Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Somewhat quietly, the Virginia defense had a terrific year
finishing 17th in the nation in total D and 22nd in scoring D.
It should be even better with ten starters returning, including
top linemen Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald to anchor the
front three. All four starting linebackers are back to form a
solid group that doesn't make a whole bunch of mistakes. This
might not be the most athletic defense, but it's aggressive and
is always around the ball.
Marcus Hamilton, 63
Chris Sintim, 3
Interceptions: Marcus Hamilton 5
Star of the defense: Senior DE Chris Long
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Olu Hall
Best pro prospect: Long
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Long, 2) DE Jeffrey
Fitzgerald, 3) LB Jon Copper
Strength of the defense: Veteran front seven, pass rush
Weakness of the defense:
Athletic corners, proven linebacker depth
All three starters return to the line in the
3-4 alignment, with the best of the bunch the high-motored All-America
end candidate Chris Long. The 6-4, 284-pound senior is the son of
former NFL great, Howie Long, and while he's not as good as his dad, is
a big time talent with quickness into the backfield and good toughness
against the run. He was fifth on the team with 57 tackles, to go along
with 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He has 47 quarterback hurries
over the last two years.
Overshadowed by Long is 6-3, 279-pound sophomore Jeffrey Fitzgerald,
a rising star who took full advantage of all the attention paid to the
other side by cranking out 64 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for
loss. Able to bulk up without losing any quickness, he'll start to be
game-planned for just like Long.
Anchoring the line is 6-4, 287-pound senior Allen Billyk on the
nose. A nice meat-and-potatoes sort of defender who doesn't do much in
the backfield, but holds his spot well and makes a few good plays
against the run with 23 stops last season. The former defensive end gets
by on heart, drive, and good strength.
Projected Top Reserves: One of the line's most
versatile players, 6-2, 281-pound sophomore Nate Collins will
start out behind Billyk on the nose and could see time on the end. He
came up with 17 tackles as a true freshman with four tackles for loss
showing excellent promise and potential.
Working behind Fitzgerald on the end will be 6-7, 288-pound junior
Alex Field, a tremendous tight end prospect who grew into a lineman
right off the bat. He's a great athlete with next-level size, but he
hasn't been able to do more than just be a big reserve with ten tackles
and no sacks.
Watch Out For ... Long to put up huge numbers.
Teams are going to be just as afraid of Fitzgerald and should start
double-teaming him more and more. Long will thrive when he only has one
man to beat on a consistent basis.
Strength: Pass rush. The combination of Long and
Fitzgerald will be devastating. They should make plays behind the line
all season long.
Weakness: Proven depth. Collins is a good one in the middle, but
Field hasn't shown enough yet to be counted on as a possible starter.
Others have to be developed to come up with a stronger rotation.
Outlook: The starting three will be excellent, but
there aren't enough good backups and not enough options to even think
about switching to a 4-3 on a regular basis. As long as the starters are
healthy, this will be one of the ACC's most productive lines.
All four starters return to a decent
linebacking corps with size, speed and depth. The leading returning
producer is 6-0, 232-pound Jon Copper on the inside. A potential
All-ACC performer who led the team with 81 tackles to to along with four
sacks and nine tackles for loss. The former walk-on isn't going to fly
all over the field, but he'll always be in the lineup and is almost
impossible to get off the field.
Next to Copper on the inside will once against be 6-4, 248-pound junior
Antonio Appleby, who was second on the team with 68 stops along
with a sack and three tackles for loss. A big presence with a ton of
experience, he'll be the unsung rock in the middle of the defense who'll
just make plays.
The team's best outside pass rusher from the corps is 6-3, 256-pound
junior Clint Sintim, who needs to come back healthy from a
shoulder problem. He made 45 tackles, and acted like a defensive end at
times with four sacks and 12 tackles for loss. While not consistent, he
still has been better than several high-profile players over the last
On the other side is 6-1, 237-pound senior Jermaine Dias after
having a big year coming off a foot injury. A good tackler with 48 stops
last year, he also came up with eight tackles for loss. Not the pass
rusher Sintim is, he's still mobile and decent in pass coverage. He's
tough enough to play inside if needed.
Projected Top Reserves: Is this the year Olu
Hall finally becomes the star he's supposed to be? A mega-recruit
with next-level measurables, he was supposed to become a big-time player
a few years ago, went to Hargrave Military Academy to qualify
academically, and then missed last year to work on his studies some
more. Starting out the season behind Sintim, he'll find time somewhere.
6-3, 244-pound redshirt freshman Darnell Carter came to Virginia
as a good tight end prospect before quickly becoming a full-time
linebacker. Another big presence on the inside, he's bigger, stronger,
and has even more upside than Copper.
is only 6-4 and 215 pounds, but he's a huge outside linebacker prospect.
