What you need to know ...
Virginia's defense was a disappointment last year, but things
might start to turn around this season with the potential for a
huge 2007. It's a young group with only one senior on the
projected two deep and several sophomores needing to go from
being wet-behind-the-ears first year players to seasoned
veterans. By design, the 3-4 will get dinked and dunked on to
death, but that only works if turnovers are forced and stops are
made on third downs. That could be a problem. The front three is
average at best outside of end Chris Long, while the linebacking
corps needs at least half the season before it gets humming.
Corner Marcus Hamilton leads a promising secondary.
Marcus Hamilton, 63
Chris Sintim, 3
Interceptions: Marcus Hamilton 5
Star of the defense: Senior CB Marcus Hamilton
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior NT
Unsung star on the rise: Junior S Jamaal Jackson
Best pro prospect: Hamilton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hamilton, 2) DE Chris
Long, 3) LB Clint Sintim
Strength of the defense: Athletic youth, cornerback
Weakness of the defense:
This could be a problem early on unless
several young players quickly realize their potential. Chris Long is on
the verge of stardom after a fantastic Music City Bowl and a better
spring, but he needs help around him. Sophomore Alex Field and redshirt
freshman Jeffrey Fitzgerald will take their lumps early on the other
side, while versatile Allen Billyk has to produce wherever he ends up
The key to the unit: Get in the backfield. Virginia finished 11th
in the ACC in both sacks and tackles for loss, and now the line has to
replace two starters.
Defensive Line Rating: 6
- DE Chris Long, Jr. - 46 tackles, 1 sack, 10 TFL, 7
broken up passes, 26 quarterback hurries
Long turned into a top producer on the line with enough quickness to be
a presence in the backfield and the strength to be a good tackler
against the run. While not a pure pass rusher, the 278-pound junior is
good at pressuring the quarterback thanks to a great motor, as evidenced
by a brilliant performance against Minnesota in the Music City Bowl.
Expect an All-ACC season.
- NT Allen Billyk, Jr. - 8 tackles
Mostly a defensive end so far, the 6-4, 278-pound junior will be an
undersized main man on the nose while also spending a little bit of time
on the outside. With a good attitude and a desire to simply play where
needed, he'll be a versatile performer who may become invaluable.
- DE Alex Field, Soph. - 2 tackles
A great tight end prospect coming out of high school, the 6-7, 261-pound
sophomore is now expected to grow into a major factor on the end.
Athleticism isn't an issue and he should grow into a solid pass rusher,
but consistency will be the key early on. He'll have to battle with
Jeffrey Fitzgerald to hold down a starting spot.
- NT Keenan Carter, Jr. - 25 tackles, 1 broken up pass
At 307 pounds, Carter is a big run clogger in the middle of the line
bringing some much needed bulk to the front three. He wasn't able to
stay healthy last year with a variety of issues, but when he's right, he
can be a major force.
- DE Jason Fuller, RFr.
Originally a linebacker, the 6-5, 230-pound fuller will play on the line
to add more speed and athleticism to the mix. He's a smart, strong
players who should handle himself well in the rotation behind Chris
- DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald, RFr.
A great looking young prospect, the 6-3, 261-pound Fitzgerald has the
potential to blossom into a great all-around end once he gets a little
bit of work. He's not just big, he's athletic with the quickness to camp
out in opposing backfields.
The losses are bigger in name than in production. On the
surface, the departure of Ahmad Brooks might seem painful, but it might
be addition by subtraction considering the overall negative effect he
had on the team over the last two seasons. Replacing Kai Parham will be
the bigger problem needing to hope for several players to be just as
disruptive. Clint Sintim is a great young player to build around, while
Jermaine Dias is a versatile veteran who should be in for a solid
season. The addition of Olu Hall after years of academic issues will be
a huge boost.
The key to the unit: Be steady. This is too young a
group to ask to carry the entire defense, but all the sophomores and all
the promising talents have to be solid from one game to the next.
Linebacker Rating: 7
- Jermaine Dias, Jr. - 21 tackles, 1 sack
Able to play inside or out, the 235-pound junior is back after seeing
starting time throughout last year despite missing part of the year with
a foot injury. He has the speed and quickness to be better against the
pass, but his job will be to get in the backfield and be an all-around
- Jon Copper, Soph. - 10 tackles
The former walk-on will get one of the first looks on the inside. While
he's not going to fly all around the field and is only 6-0 and 226
pounds, he's tough and showed this spring that he knows the defense.
He'll also be used on special teams.
- Antonio Appleby, Soph. - 27 tackles, 1 TFL
Appearing to be on the verge of a big season, the 6-4, 244-pound true
sophomore will have to be one of the new stars of the defense. He
stepped in last year when Ahmad Brooks was out and proved he could
handle himself against the run. His ability to get into the backfield
could mean the difference between a good and a great year for the
- Clint Sintim, Soph. - 53 tackles, 3 sacks, 9 TFL
One of the few sure things in the linebacking corps, Sintim will start
on the outside after finishing fifth on the team in tackles. He was
surprisingly steady as a redshirt freshman despite trying to figure out
what he was doing. Now the 6-3, 242 pounder will have to be a leader and
play like a seasoned veteran.
