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2008 Virginia Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Virginia Cavalier Defense
Preview 2008 - Defense
- 2008 CFN Virginia
Preview | 2008
- 2008 Virginia
Defense | 2008
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2007 CFN Virginia
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What you need to know:
to rush the passer? As if losing Chris Long isn’t tough enough,
the line also has to replace Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who left
school. The pair combined for 21 sacks last season, leaving
behind an untested set of backups who won’t make life any easier
for an already vulnerable Cav secondary. Chris Cook was the
team’s top cover corner, but didn’t keep up in the classroom,
putting pressure on young Ras-I Dowling to mature even faster
than he did a year ago as a true freshman. The unquestioned
strength of the defense is at linebacker, where Jon Copper,
Antonio Appleby, and Clint Sintim represent three of last
season’s top seven tacklers.
Jon Copper, 109
Jon Copper, 3
Interceptions: Jon Copper, Ras-I Dowling, 2
of the defense:
Senior LB Clint Sintim
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Senior DE Alex Field
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Ras-I
Best pro prospect: Sintim
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sintim, 2) Senior LB
Jon Copper, 3) Senior LB Antonio
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, run defense
Weakness of the defense: Rebuilt defensive line,
Projected Starters: The entire defensive line
needs to be retooled, including replacing All-American and
inspirational leader Chris Long. Scheduled to take over at
defensive end are 6-7, 270-pound senior Alex Field and
6-4, 275-pound sophomore Sean Gottschalk.
Field played in all 13 games a year ago, making 11 tackles, 2.5
tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. He has the great size and
tireless work ethic on the field and in the weight room to make
a push for the NFL in his final season on campus.
Gottschalk was one of the program’s top recruits from 2005, a
terrific athlete for his size who continues to grow into his
frame. Slated to be a backup before Jeffrey Fitzgerald left
school, he has an opportunity to make a splash as a pass rusher
a year earlier than anticipated.
At nose tackle will be 6-2, 280-pound junior Nate Collins,
a natural leader who has lettered in each of his first two
seasons with the Cavaliers. An active player with a non-stop
motor, he produced 31 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a pair
of sacks as Allen Billyk’s backup last season. With a chance for
more playing time, he could eventually mature into a borderline
Projected Top Reserves: Much like the offensive line,
depth will be in the hands of a bunch of very young and unproven
players. In fact, the entire second team could be comprised of
redshirt freshmen. On the inside, 6-3, 285-pound Nick Jenkins
is expected to do his apprenticeship under Collins for the
next couple of seasons. Very tough at the point of contact and
continuously getting stronger, he should become a factor early
The rising star of the line appears to be redshirt freshman DE
Matt Conrath, an athletic 6-7, 269-pounder who’s been
turning heads since arriving on campus. Strong enough to play on
the inside and built like the next great UVa offensive tackle,
he’ll stay right where he is and continue developing into a
much-needed disruptive pass rusher.
Not unlike Conrath, 6-6, 267-pound Zane Parr is a another
well-sized, physical defensive end with the quickness to make
plays for negative yards. More than just a pass rusher, he also
has the power and upper body strength to be a factor in run
Watch Out For ... Collins to take a quantum leap now
that he’s been promoted to the first team. A playmaker when he
was a reserve, he has the instincts and quickness to help keep
the Cavs from slipping too much in run defense.
Strength: Size. In a word, this group is massive,
precisely what’s needed to successfully run the 3-4. No one on
the two-deep is lighter than 265 pounds, and Field, Gottschalk,
Conrath, and Parr have the height that should annoy quarterbacks
looking to throw over them.
Weakness: Proven experience. There isn’t much,
especially on the second unit. The reserves have considerable
upside, but there’s cause for concern when all three are
Outlook: This is one of those units that’s going
to be considerably better in November than it is in September,
largely due to the inexperience of so many key players in the
rotation. While the line certainly won’t kill the defense, it
also won’t get nearly as much backfield pressure as last year.
