4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRGINIA DEFENSE
– The defense that finished third in the ACC and allowed just 20 points per game loses two key parts in S Juan Thornhill and LB Chris Peace, but there’s a whole lot of talent coming back. Eight starters and eight of the top ten tacklers are back, and best of all, they’re young with a whole lot of promising depth in the rotation.
– The secondary takes the biggest hit with two lost starters, but it has an All-America talent at one corner spot in Bryce Hall, and a fantastic-tackling safety in junior Joey Blount. Junior Brenton Nelson isn’t Thornhill, but he’s coming off a 41-tackle season, and junior Darrius Bratton played enough in the rotation to be ready to go on the other side of Hall.
– Peace might be gone from the linebacking corps, but Jordan Mack is a big hitter from his spot on the inside, and 6-7, 225-pound junior Charles Snowden is a good hybrid edge rusher from a spot on the outside. It’ll take a rotation to replace Peace, but 235-pound Zane Zandier was fifth on the team with 63 tackles, and 215-pound Evan Clark is a quick option to step in.
– There’s going to be a fantastic rotation on the front three. 6-4, 300-pound senior Eli Hanback can play on the nose or as a big end, and 6-0, 320-pound Jordan Redmond will be a fixture on the inside and an occasional anchor.
There are more veterans in the mix to go along with the young parts – like sophomores Aaron Faumui and Tommy Christ – for the best line yet under Bronco Mendenhall.