- Olu Hall, Soph.
Finally, finally, finally, Hall appears ready to be a major part of the
Virginia defense. A superstar recruit a few years ago, he had a hard
time qualifying academically and ended up going to Hargrave Military
Academy. Despite missing spring ball to further work on his studies, the
6-3, 228-pound sophomore will be a big part of the starting mix early on
with too mush speed and talent to be kept on the sidelines.
Aaron Clark, Soph. - 10 tackles
Originally considered to be a defense end, the 6-5, 234-pound sophomore
appears to be a better fit for the defense. He's a good athlete with
nice range and enough talent to grow into a role at either outside
- Marvin Richardson, Jr. - 2 tackles
Purely a special teamer so far, Richardson should finally be a part of
the defense playing on the outside behind Clint Sintim. One of the
team's most athletic linebackers, the 6-3, 236-pound sophomore will find
Virginia's secondary should be one of the team's strengths
early on. Corner Marcus Hamilton has All-America ability and will be a
first day draft pick next season, while there's great promise on the
other side with Chris Gorham and Vic Hall combining to form a dangerous
tandem. The safeties should be strong in time once Jamaal Jackson grows
into a starting role and after true freshman Rico Hall figures out what
The key to the unit: Be tighter. To be fair, the
secondary didn't get much help from the pass rush last year, but it has
to be better than 11th in the ACC in pass defense. Making more stops on
third downs would be nice.
Secondary Rating: 7
- CB Marcus Hamilton, Sr. - 63 tackles, 5 TFL, 6
interceptions, 7 broken up passes
One of the ACC's best overall corners, Hamilton has 146 career tackles
and 15 broken up passes with ten interceptions in the last two years. He
was a Second Team All-ACC performer last season who finished third on
the team in stops and grew into a rock-solid cover corner highlighted by
a shutdown performance against Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson.
- S Byron Glaspy, Soph. - 20 tackles, 1 TFL
Virginia's version of Rudy, Glaspy was just a regular student who ended
up walking on to the team and now will hold down a starting safety spot.
He's a smart, tough defender who finds ways to make plays on defense as
well as on special teams.
- S Jamaal Jackson, Jr. - 43 tackles
The 6-3, 214-pound junior has the size to be an intimidating hitter and
has enough experience to be a quality starter. He spent the last two
years as a reserve, but he played like a number one performer making
plenty of big tackles. Run support won't be a problem; he has to prove
he can be consistent against the pass.
- CB Chris Gorham, Jr. - 42 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 interception, 3
broken up passes
The 6-0, 188-pound junior has worked hard on being an improved tackler
as well as a stronger performer when the ball is in the air. He's a
fantastic athlete who started in eight games last season, but he'll have
a huge battle on his hands trying to hold off Vic Hall.
Vic Hall, RFr.
While he set all sorts of records as a star quarterback for Gretna
Senior High in Virginia throwing for a state record 8,731 yards and 104
touchdowns while running for 4,039 yards and 66 scores, his potential
NFL future is at corner. He's 5-9 and 175 pounds with tremendous
athleticism and quickness, but he's going to need time to grow
into a job.
CB Mike Brown, Soph.
Brown has enough speed to become a big factor as a nickel back and a key
reserve behind Marcus Hamilton. He'll have to work on being physical
despite checking in at 5-9 and 173 pounds, but his speed will make up
for most problems.
- S Ryan Best, Jr. - 14 tackles
Best came to Virginia to play soccer and ended up joining the football
team a few years ago. He saw most of his action on special teams and in
nickel packages, and he showed enough promise to potentially be a key
factor in the safety rotation behind Byron Glaspy.
- S Rico Hall, Fr.
One of the team's star recruits this year, Hall is a huge hitter with
the skills to play corner or safety. While he's not huge, he pops like a
linebacker and should quickly find playing time at one of the safety
Chris Gould will get all the kicking responsibilities early
on until he proves he can handle replacing all-star PK Connor Hughes. If
that works out, then Ryan Weigand will take over the punting chores to
try to add more pop to the production. Cedric Peerman is an elite
kickoff returner who averaged 25.8 yards per try last year, but there
needs to be more from the punt return game with Michael Johnson playing
more of a role.
The key to the unit: Outside of the return game, all
the unknowns have to be settled early on.
Special Teams Rating: 6
- PK/P Chris Gould, Jr. 53 punts, 2,122 yards, 40 yards per
kick, 11 inside the 20
Gould has been a decent punter over the last two seasons, but nothing
spectacular. He won't hurt the team in any way as a punter as long as he
doesn't have problems with also being tried out as the replacement for
placekicker Connor Hughes. He has a good leg and should have decent