Defensive Ends: No one expects Alex Field , Sean Gottschalk or Matt Conrath to be Chris Long this season. Heck, Chris Long wasn’t Chris Long in his sophomore season. But the loss of Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald means a lot will be expected from the players that take over on the outside of the defensive front.
Even with Long and Fitzgerald leading the nation’s fifth best pass rush, the Cavalier defense finished 54th in the nation in pass defense a year ago. That means the ends will have to quickly discover ways to pressure opposing quarterback this season if the Cavalier defense is going to be successful. Last season, the ends accounted for 52% of Virginia’s 43 sacks, a number good enough for third in the conference.
In 2008, Field will lead a unit that is young and very inexperienced on the outside. He is a reliable run stopper and potential playmaker but has yet to show he’s a dependable pass rusher. In his defense, with Long and Fitzgerald on the team, Field rarely got the chance to prove otherwise. Gottschalk has shown glimpses of being a very good pass rusher, but he’ll need to become a much more explosive threat in 2008 if this defense is going to work.
There’s an unusual amount of pressure on Conrath to perform this coming season as a redshirt freshman. It may not be fair, but it’s necessary. The 6’7″ end may be the best natural athlete at defensive end on roster and will be counted on to be a situational pass rusher early on. Blessed with excellent quickness and a good first step, he should make an impact early and he has the potential to be a top-flight starter as he develops with experience.
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