As the ultimate installment in our 2022 Virginia soccer preview collection, right this moment we’re breaking down the UVA protection.
Try our breakdown of the Virginia offense right here: Virginia Football 2022 Season Preview: Offense
Try our breakdown of the Virginia particular groups unit right here: Virginia Football 2022 Season Preview: Special Teams
Try our breakdown of the 2022 Virginia soccer schedule right here: Virginia Football 2022 Season Preview: Schedule
The 2021 season was one the UVA protection want to neglect. Out of 130 FBS groups, Virginia ranked 121st in complete protection, yielding 466.0 yards per recreation, and 103rd in scoring protection, permitting 31.8 factors per recreation. In what ought to have been marginal victories given the output of the offense, the Cavaliers gave up 48 factors to Pittsburgh, 59 factors to North Carolina, and 66 factors to BYU, all losses. Virginia didn’t get to opposing quarterbacks, didn’t cease the run, missed tackles at an alarming price, and gave up a number of large performs in each recreation.
Now, the Cavaliers have a clear slate and a large chip on their shoulders getting into a brand new season. And that is the place we are able to present some excellent news as there are lots of the reason why UVA can and will have a a lot improved protection in 2022.
From a personnel standpoint, Virginia has mixture of strong returning starters, some potential breakout stars from among the many gamers who did not get a lot taking part in time final season, and a batch of transfers that carry expertise, expertise, and depth, significantly on the line of defense.
UVA did lose some key contributors from final yr’s unit, specifically Joey Blount, Nick Grant, Mandy Alonso, De’Vante Cross, West Weeks, and Noah Taylor. However, their departures are offering alternatives for some new names to step up and be the driving power behind the resurgence of the Virginia protection. The thrilling additions of Kam Butler, Jack Camper, Paul Akere, and Devontae Davis will give the Cavaliers a stage of depth up entrance that they haven’t had in just a few years.
Probably the most significance change skilled by the UVA protection this yr had nothing to do with participant personnel. Nick Howell, the defensive coordinator below Bronco Mendenhall, is off to Vanderbilt and has been changed by former Air Drive defensive coordinator John Rudzinski. After spending the final 12 years on the teaching employees at Air Drive, together with the final 4 seasons as defensive coordinator, Rudzinski involves UVA with a formidable resume. In 2020, Rudzinski’s Air Drive protection gave up simply 15.0 factors per recreation, the third-lowest scoring protection in all of faculty soccer that season. Final fall, the Falcons ranked No. 4 within the nation in complete protection, yielding simply 296.5 yards per recreation.
Together with the opposite defensive assistants Kevin Downing (defensive tackles), Curome Cox (defensive backs), and former UVA soccer greats Clint Sintim (linebackers) and Chris Slade (defensive ends), Rudzinski and firm look to reform the Virginia protection again into being a energy of the staff, not a weak point.
Rudzinski hasn’t instructed us a lot about his supposed scheme for the UVA protection. However from what we are able to collect from his feedback and the released depth chart for the Richmond game, Virginia will likely be working a five-defensive again system. The Cavaliers can have just a few versatile positions on the sphere that can function hybrids that may shift from linebacker to security or from down lineman to linebacker relying on the scenario. We’ll get into the small print of which particular gamers will likely be filling these versatile roles a bit afterward.
The mix of recent personnel, a brand new teaching employees, a brand new defensive scheme, and the mentality that the Cavaliers are out to show themselves must be a recipe for important enchancment this season.
With that in thoughts, let’s check out Virginia’s defensive roster for the 2022 season:
The line of defense may the energy of the UVA protection in 2022 primarily based purely on the variety of gamers who can line up within the trenches and supply high quality reps. Rudzinski and firm need have a deep rotation of defensive linemen to allow them to preserve everybody contemporary and at all times have three or 4 high-energy rushers battling on the line of scrimmage on each snap.
Two transfers occupy the defensive finish place on the UVA depth chart. Kam Butler from Miami (Ohio) shot as much as the entrance of the place group early throughout fall camp and by no means regarded again, incomes and sustaining a beginning job. Butler was twice chosen to the All-MAC Second Crew at Miami (Ohio) and was named to the All-MAC First Crew in 2021 after posting a outstanding statline of 53 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three compelled fumbles, three quarterback hits, and an interception. In keeping with the UVA teaching employees, Butler’s work ethic has stood out from day one and he’s anticipated to be a playmaker all season lengthy.
Becoming a member of Butler at defensive finish is Columbia switch Paul Akere, donning the No. 1 jersey for Virginia. Akere made the All-Ivy League Second Crew final season, recording 42 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, and a compelled fumble. The one-two punch of Kam Butler and Paul Akere might be a serious situation for opposing offensive tackles this season.
Virginia has a few big-body disruptive forces of nature on the nostril deal with spot. Jahmeer Carter is a critical candidate to have breakout season in 2022. The 6’2″, 313-pound junior began in 10 video games final yr and made 23 tackles. His capability to plug the gaps will likely be essential to UVA’s run protection. Devontae Davis, a switch from South Carolina, is listed at 6’4″, 306 kilos. After a summer time spent with new UVA energy and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman, Davis reported throughout fall camp that he feels he’s in unimaginable form and is happy to make a distinction on the inside of the line of defense. Virginia additionally returns junior Olasunkonmi Agunloye, a veteran with some strong expertise after showing in 9 video games final season.
