2014 Virginia Preview: What You Need To Know
Virginia S Anthony Harris
Virginia S Anthony Harris
Posted Jun 22, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Virginia (Getty Images)

2014 Virginia Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Virginia Preview 
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What You Need To Know About The Offense: Coordinating the Virginia offense is a thankless job. And Steve Fairchild knows it all too well. His Cavs were one of just 15 teams to average less than 20 points per game in 2013, and a repeat of futility certainly can't be ruled out this year. The offense is once again flush with concerns, from an untested quarterback and receiving corps to a line that'll sorely miss Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko on the left side. Sophomore Greyson Lambert is poised to replace ineffective David Watford, which could be more curse than blessing if the rest of the depth chart doesn't pick up the pace. The running game will be in the capable hands of 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks and precocious sophomore gem Taquan Mizzell. Fairchild will go with size in the receiving corps to give Lambert can't-miss targets with which to connect. Projected starters Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins are also listed at 6-3.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: If the Cavaliers are going to buck the recent slide—and save head coach Mike London's job—the defense will likely be spearheading the charge. Nine starters return from Jon Tenuta's crew, which has the ingredients of a much-improved unit. UVa boasts playmakers at each level; Eli Harold and David Dean up front. Henry Coley, Daquan Romero and Max Valles at the second level and Anthony Harris, Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady in the secondary. It's that defensive backfield, with Harris and Nicholson hawking the ball, which could really give opposing quarterbacks fits in the fall. Virginia had a rough season in 2013, yielding at least 45 points on five separate occasions. There's too much veteran talent in Charlottesville for Tenuta's defense to be even remotely as generous as it was a year ago. If the two new starters up front emerge, and rookies Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding contribute, the D is going to win a couple of games on its own in 2014.

1. S Anthony Harris, Sr.
Harris thought about turning pro early, and even filed paperwork with the NFL Advisory Committee. But in the end, he decided to return to school for his final year. Harris delivered a breakout, All-American season in 2013 with 80 tackles, six pass breakups and a nation's-leading eight interceptions. The 6-1, 190-pounder combines good size with the ball skills and instincts in coverage of a top-notch cornerback. Harris ought to be good for more takeaways in 2014, since opposing quarterbacks won't catch any breaks against the UVa corners.

2. CB Demetrious Nicholson, Sr.
The Cavaliers are thrilled by the return of Nicholson, who missed the final seven games of 2013 with a turf toe injury. He's the program's best cover corner, sticking to receivers with his speed, soft hips and fluid back-pedal. At the time of his injury, Nicholson had made 20 tackles and four pass breakups in just over a third of the season. As a sophomore, the 5-11, 185-pounder, who's become much stronger in recent years, led Virginia with 15 pass breakups. This is a salary run season for Nicholson.

3. DE Eli Harold, Jr.
All-ACC voters whiffed when they didn't save a spot for Harold in 2013. He performed at an all-star level as a sophomore, notching 51 tackles and team-highs with 15 stops for loss and 8.5 sacks. Three of those sacks came in the annual rivalry matchup with Virginia Tech. The 6-4, 235-pound Harold uses his speed and get-off to whip opposing tackles before they have time to set their feet. If he can further hone his technique this season, NFL scouts will be targeting as an outside linebacker at the next level.

4. LB Henry Coley, Sr.
Coley's shift inside in 2013 pretty much went as expected, smooth and without many hiccups. In fact, he led the Cavaliers with 91 tackles, with 10 coming behind the line. While not the fastest of the linebackers, he's a natural in the middle, from his reads to his solid, 6-2, 230-pound frame. Coley has shown a habit of reacting quickly and never giving up on a play. He paced Virginia in tackles largely because of his ability to chase the ballcarrier down deep into the secondary and from sideline-to-sideline.

5. RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
In 2013, Parks became the first Cavalier to rush for 1,000 yards since Alvin Pearman did it in 2004. Parks earned Second Team All-ACC by going for 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns on 227 carries. The 5-8, 205-pounder didn't stop with his exploits on the ground, though, adding 38 receptions for 329 yards and another score. Parks runs with toughness and good pad level between the tackles, yet he's also capable of doing damage when he bounces to the outside.

6. LB Daquan Romero, Sr.
Romero returns with an eye on putting together his best season as Cavalier. Doing so would mean topping last year's career-best 89 stops, 7.5 of which were behind the line. The 6-1, 235-pounder has started 15 games at weakside over the past two seasons, bringing toughness, range and consistency in the open field to the UVa run defense. Romero has 100-tackle potential in 2014, provided opponents don't run away from him in the fall.

7. DT David Dean, Jr.
Dean turned heads in the spring of 2013, before carrying that momentum into the fall. He started all but one game last year, making 49 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and four sacks. The 6-1, 290-pounder gets off the snap in a flash, using his get-off, quick hands and leverage to blow past his man. Dean moves very fast for a lineman his size, looking as if he'd flourish as a defensive end working out of a 3-4 alignment.

8. WR Darius Jennings, Sr.
Steady, yes. Spectacular, though, has escaped Jennings, in part because of inconsistent play from the quarterbacks. He has been among the most consistent Cavalier wide receivers the past two seasons, catching 38 balls for 340 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. The 5-11, 175-pound native of Baltimore is one of the hardest working and most athletic playmakers in Charlottesville, slipping out of traffic with sharp stop-and-start cuts. Now, the offense needs to find a way to better utilize Jennings.

9. CB Maurice Canady, Jr.
There's an opening at cornerback opposite Demetrious Nicholson, which Canady and senior DreQuan Hoskey are bucking to fill. Both defensive backs are going to benefit from the heated competition that'll linger throughout the summer. Canady drew high praise from the staff during the spring, as he continued to exceed the modest expectations that accompanied his recruitment. The heady, 6-2, 190-pounder started eight of his nine games in 2013, making 44 tackles, a couple of sacks and eight pass breakups.

10. WR Keeon Johnson, Soph.
Now more than ever, the Cavaliers need Johnson to blossom into a consistent playmaker from ‘X' receiver. Virginia was going to be light on the outside no matter what, and then underrated Jake McGee chose to transfer to Florida. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Johnson has terrific size to go along with more than half a season in the starting lineup. As a rookie out of A.L. Brown (N.C.) High School, he caught 20 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown, the first step toward possibly becoming Greyson Lambert's preferred target.

- 2014 Virginia Preview