Looking at the Virginia football team’s 2022-23 defensive line, and defense as a whole, there is a lot of work to be done.
Last year, the Cavaliers had one of the worst defenses in the country, allowing 466 yards per game that put the unit 121st out of the 130 teams in the nation. They also tied for 103rd in scoring defense (31.8 points per game allowed) and 123rd in run defense (225.83 rushing yards per game allowed). The latter stat may tie to the defensive line as much as any – how the front does its job impacts everything behind it.
This situation is compounded by the loss of veteran defensive linemen Mandy Alonso, who started the last 20 games for UVA, and Adeeb Atariwa, who had 106 total career tackles. It seems things can only go up from here. Despite the challenges, coach Tony Elliott does not seem fazed.
Following the Virginia Blue-White scrimmage this spring, Elliot said he was incredibly pleased with the defensive line’s performance and that he’s optimistic about what’s to come. In his eyes, the star of the game, and potentially of Virginia’s defense this season, was Ben Smiley. In Elliott’s words, “He’s strong enough, physical enough to go inside and be like a Jonathan Allen. … Not saying he’s Jonathan Allen … [but] he’s got that kind of flexibility and versatility.” To bring out this incredible talent, and help Virginia’s defense achieve its potentially high ceiling, Elliott made key moves surrounding his defensive coaching staff.
John Rudzinski will take over the role of defensive coordinator for Virginia. Rudzinski comes to Virginia following a sterling 14-season tenure at Air Force where, last season, he helped the team to a 10-3 overall record and a victory over Louisville (31-28) in the SERVPRO First Responders Bowl. Rudzinski’s most notable achievement at the academy was his 2020 defense, which finished the season ranked third nationally in scoring defense (15.0 avg), fifth in passing yards allowed (166.8), and fourth in red zone defense (.692).
Though, by his own admission, he is still learning about the pieces he inherited at Virginia, Rudzinski could be just the coach to turn the Cavalier defense around. Along with Rudzinski, Elliot also adds Kevin Downing, the defensive end coach from Navy, and Chris Slade, the former UVA star and ACC career sack record holder (40), to the staff.
But, it all has to start up front. Though the Cavaliers only return 14 total career starts (Jahmeer Carter 10, Ben Smiley 3, and Olasunkonmi Agunloye 1), Rudzinski and his staff will have a more than solid group to work with this season on the D-Line.
Let’s take a look at how the Virginia defensive line will look this season as The Sabre’s Summer Reading continues.
Of Virginia’s returners, the group is undoubtedly led by junior nose tackle Jahmeer Carter. Carter, the 6’2’’ 319-pound Maryland native, started 10 of Virginia’s 12 games last season while appearing in all of them. During this time, he logged 23 tackles (9 solo), 2 of which were for loss, with 1 pass break-up. Carter is nothing short of a phenomenal athlete, seen frequently on the Twitter front squatting up to 315 pounds for reps. With his size, speed, and athleticism as the centerpiece of the UVA defense, Elliott will look to surround him with the necessary support to get the job done.
One veteran player by Carter’s side will be senior Aaron Faumui. Faumui will also be an integral part of the Cavalier defense this season as one of its most experienced players. Despite electing to stay in the transfer portal longer than expected, Faumui finally did make the decision to return to UVA this fall. Last season, over Faumui’s 11 games played, the 6’1’’ 283-pound defensive tackle accounted for 23 total...
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