Continuing the series from yesterday with the camp issues for the Virginia defense.
1. Can Eli Harold be a terror on the edge?
The least proven ability on the entire defense is pass-rushing. Your starting defensive ends are Billy Schautz and Jake Snyder. Schautz has an outstanding head for football, but isn't athletic enough to speed-rush the quarterback, or powerful enough to bull-rush. When he gets by his man, it's through technique and footwork. Snyder is a big, strong-side run stopper, whose job is to hold the edge, and his backup, Brent Urban, is the same.
Mike London moved Ausar Walcott down from linebacker - for real this time, not as a wake-up call after offseason foolishness - in an effort to provide some speed-rush for pressuring the QB. But not one of these DEs has the raw athletic freakishness of top recruit Eli Harold. Harold will get a chance right off the bat to make his presence felt in the backfield. And truthfully, if he isn't yet up to the chore, this season's pass rush will be inconsistent and not terribly productive.
2. Is Steve Greer the real deal?
Greer was one of two Hoos named to the preseason all-ACC team. He's not very big and not very fast, but he's developed into a crucial player - captain on the defense, unquestioned leader, and team tackling champ for two of his three years on the field. And probably this year, too. He's always been able to work quietly in the background, though, or at least, as much as you can do that at middle linebacker. Being named one of the top three linebackers in the league is a high honor, but it means teams are gonna be gameplanning for him. He'll have a lot on his plate no longer being backed up by senior safeties, and UVA's defense is going to go as he goes. That's likely to be great news.
3. Do the defensive backs know what's about to hit them?
Folks had complaints about the play of our defensive backfield at times last year, but they still were mostly seniors, and the plaudits for Chase Minnifield outweighed any complaints about safeties sometimes giving up big plays.
As veteran as that group was, though, this group is greener. Let's put it this way: Tre Nicholson is a true sophomore and has six times as many starts as every other defensive back on the roster combined - which is because the only other player to have started a game is Rijo Walker, with two. The other safety, Anthony Harris, is as green as they come.
At cornerback, it looks like a three-man rotation (a familiar setup - you'll remember how much time Dom Joseph saw despite not technically being a starter) with Nicholson as the veteran leader and Drequan Hoskey and Brandon Phelps rotating. Hoskey - for now - has a leg up. There's a ton of talent in the cornerback group, but barely enough experience to fill a paper bag.
And if that weren't enough, it seems a near certainty that a true freshman will be forced onto the field, and it's anyone's guess who that might be. Defensive back might be the position that draws the most scrutiny in the whole camp.
4. Am I right about Chris Brathwaite?
I've long felt that Brathwaite is a sleeper talent in the truest sense of the word. I hate when people use the word "sleeper" or "diamond in the rough" because usually they do it wrong, but Brathwaite is the type the terms are meant for. And this is a possible breakout year for the big, strong DT from New York. Brathwaite is poised to leapfrog Justin Renfrow on the depth chart and earn a starting role alongside Will Hill, which is really great because I think there comes a time when Brathwaite is seen stepping on some right guard's face on the way to eating his quarterback as a light tea-time snack. Practically every time Brathwaite has been mentioned on this blog in the past it's accompanied by effusive praise for his future prospects, and now that he's getting first-team reps, I'm excited to find out if this praise is well-placed.
Get excited yo: next week I kick off the ACC previews. As always, FOV readers will be the best-informed UVA fans on the competition. Can't get this stuff anywhere else, and you will be able to talk intelligently about the rest of the ACC and where the Hoos fit into the pecking order.
Oh, and finally, speaking of kickoffs, as the Olympics begin their two-week run tonight, check out the list of UVA athletes participating in the Games in London, as put together by Streaking the Lawn. Included are no fewer than three former Cavalier of the Year nominees as well; there's a reason that award exists.
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