Scroll to Proceed
At defensive deal with are Aaron Faumui and Ben Smiley III. Faumui initially entered the switch portal in the course of the teaching change, however determined to return again to UVA after assembly with Tony Elliott and the brand new Virginia teaching employees. The 6’2″, 282-pound senior Faumui appeared in all 12 video games final season, recording 23 tackles 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. As for Ben Smiley III, he has additionally gotten a variety of love from the UVA teaching employees as a participant who’s primed for a breakout season. Smiley was very highly-recruited popping out of highschool and held provides from Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, Texas A&M, and a number of other different Energy 5 applications. He has handled important damage and well being points all through his profession, together with bronchial asthma assaults, however now he seems to be in nice form and is doing very effectively each on the sphere and within the classroom. The teaching employees could be very enthusiastic about Smiley reaching his potential this fall.
Bandit is a flexible place that may function a fourth down lineman whereas additionally having the ability to drop again into protection like a linebacker. At that important spot, Virginia is trying to senior Chico Bennett Jr. and Michigan State grad switch Jack Camper. The 6’4″, 252-pound Bennett transferred to UVA from Georgia Tech in 2020 however did not seem in any video games final season, however this has been a career-changing offseason for him, as he has totally impressed the brand new UVA teaching employees and earned a beginning job in fall camp. Equally, the Virginia coaches have favored what they’ve seen from Jack Camper, with John Rudzinski even noting that it did not look like Camper was a switch given how effectively he has built-in himself into this system this yr. Camper’s Huge Ten expertise taking part in in 27 video games during the last 4 seasons at Michigan State will likely be very worthwhile.
On the MIKE or center linebacker place sits Virginia’s defensive chief, Nick Jackson. A two-time All-ACC choice and a member of the preseason watch lists for each the Bednarik Award (greatest defensive participant) and the Butkus Award (greatest linebacker), Jackson returns after main the ACC with 117 tackles final season. Virginia has excessive expectations for Jackson this season and that additionally goes for junior linebacker Josh Ahern, one other breakout candidate for the upcoming season. Ahern has appeared in 22 video games during the last three years, together with 11 video games final season, and recorded 25 tackles and a pair of.5 tackles for loss in 2021. Ahern must sit out the primary half of the Richmond recreation as a consequence of a focusing on penalty known as in opposition to him within the Virginia Tech recreation final yr, however the Cavaliers are hoping for him to take a giant leap this yr.
Sophomore James Jackson will begin on the WILL or weakside inside linebacker place. A 6’3″, 228-pound sophomore, Jackson had a powerful fall camp and the UVA teaching employees likes what he brings in the course of the protection. Becoming a member of Jackson at WILL are juniors Hunter Stewart, who recorded 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks final season, and D’Sean Perry, who performed in seven video games in 2021.
As a part of John Rudzinski’s five-defensive again scheme, the same old two cornerbacks and two safeties will likely be supplemented by the SPUR place, a hybrid participant who can fulfill each the roles of a security and a linebacker. Fifth-year Darrius Bratton has been pegged because the starter at SPUR. A veteran with 43 profession appearances, Bratton was tied for fifth on the staff with 26 solo tackles final season.
Junior Chayce Chalmers can also be listed at SPUR. Chalmers had a powerful offseason, together with a notable efficiency within the spring recreation, the place he led all gamers with ten complete tackles.
On the cornerback spots, Virginia will go along with junior Fentrell Cypress II on the left and graduate Anthony Johnson on the proper. Cypress began in six video games final yr and had an interception within the North Carolina recreation, selecting off Sam Howell. Anthony Johnson is the most important character on the staff, however he additionally brings it on the sphere. A really skilled participant with 45 recreation appearances in his profession, which he started at Louisville again in 2017, Johnson had three interceptions, 9 passes defended, and 44 tackles final season. Sophomore Elijah Gaines will again up Cypress on the left and senior Jaylon Baker will backup Johnson on the proper.
A few sophomore Virginia natives occupy the protection positions for the Hoos. Beginning at free security is Lex Lengthy, who hails from Woodbridge, Virginia and performed in eight video games as a real freshman. The starter at sturdy security is Charlottesville native Jonas Sanker, who additionally received a variety of taking part in time as a primary yr, showing in 9 video games final fall. Each Sanker and Lengthy impressed defensive backs coach Curome Cox throughout camp and earned their beginning jobs in August. Sophomore Donovan Johnson backs up Lengthy at free security whereas Sanker’s sturdy security backup is senior Antonio Clary, who had 42 tackles final season. Count on to see Clary on the sphere fairly a bit as effectively.
After a disastrous 2021 season, there actually is nowhere for the UVA protection to go however up. With the weapons Virginia has returning on offense, even marginal enchancment on the defensive finish ought to lead to a extra profitable season this fall. With the inflow of expertise from the switch portal and from just a few breakout candidates in addition to the scheme changes from the brand new teaching employees, there’s an opportunity the Cavaliers expertise extra than simply marginal defensive enhancements in 2022.
See extra Virginia soccer information and content material: Virginia Football on Sports Illustrated
See extra Virginia sports activities information and content material: Virginia Cavaliers on Sports Illustrated
Newest Virginia Cavaliers information and storylines