Of the 128 FBS programs, Virginia finished no. 93 in the nation in total defense and no. 99 in scoring defense in the 2016 season, the first of the Bronco Mendenhall Era. Among the silver linings was the play of a handful of true freshmen, providing reason for optimism moving forward. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, two of those promising young players are now headed elsewhere.
Landan Word, who started two games in 2016 and figured to be a strong contender to start alongside All-ACC performer Micah Kiser at inside linebacker this coming year, and outside linebacker Matt Terrell have decided to transfer. Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times confirmed Word’s departure through Barry Word, Landan’s father and a former star running back at UVA.
“The program just wasn’t a good fit for him,” Barry told the Roanoke Times in this article.
Terrell’s mother, Kelly, issued a statement on Facebook regarding her son’s status.
“For those of you that did not know, our son Matt has decided to leave the UVA football program,” Terrell wrote.
“This decision for Matt was not easy nor one he took lightly,” she wrote. “He highly respects the coaches and he will be forever grateful for the lessons they taught him both on and off the field. Although Coach Mendenhall is building the Cavs into a team that will be a great contender in the ACC, it became apparent to Matt that it was not the best fit for him in his position. We are so proud of Matt for being able to maintain his grades, being on the honor role, while giving 100% to the team.”
Including Terrell and Word, Virginia has now lost seven of the 24 players who either enrolled in January of 2016 or signed letters of intent in February of 2016. Bronco Mendenhall was named Cavalier head coach in December of 2015.
Both Word and Terrell verbally committed to UVA when Mike London was head coach. They stuck with the Cavaliers after London resigned and Mendenhall came on board. The fact that players who committed to the previous coach are leaving the program is not a surprise. However, Terrell and Word had success playing as true freshmen last season and figured to have prominent roles moving forward. From that standpoint, these moves are disappointing for a Cavalier program in rebuilding mode.
Word played in 11 games in 2016, finishing the year with 21 tackles (14 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery and 1 pass deflection. In nine games of action Terrell tallied 29 tackles (14 solo) with 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. The 6’5” outside linebacker/rush end brought versatility, speed and toughness to the defense.
Kiser’s return gives UVA one of the most productive linebackers in the country, certainly a major comfort for Mendenhall and company. The coaches will have to find a replacement at the Buck linebacker spot vacated by departing senior Zach Bradshaw and the transferring Word. Early candidates to keep an eye on this spring include rising junior C.J. Stalker (rising junior) and rising redshirt sophomores Dominic Sheppard and Jahvoni Simmons. Stalker (11 games, 1 start) and Simmons (4 games) have limited game experience, while Sheppard has yet to see the field and was injured last season.
Rob Snyder, who didn’t play last season as a true freshman, is another returning scholarship inside linebacker. Additionally, the Cavaliers signed four linebackers in the 2017 Class. Look for one or two of those players to get looks at the inside spots this summer.
Terrell may not have been a starter but he was certainly a valuable contributor with a lot of potential. His departure is impactful, although Virginia figures in good hands on the outside with the return of starters Chris Peace (rising junior) and Jordan Mack (rising sophomore). Rising senior Malcolm Cook, who impressed before being sidelined the entire 2016 season with a medical issue, returns as well. A healthy Cook gives the Cavaliers a promising 3-man rotation at outside linebacker. Junior Eric Gallon and redshirt sophomore Gladimir Paul round out the returning scholarship outside linebackers.