2007 Virginia Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 10, 2007

Preview 2007 Virginia Cavaliers Defense

Virginia Cavaliers

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Virginia Preview | 2007 Virginia Offense Preview 
2007 Virginia Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Virginia Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Marcus Hamilton, 63
Sacks: 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 Mike Brown
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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters:
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.
: Pass rush. The combination of Long and Fitzgerald will be devastating. They should make plays behind the line all season long.
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.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters:
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 few years.

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.

J'Courtney Williams 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 needed.

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.
: Size and experience. This isn't the typical four in a 3-4. It's a big, strong group with everyone back from last year.
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.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters:
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 defender.

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.
: 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.
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.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

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.
: 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.
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 30.
Rating: 7


Related Stories
2007 Virginia Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007
2007 Virginia Preivew - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007
2007 Virginia Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007

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