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2010 Virginia Preview – Defense
Virginia DE Matt Conrath
Virginia DE Matt Conrath
Posted Jul 22, 2010 2010 Preview - Virginia Cavalier Defense

Virginia Cavaliers

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 Virginia Preview | 2010 Virginia Offense
- 2010 Virginia Defense | 2010 Virginia Depth Chart
- Virginia Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: Gone is Al Groh’s 3-4 defense, which relied on elaborate schemes and complex terminology. In its place coordinator Jim Reid’s 4-3, a more simplified approach allowing the Cavalier athletes to use their speed and instincts to make plays all over the field. Reid favors an up-tempo system that ideally generates more pressure and disrupts the rhythm of the other team. Virginia continues to harbor a solid collection of players on this side of the ball, an underrated byproduct of Groh’s tenure. Yeah, they’ll need to digest the new blueprint and do a much better job of defending the run, but there’s a good base to build on. Ras-I Dowling is a next-level corner, LB Steve Greer was the leading tackler as a freshman, and the front wall of Matt Conrath, Zane Parr, Cam Johnson, and Nick Jenkins is going to fly beneath the radar.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Steve Greer, 92
Sacks: Zane Parr, 3.5
Interceptions: Ras-I Dowling, 3

Star of the defense: Senior CB Ras-I Dowling
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Chase Minnifield
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Zane Parr
Best pro prospect: Dowling
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dowling, 2) Sophomore LB Steve Greer, 3) Conrath
Strength of the defense: The secondary, size up front, overall speed
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, creating turnovers, getting to the quarterback

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The program is making an adjustment to the 4-3, which means there’s a greater for defensive linemen than in the past. One solution was to relocate 6-4, 260-pound junior Cam Johnson from linebacker to defensive end. The move made sense since he’s added considerable weight since arriving and has always had a natural tendency toward rushing the passer. A terrific all-around athlete, he set the table with 40 tackles, five tackles for loss, and two sacks as a reserve in 2009.

At the opposite end, 6-6, 275-pound junior Zane Parr gets his first good opportunity to be an every-down contributor. Because of his size and ability to fight through blocks, he’ll be the outside lineman who the staff counts on most to support in run defense. He is not, however, one-dimensional, making 33 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks as a spot starter last season.

Although built like an end, 6-7, 270-pound junior Matt Conrath is Virginia’s best interior lineman, an honor he earned last season. He plays a little high for the position and missed two games, but still managed to make 45 tackles, five tackles for loss, a couple of sacks, and three pass breakups. He gets off the snap quickly and has the long arms needed to jam opponents and obstruct the vision of quarterbacks.

Next to Conrath at tackle is 6-3, 280-pound junior Nick Jenkins, last year’s starter at the nose. He gives away a decent amount of weight, but compensates with quick feet, good upper body strength, and a relentless motor. He held up relatively well in the trenches last season, making 41 tackles, two for loss, and a sack.

Projected Top Reserves: The Cavs’ best and most experienced lineman off the sidelines will be 6-2, 250-pound senior John-Kevin Dolce, Conrath’s backup at tackle. He’s appeared in 23 games off the bench over the last two seasons, showing a knack for splitting the gaps and making stops behind the line. He has 7.5 sacks in his career, and is capable of being a situational pass rusher and an emotional leader from the inside.

Virginia has a number of underclassmen fighting for more playing time at defensive end. One of those contenders is 6-4, 245-pound sophomore Bill Schautz, who, like Johnson, was a linebacker last season. He played in nine games on defense and special teams, making a couple of tackles and returning a blocked punt for a touchdown. If nothing else, he has a better feel for the speed of the game compared to the freshmen he’s battling for snaps.

