The Virginia football team lost more depth at linebacker on Monday. Rising junior Eric Gallon announced via his Twitter account that he expects to transfer to Kansas State.
Gallon represents the fifth player to depart the program since the beginning of March, including two other linebackers so the depth there has undergone a significant shift over the past four months. Landan Word, Matt Terrell, David Eldridge, and Naji Abdullah decided to leave the program during the spring.
“First, giving recognition to God and His glory if it was not for Him I would not be here or would have accomplished the things in life that I have. Next I would like to thank my family, friends and the University of Virginia for a once in a life time experience. I would also like to thank all the other schools for their interest, offer’s and belief in my ability to play for their program. With extremely long thought my family and I have decided to ask for a release from the University of Virginia and I will be transferring this summer to complete my academic and athletic career at The Kansas State University. #EMAW #Family #TheLegacyContinues,” Gallon wrote on Twitter.
When Abdullah opted to transfer, Cavalier coach Bronco Mendenhall said that transfers remain a possibility during this transition period for the program.
“I can’t say there might not be others by the time our spring exit interviews finish,” Mendenhall said during spring practice. “But I think that’s still normal in the transition to a new coach even after one year. Sometimes, the first spring and the first season give you clarity as to what you think the direction is. Sometimes, it takes a second spring to see where exactly you’re going to fit or if you’re going to fit.”
Gallon filled a reserve role for UVA, appearing on special teams for the most part in Bronco Mendenhall’s first season. He saw action in 10 games last fall, sitting out the Duke game with an injury. He made two tackles in his first two years with the Hoos. As a Mike London recruit for the 4-3 scheme on defense, he likely didn’t see many opportunities opening up this fall with incoming freshman recruited by the current coaching staff joining the ranks this month. The Virginia roster listed him as an outside linebacker.
Gallon played as a true freshman for London, but saw time in only five games with one start against UNC. He will sit out a year as a transfer to KSU.
Word and Terrell, meanwhile, both saw snaps with the first team defense last fall but announced their transfers in March. Both played snaps with the first team defense as inside linebackers last fall and could have been in competition for a starting spot after Zach Bradshaw finished his Cavalier career. Word played in 11 games with 2 starts and recorded 21 tackles. He chose JMU as his transfer destination. Terrell appeared in nine games with no starts and tallied 29 tackles. He is headed to Liberty.
With the trio exiting the depth chart, Virginia’s starting linebacker spots appear to have a clear outlook when preseason practice starts in the final week of July. Senior All-American candidate Micah Kiser returns to take one of the inside linebacker slots after he posted more than 100 tackles for the second straight season last fall. He now has 266 stops in his career.
Sophomore Jordan Mack stepped in as an immediate starter last year as a true freshman when he became the first true freshman at UVA to start a season opener at linebacker since Ahmad Brooks in 2003. Mack eventually started nine games and posted 40 total tackles. This spring, Mack moved from the outside linebacker spots to the inside during the spring.
Junior Chris Peace started all 12 games a year ago and returns on the outside after he made 65 tackles in 2016. Lastly, Malcolm Cook is expected to start at the other outside linebacker spot. Cook missed last season with a heart condition, but doctors cleared him to return this spring. The junior spent the fall beside coach Bronco Mendenhall relaying in the defensive signals to the players on the field.
The depth behind those players will be made up of mostly underclassmen. Junior C.J. Stalker, who is slotted on the inside, is the only upperclassmen in the group. Stalker, who played as a true freshman in London’s final year, has appeared in 11 total games in his career with five tackles. The other players listed as inside linebackers include sophomores Jahvoni Simmons (4 games, 1 tackle), Reed Kellam, and Dominic Sheppard as well as redshirt freshman Robert Snyder. All three of the sophomores redshirted their first season with only Simmons seeing action last fall.
On the outside, the roster lists sophomore Gladimir Paul and redshirt freshman Dre Bryant as the other depth options. Paul redshirted his freshman season and then played in just three games a year ago.
This likely means that some incoming true freshman could work their way into the rotation conversation much like Word and Terrell did a year ago.
“Elliott Brown, Matt Gahm, Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier are the four potential linebackers in the incoming freshmen class,” Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne said. “Brown, who is 6’6″, and Snowden, who is 6’7″, played wide receiver and defensive end at their respective schools last year. Virginia likes both at outside linebacker. Because of their size, long term they could develop into defensive ends. Mendenhall also discussed Snowden’s talents at receiver on National Signing Day 2017. Outside linebacker is the initial projection, but I think both players will need time and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up moving positions. Gahm and Zandier are likely to stick at linebacker and could be the ones to watch this season. Gahm, a Texas native, has good size (6’3″, 225 pounds) and impressed the staff with his footwork last summer at camp. Zandier, who played wide receiver and safety in high school, brings a boost of athleticism to the position. He is also the most highly rated of the group.”