Projected Starters: With three of the top four
returning tacklers coming from this group, linebacker will be
the strength of the defense, and possibly the entire team.
Senior Jon Copper has come a long way since arriving as a
walk-on, leading the team in stops in consecutive years, making
109 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and three sacks. At 6-0 and
230 pounds, he doesn’t have the measurables of the other
linebackers, but he makes up for it with great instincts and the
intensity and work ethic to always be near the ball.
Next to Copper on the inside is 6-4, 250-pound Antonio
Appleby, who looks and plays as if his career won’t end in
Charlottesville. Fast and physical from his station on the
field, he’s been a productive run stopper the last two years,
making 60 tackles a year ago to go along with five tackles for
loss, 2.5 sacks, and a half-dozen pass breakups.
The most dynamic of the Cavalier linebackers, however, resides
on the outside. Entering his fourth and final year as a
starter, senior Clint Sintim has emerged as a versatile
force for the D, defending the run and getting after the passer
with equal success. At 6-3 and 254 pounds, he performs like a
hybrid defensive end, registering a career-high 77 tackles, nine
tackles for loss, and nine sacks in his junior year.
The only new starter will be 6-1, 235-pound sophomore Jared
Detrick, who’s scheduled to supplant Jermaine Dias at one of
the outside positions. One of just five true freshmen to see
action, he got on the field for 11 games as a regular on the
kickoff coverage team. An explosive athlete, he can be used on
the blitz and has the hips to cover backs when they leave the
Projected Top Reserves: On the second team, the
Cavs will feature a nice mix of veterans and promising
underclassmen. Senior Aaron Clark has played plenty of
football for the program, appearing in 30 games, typically as a
contributor on special teams. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, he brings
know-how and a physical presence to the outside position.
Junior Denzell Burrell will be a key backup on the inside
for one more season before moving into the starting lineup a
year from now. A ferocious hitter at 6-4 and 230 pounds, he made
a dozen tackles appearing in all 13 games.
The future star among the underclassmen is redshirt freshman
J'Courtney Williams, a former top recruit who’s itching to
get on the field. At 6-3 and 218 pounds, he still needs to fill
out, but has the lateral quickness and sticking ability to start
making plays early in his career.
Watch Out For ... Copper to make it three
straight years as the team’s leading tackler. Even with good
talent around him, he always finds a way to the ball and rarely
misses an opportunity to pad his numbers.
Strength: Talent and experience. Not only do three
senior starters return to the lineup, but all have enough talent
to finish their careers on the All-ACC squad.
Weakness: Pass defense. The big, bad Cavalier
linebackers are nasty in run defense and disruptive when rushing
the passer, but drop them back in coverage and it could be a
problem against some of the league’s slicker tight ends.
Outlook: For the second straight year, this will be a
very solid group of linebackers that’ll form the backbone of the
defense. Copper, Sintim, and Appleby will clean up a ton of
messes, especially as the defensive line adjusts to having three
Projected Starters: More than any other unit, the
secondary was dented by offseason and off-field problems. Not
only did S Nate Lyles graduate, but corners Chris Cook and Mike
Brown are no longer with the school, testing the group’s depth.
The unlikely veteran of the group is senior S Byron Glaspy,
a former walk-on who has emerged as a two-year starter and a
steady performer in run defense. While he won’t floor opponents
with his measurables, the 5-11, 206-pounder did produce a
career-high 71 tackles and two tackles for loss last year.
Glaspy will be joined by safety 6-2, 211-pound junior Brandon
Woods, a former receiver who hits like a linebacker. In two
years, his experience has mostly been limited to special teams,
meaning he’ll have to elevate his play, especially in pass
defense, in order to remain in the top spot.
The front-runners at cornerback are a couple of sophomores with
high ceilings, 6-2, 200-pound Mike Parker and 6-2,
200-pound Ras-I Dowling. Parker played mostly in nickel
and dime packages as a freshman, appearing in 13 games and
making 26 tackles. He’s got improving cover skills wrapped in a
safety’s body, a blend that has the coaching staff excited.