Watch Out For .... the Cavs to get a lot more pressure than a year ago, when they had just 22 sacks. With an extra lineman up front, Virginia is better equipped to mount a pass rush, and has a collection of ends and tackles, who are capable of breaking through and disrupting the rhythm of a play.
Strength: Size. If nothing else, the Cavaliers are going to occupy a lot of space along the defensive line. No, they don’t have any circus elephants on the inside, but with a starting unit that averages 6-5 and 270 pounds, they’ll bat away a lot of passes and should not be moved off the ball.
Weakness: Proven depth. Besides Dolce, who stands out for his production and experience, the Cavaliers are paper thin beyond the starters. While it’s not as if the young kids don’t have potential, they’re going to be asked contribute right away, especially if one of the front-liners suffers an injury.
Outlook: The starting unit has considerable upside, even if it didn’t always bleed through last season. While the backups will remain question marks, Conrath, Parr, Jenkins, and Johnson give the Cavaliers an opportunity to make plays up front and win a lot of battles with their size and speed.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Although 6-2, 230-pound Steve Greer was Virginia’s best linebacker a year ago, he’s in a dogfight for the job in the middle. It speaks more to the competition at the position than a knock on the sophomore. He’s bulked up nicely since arriving and plays with terrific instincts and angles, making a team-high 92 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and three pass breakups. No matter what happens in the summer, he’ll be on the field often in the fall.

The ever-so-slight favorite at weakside is 6-1, 240-pound senior Jared Detrick. He returns to the team after missing all of last season recovering from a dislocated right wrist. He has a good feel for the defense and his assignments, needing now to get in better shape so he can recapture the quickness and range that was evident in the early stages of his career.

At strongside, 6-2, 215-pound sophomore LaRoy Reynolds has used the offseason to rise to the top of the depth chart. He only played in 10 games as a rookie, making a half-dozen tackles on special teams. A safety when he arrived, the coaching staff is hoping he can add some muscle and use his range and speed to make plays from sideline to sideline.

Projected Top Reserves: A high ankle sprain suffered by Greer in the spring opened the door for 6-2, 225-pound junior Aaron Taliaferro to close the gap in the middle. Despite having just three career games of experience, he impressed the staff with his big-play ability and was named the most improved defensive player of the spring. While he has little margin for error to win the job, he has already earned an expanded role on defense.

Detrick competition is coming from 6-4, 220-pound sophomore Ausar Walcott , who, like Reynolds, has shifted from safety to outside linebacker during the offseason. He earned his first letter last season, playing in 10 games and making 10 tackles on special teams. While still a little raw, his length and overall physical make-up are impossible to ignore. An asset in pass defense, he’ll need to become more physical when stopping the run.

Watch Out For .... a fair amount of freelancing. The new system calls for the program’s best athletes to get out into space and make plays whenever possible. Having moved a couple of safeties down a level and gotten Detrick back from injury, the Cavs have the base talent to fulfill the staff’s wishes.
Strength: Competition. The Cavaliers have a heated battle at every linebacker position coming out of spring, which is going to make everyone a little feistier in the summer. When even Greer has to fight for his job, you know the staff is serious about every player earning his job this season.
Weakness: Size. Yes, Virginia is making every attempt to get more speed and athleticism at linebacker, but at what cost? The two-deep is comprised mostly of undersized defenders, some of whom could have problems in the face of pulling guards, tight ends, and jumbo backs.
Outlook: The linebackers are going to be a work-in-progress until the right combination is found. Virginia will be sound in the middle with Greer and Taliaferro, but the flanks have question marks and the overall talent level is only slightly above average.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: While there are key departures, such as CB Chris Cook, the Cavaliers return the core of a defensive backfield that was among the ACC’s best in 2009. Leading the way for one final year will be 6-2, 205-pound senior Ras-I Dowling , a next-level cornerback and two-time all-league selection. He possesses a tremendous combination of size, closing speed, and natural instincts, shutting down passing lanes and stepping up in run defense. Voted the team’s most improved player a year ago, he had 58 tackles, two tackles for loss, three picks, and eight pass breakups.

Replacing Cook, now a Minnesota Viking, won’t be easy. Junior Chase Minnifield , however, might be ready for the responsibility. The son of former Pro Bowl CB Frank Minnifield, he’s played a lot of football over the last two seasons, making 28 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two interceptions in 2009. At 6-0 and 185 pounds, he has good size and the technique and ball skills to make opposing quarterbacks pay for avoiding Dowling’s side of the field.