Considered by many to be among the nation's to defensive recruits, he
has the talent and versatility to see time on both sides of the ball if
Watch Out For ... Hall. The program has been
burned by getting fired up for supposedly sure-thing NFL linebackers
before, so there's cautious optimism about Hall. If he's finally ready
to roll, he'll make a good corps special.
Strength: Size and experience. This isn't the typical
four in a 3-4. It's a big, strong group with everyone back from last
Weakness: Proven depth. Hall still hasn't done it yet, and it'll
be up to some redshirt freshman and junior Aaron Clark, who was
only in on 15 plays last year, to be ready to roll. With four
linebackers used, some reserves have to emerge right away.
Outlook: While this isn't the star-studded corps
of a few years ago, it's a rock-solid group that'll be even stronger
against the run and should do even more to make big plays. To get even
more excited, three of the starters are juniors and should be elite in
2008. Copper and Appleby don't make mistakes, while Sintim and Dias
should be steadier now that they know what they're doing.
One of the few battles for a starting job on
the Cavalier defense will be at corner, where 5-9, 180-pound junior
Mike Brown will try to take over for Marcus Hamilton. With great
upside, he has the speed to upgrade the overall playmaking of the
secondary after making 13 tackles and three tackles for loss as a
reserve. He has to prove he can be steady in coverage.
Back at the other corner is 6-2, 204-pound junior Chris Cook, a
big, talented defender who hits like a safety. He finished fourth on the
team with 58 stops with four tackles for loss and eight broken up passes
after missing part of 2005 with a broken leg. He's a top all-around
talent who should be in the hunt for All-ACC honors.
6-0, 203-pound junior Nate Lyles came back from a bad neck injury
to make 46 tackles with two sacks, four tackles for loss with an
interception and three broken up passes. A huge hitter, he's a
tone-setter with his physical style, even if he isn't a superior pass
Also back is 5-11, 203-pound junior Byron Glaspy, a former
walk-on who has been Virginia's version of Rudy. He was just a regular
student who got on the team and has been a good all-around defensive
back with 56 tackles and three broken up passes. While not an elite
athlete, but he finds a way to get around the ball.
Projected Top Reserves: Fighting with Brown for a
starting corner job will be 5-9, 184-pound sophomore Vic Hall, a
former superstar Virginia high school quarterback who threw for a record
8.731 yards and 104 touchdowns while running for 4.039 yards and 66
scores. A next-level caliber athlete, he's mostly been a good special
teamer while making 13 tackles on defense.
Redshirt freshman Trey Womack will find a spot somewhere, likely
at corner. He could find his way in as a nickel back, but he'll
significantly upgrade the speed on the outside with track star wheels.
The main backup safety will be senior Jamaal Jackson, a 6-3,
212-pound hitter who made ten stops after coming up with 43 tackles in
2005. While great against the run, he's not a top pass defender.
Watch Out For ... the backups. This might be a
relatively experienced group, but the best athletes are the backups.
Hall and Womack can move.
Strength: Veterans. With three returning starters, and
Brown with four career starts, the nation's 15th best pass defense
shouldn't be appreciably worse despite losing Hamilton.
Weakness: Athleticism. Glaspy and Lyles aren't exactly going to
cover the entire field, and Cook, while talented, is more like a good
safety playing corner.
Outlook: The overall numbers won't necessarily
represent the talent level. Help from a great pass rush and a great
front seven will keep the stats down. The reserves will rotate in to
upgrade the speed and potential, while the starters will do a
serviceable job. Now there has to be more interceptions after the Cavs
came up with just ten picks.
Projected Starters: Senior
Chris Gould was the kicking game hitting 11 of 19 field goals and
averaging 38.4 yards per punt. He doesn't have a huge leg and isn't
necessarily a weapon, but he's one of the best short-range kickers in
the ACC nailing all seven of his field goal attempts inside the 40 and
putting 29 punts inside the 20. Even so, he'll be in a battle with
senior Ryan Weigand for the punting job. Weigand took over late
in the year showing a better leg averaging 42.4 yards per kick. He also
put four of his six punts inside the 20.
Watch Out For ... Chris Hinkebein. The true
freshman has a bigger leg than Gould and could handle all the 40+ yard
field goal attempts.
Strength: Cedric Peerman. One of the nation's best
kickoff returners, he averaged a whopping 27.3 yards per try after
averaging 25.8 yards per pop two years ago. With his increased role in
the running game, he might split a little time.
Weakness: Sure-thing deep kickers. Gould is a solid all-around
kicker, but not good enough to be a sure-thing for either of the kicking
jobs. The Cavs need more pop.
Outlook: This could be a good area if the kicking
game is a big better. The returners will be excellent, and the coverage
teams will be better if someone can hit the ball deep. The kickoff
coverage unit had no shot last year with Gould not cranking up too many
deep kicks. There will be fewer this year with kickoffs starting at the