A wise, old football coach asked me the other day, “How did [Virginia] get in a position where it starts four sophomores in the secondary?”
Clearly a lack of experience in the secondary can’t be discounted in analyzing the six-game losing streak that UVa takes into Saturday’s game at North Carolina State.
The Cavaliers have intercepted one pass and that was by a non-starter, freshman “nickel back” Maurice Canady.
Interestingly enough, UVa does rank third in the ACC in pass defense, with an average yield of 208.6 passing yards per game. The Cavaliers have been victimized for 14 touchdown passes, however.
To me, a greater issue than Virginia starting four sophomores in the secondary is that three of them are first-year starters – cornerback Drequan Hoskey and safeties Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps.
Harris had the most action last year – 252 plays, but 203 of those were on special teams. Hoskey played 57 plays on defense, Harris played 49 and Phelps played 20.
Nicholson played a team-high 890 plays on defense, which might explain why opposing teams don’t pick on him as much.
BUT, MOST PERSONNEL issues come back to recruiting and you wonder why there isn’t a single cornerback recruit in the picture from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 signing classes.
Actually, Hoskey is a redshirt sophomore who entered with the class of 2010, but he originally came to Virginia as a track recruit, although it was apparent that he would get a football spot when one opened.
The 2008 signing class yielded a top defensive back in Rodney McLeod, who never redshirted and now plays for the St. Louis Rams. But, there wasn’t a single cornerback recruit in the 2009 class and the only DB to enter in 2010 was Rijio Walker.
(Funny thing about Walker: He intercepted a pass against Indiana early last season, when he was listed as a nickel back, but rarely gets on the field now).
But, this can’t all be about cornerbacks because UVa’s youthful safeties aren’t playing much better than the cornerbacks. In 2009, the Cavaliers signed a trio of safeties – La’Roy Reynolds, Corey Lillard and Lovante Battle..
Reynolds has been a good player for the Cavaliers, but he was moved to outside linebacker before his sophomore year. A defensive back signee from the 2008 class, Ausar Walcott, is now a defensive end.
VERY FEW OF the signees had any chance of playing cornerback at a high ACC level.
One who showed some potential was Devin Wallace, thrown off the team following the 2010 season.
I say Wallace showed some potential because classmate Chase Minnifield insisted that Wallace could be a good player, but Wallace was beaten repeatedly during Mike London’s first season as head coach.
But, had Wallace behaved himself and stayed around, he would have been a fifth-year senior by now and presumably a lot more sure of himself. He started seven games in 2010.
(Wallace, by the way, has resurfaced as a fifth-year senior at Division II Virginia Union, where he has not intercepted any passes this year but does have a fumble recovery).
Wallace left and 2009 signee Corey Lillard left but most everybody else stayed around. Maybe it speaks to the difficulty of identifying FBS-caliber cornerbacks because there aren’t a lot of great college corners who picked some other school over the Cavaliers.
IT’S INTERESTING THAT Virginia put out news releases on three consecutive recruiting classes, 2009-2011, that did not list a cornerback. That changed this past winter, when signees C.B. Moore, Kelvin Rainey and Divante Walker were all listed as corners.
Two of the highest-rated players who have made commitments to UVa for 2013 are cornerbacks, Tim Harris from Varina High School outside Richmond and Kirk Garner from Our Lady of Good Counsel in suburban Montgomery County, Md.
Virginia has taken 18 commitments for 2013, including five-star running back Taquan Mizzell from Virginia Beach and four-stars Harris and Garner. Everybody else is a three- or two-star.
A third four-star corner, Priest Willis from Tempe, Ariz., has indicated an interest in coming to Charlottesville for the Cavaliers’ game Nov. 10 with Miami. He already has been to Nebraska and has a visit scheduled to LSU for later this month.
Willis is rated the No. 9 cornerback nationally by rivals.com, Harris is 13th and Garner is 30th.
OF COURSE, recruiting rankings aren’t an assurance of future stardom. And, don’t think other schools won’t try to get UVa’s top recruits to change their minds, but two four-star corners is one more than the Cavaliers have right now (Nicholson).