Back for his second season at strong safety is 5-10, 185-pound junior Rodney McLeod , a one-time cornerback when he first arrived. He already has logged a lot of minutes in Charlottesville, and although he lacks ideal size for the position, compensates with an advanced football IQ and a non-stop motor. Fourth on the team in tackles a year ago, he had 62 stops and three tackles behind the line.

Filling out the secondary at free safety is 5-10, 205-pound junior Corey Mosley . He’s trying to bounce back from a disappointing season, losing his grip on the starting job and making just 47 tackles in a dozen games. He handled the demotion well and has enough athletic ability and ferocity to use it as a catalyst for the upcoming season.

Projected Top Reserves: If Minnifield is going to win Cook’s old job, he’ll need to first hold off 5-11, 205-pound sophomore Devin Wallace . After appearing in a few games on special teams, he’s had a strong offseason, playing physically and positioning himself to make a run at the top of the depth chart in August.

After being named the most improved defensive player in the spring of 2009, 6-1, 195-pound junior Dom Joseph parlayed it into more playing time at free safety and on special teams. Although he only made nine tackles and made one pick, he flashes the safety size and cornerback cover skills to continue getting more reps in 2010.

Watch Out For… Minnifield to emerge from the pending battle at cornerback that’s about to take place in the summer. Yes, he’s getting pushed hard by Wallace, but he also has the experience and the pedigree to handle the challenge and flourish when he gets his opportunity to be a full-timer this fall.
Strength: Defending the pass. Sure, Cook was a big factor, but much of the group that yielded just 10 touchdown passes and ranked 23rd in pass efficiency defense is back in Charlottesville. Dowling is a future NFL cornerback and both safeties do a nice job of breaking on balls and breaking up passes.
Weakness: Picks. Two years ago, the Cavaliers were No. 9 in the ACC in interceptions. Last season? Tied for 50th nationally at a modest one pick a game. This group has too much talent and athleticism to not be taking a few more balls back the other way.
Outlook: For the second straight year, Virginia will call the secondary its strongest unit of the team. The Cavaliers have recruited this area well and developed that talent accordingly. Dowling has star qualities and enough of a supporting cast to remain in the top half of the ACC in pass defense.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The Cavaliers enter the season in fins shape on special teams, returning last year’s punter and placekicker. Junior Robert Randolph excelled in his first full season of action, making 17-of-19 field goals attempts and being named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. Accurate from as far out as 50 yards, he’s only missed three of his 23 career attempts, and has yet to reach his full potential.

Back for a third season as the punter is junior Jimmy Howell, who raised his averaged to 40.1 yards last season. At 6-6 and 240 pounds, he has the size and the leg drive to increase his distance without sacrificing much hang time.

Junior Chase Minnifield is expected to once again handle the lion’s share of the team’s return game after fielding 22 kickoffs for an average of 23.3 yards and 20 punts for just 4.4 yards last season.

Watch Out For… the new staff to look for a spark in the return game. Minnifield is still the primary guy on special teams, but after the team ranked 93rd nationally on punt returns and 113th on kickoffs, the Cavs are keeping an open mind on who’ll get opportunities in 2010.
Strength: Randolph. The exciting news for the Cavaliers is that the junior has only been kicking since 2006 and still has more room for growth. On an offense sorely lacking in consistency, he’s the one sure-thing the program can rely on.
Weakness: Covering kicks. After allowing two touchdowns, one on a kickoff and one on a punt, Virginia is looking to close the gaps in its coverage units. In general, the return game has not been a plus for the Cavaliers over the last two seasons.
Outlook: Anthony Poindexter has been brought on staff to do what Ron Prince couldn’t last year—transform the special teams unit into something positive. While Randolph and Howell are nice places to begin, the Cavaliers must do a better job of returning and covering kicks.
Rating: 6.5

- 2010 Virginia Preview | 2010 Virginia Offense
- 2010 Virginia Defense | 2010 Virginia Depth Chart
- Virginia Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006