Hoo Preview ’09: Defensive Line

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Nate Collins is one of six captains on this year’s team.

With Virginia shaking up its staff of assistant coaches last year, several of the replacements have plenty of pressure to whip their respective units into shape. Gregg Brandon revamping an offense that finished outside the top 100 teams each of the last three seasons; Ron Prince finding a way to spark sluggish return units; Bob Trott handling an unusually inexperienced group of linebackers.

New defensive line coach Chad Wilt, though, may have the fewest worries of any of the new assistants, as he inherits a D-Line that has experience, promise and longevity. All of last year’s starters return this year; one is a senior captain, while the other two were called two of the team’s best players by Virginia coach Al Groh, and have three years of eligibility remaining.

“When I am in the classroom and I put something on the board, they get it,” Wilt said. “They have seen it and they have been through those battles on Saturday afternoons.”

Much of that experience last year, of course, was unwanted. Going into the calendar year 2008, the expected starters for the fall included Jeffrey Fitzgerald and Sean Gottschalk . Then-redshirt freshmen Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins , Groh figured, would still have time to develop. When Fitzgerald unexpectedly transferred prior to spring practice and Gottschalk left the team for personal reasons in training camp, though, Conrath was thrust up the depth chart. Instead of 12-15 snaps per game, he was being trained on the job with 55-60 snaps.

Last year, that was a problem. Now that the training is over, however, it leaves the D-Line poised for a big year.

“I think both Nick [Jenkins] and Matt Conrath did a commendable job given the circumstances last year,” Groh said. “They’re really tough-minded kids,