howell are quality long-time regulars, and the return men display promise. Assuming a long snapper can be mined in Aiken’s image, the Cavs have few serious worries in this area.
Rating: 7

- 2011 Virginia Preview | 2011 Virginia Offense
- 2011 Virginia Defense | 2011 Virginia Depth Chart
- Virginia Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006