Even before the announcement Wednesday that Chris Brathwaite would not be eligible to play for Virginia next year, defensive tackle might have been one of the Cavaliers’ biggest question marks.
For openers, UVa technically does not have a defensive-line coach following the dismissal of Jeff Hanson, although that probably will be cleared up at a new coaches’ news conference today.
In all likelihood, head coach Mike London will confirm that he personally will coach the defensive line, a role he previously filled under former boss Al Groh. It remains to be seen how well London coordinates his duties as head coach and position coach, but chances are, his success will be determined mostly by the talent he has at his disposal.
The Cavaliers have a good blend of experience and athleticism at defensive end with rising fifth-year senior Jake Snyder and sophomore Eli Harold, but try naming a UVa defensive tackle. It’s hard.
You might be surprised to learn that the same two defensive tackles, senior Will Hill and junior Brent Urban, started every game.
When I think about Hill, here’s the first thing that comes to mind: He should have been redshirted in 2009, Al Groh’s final season as head coach.
Remember what Groh used to say, “When they’re ready, we’re ready?” Well, most of the time, they weren’t ready. And, even with the benefit of spring ball following his January 2009 enrollment, Hill wasn’t ready.
Hill showed promised as a junior in 2011 but was just OK last year. He was 14th on the team in tackles with a total of 25 (10 solo, 15 assists). He had one sack and four tackles for loss.
Brathwaite didn’t start a single game but was easily the most productive UVa tackle. He had a total of 41 tackles, including 10 for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. He was a force against Virginia Tech before being carted off the field with a leg injury.
So now, Hill is gone. Brathwaite possibly could return in 2015, when he would be a fifth-year, but, chances are, he’s gone, too. The top two returnees will be Urban and fellow senior Justin Renfrow, who ranked 15th and 20th on the team is tackles.
Behind them, there’s sophomore David Dean, who was tied for 26th on the team in tackles. He had three tackles — the same as quarterback Michael Rocco.
Urban returned a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown at Virginia Tech and seemed to improve as the season went along, but London, or whoever coaches the defensive line, will have a major challenge with the tackles.
It’s easy to see how 6-foot-3, 315-pound recruit Donta Wilkins from Potomac could get immediate playing time, provided the Cavaliers can hold onto his commitment, and 6-4, 260-pound Andre Miles-Redmond is another candidate after being redshirted this year as a freshman.
Then, you’ve got a couple of heralded recruits from Maryland, Marco Jones and Vincent Croce, both of whom were redshirted in 2011. Jones then suffered a preseason injury that ended his redshirt freshman, while there’s no record of Croce having played at all.
In summary, that’s a lot of names but not much in the way of assurances.