If Dowling keeps working hard, he has a chance to someday become
one of the ACC’s premier lockdown corners. He possesses the
size, speed, and natural leaping ability to excel at the
position, particularly with a full season of experience already
in the vault. As a true freshman, he laid the groundwork with 44
tackles, a couple of picks, and a team-high nine pass
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Vic Hall
started 12 games a year ago, making 58 tackles, and is certainly
capable of regaining that job over the summer. While only 5-9
and 190 pounds, he’s tough in the open field and one of the best
overall athletes among the defensive backs. Whether or not he
starts, he’ll clearly have an important role in the Cavs’
Sophomore Trey Womack is another one of the cornerbacks
who’ll factor prominently into the defensive plans this season.
One of the fastest players on the team at 5-11 and 182 pounds,
he mostly played on special teams a year ago, but will get more
opportunities to shut off passing lanes in his second season of
The top safety off the bench will be 5-10, 190-pound sophomore
Rico Bell, a speedy thumper who appeared in seven games
in his debut season. If he shows he can cover, the opportunity
exists to garner plenty of playing time when Virginia shifts
into its nickel and dime packages.
Watch Out For ... Dowling. After showing glimpses
of being special last fall, he backed it up by playing even
better during offseason drills. Physically, he has all of the
tools to begin attracting the attention of NFL scouts in a
couple of years.
Strength: The corners. While Dowling, Parker, and
Womack are bubbling over with upside potential, Hall brings
starting experience and a veteran’s presence to the position.
Weakness: Depth at safety. Glaspy has proven himself in
the ACC, but after him, the Cavaliers have more question marks
than sure things. Moving Hall to free safety is an option the
coaching staff could explore.
Outlook: With less help than a year ago from the
pass rush, Virginia could get exposed through the air,
especially against the likes of USC and Clemson. Yeah, there
are going to be mistakes and missed assignments, but led by
Dowling, the sophomore cornerbacks give the defense plenty to be
excited about in the future.
Projected Starters: Like so many areas of the
roster, the Cavs are being forced to rebuild on special teams
with a new placekicker and punter. Replacing clutch K Chris
Gould will be redshirt freshman Chris Hinkebein, who was
being groomed for this moment since being recruited out of of
North Carolina. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, he has a long leg and
enough pop to also be used as the kickoff specialist.
Gould and All-ACC second teamer Ryan Weigrand deftly shared the
punting job. Filling in will be senior John Thornton, a
walk-on who has yet to see any time. At 6-4 and 212 pounds, he
has good size, but the lack of experience makes him a big
Back to return punts will be junior Vic Hall, who
finished fifth in the ACC with an average of 10 yards a return.
He, senior Cedric Peerman, and junior Mikell Simpson
all have experience handling kickoffs, and will be working in
unison to light a spark under that area of special teams.
Watch Out For ... Hinkebein’s development.
Virginia doesn’t have the kind of offense that’ll consistently
finish drives and crank out touchdowns. The Cavs rely heavily on
the leg of their kicker, which is why it’s so important that the
redshirt freshman doesn’t perform like a redshirt freshman.
Strength: The return game. Hall provided a
spark to the punt return game, averaging 10 yards and taking his
first opportunity back for 67 yards. Had it not been for the
injury to Peerman, the Cavs wouldn’t have been so pedestrian on
kick returns. Before getting hurt, he was one of the more
productive return men in the country.
Weakness: A sure thing at either kicking position.
Neither Hinkebein nor Thornton has ever attempted a kick for the
Outlook: After being a strength and so vital to last
year’s 9-4 mark, the special teams unit is in danger of becoming
a liability that could cost the Cavs a game or two. In order to
buck that forecast, it’ll be up to Hinkebein and Thornton to
perform better than expected in their debuts as starters.