Virginia Football Notes: John Rudzinski Focused On Fundamentals, Installation

Kam Butler has made a good impression early at Virginia. ~ Photo By Kris Wright/

As the Virginia football team works through the early preseason practices in preparation for its first intrasquad scrimmage, new defensive coordinator John Rudzinski is focused on three things. Fundamentals, installation, and reps, reps, reps.

The goal there is simple. He wants to put players in position to learn the expectations and schemes from the coaches and then give them enough reps to feel comfortable with those assignments. As a result, there’s less focus on establishing a depth chart and more attention on getting the players up to speed as quickly as possible. When that first scrimmage rolls around Saturday, then the picture for playing time will start to clearer.

That scrimmage will likely increase the competition and urgency for the Hoos. When they walk off the field at Scott Stadium this weekend, there will be three weeks remaining before the season opener with Richmond on Sept. 3.

“I think it’s really fluid,” Rudzinski said. “What we’re trying to do is get through the initial install. We’re very front-loaded with that install and then what we’ll do is we’ll get a chance when we scrimmage this Saturday to get a real picture of who wants to tackle and who can execute at a really high level.”

Depth chart specifics may still require some time, but there are some individuals carving out a role of some sort for the coming season. Returning players like linebacker Nick Jackson (6’1″, 234), defensive lineman Jahmeer Carter (6’2″, 313), and cornerback Anthony Johnson (6’2″, 205) figure to remain involved at their level of the defense for example.

There’s at least one newcomer that’s grabbed the attention of the coaches early in camp too. Miami of Ohio transfer Kam Butler (6’3″, 265) has come in with a purposeful approach and a strong work ethic per the coaches. He earned All-Mid-American Conference honors three times and was a first-team pick last season when he recorded 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 interception.

Butler will be a factor up front.

“Kam Butler’s a great worker,” Rudzinski said. “A young man that’s played a ton of football. Over 700 snaps last season at a high level. It’s exciting to have him and he definitely brings some depth to the D-Line.”

The fluid depth chart means its not clear yet how many players will rotate on the defensive line along with Butler and Carter. Senior Aaron Faumui (6’2″, 282) has played well out of the gates this preseason and junior Ben Smiley III (6’4″, 264) brings some explosiveness to the interior as well. That projects at least four contributors on the DL, but the Hoos likely will need more depth to navigate a 12-game season.

“I don’t know if I have a solidified answer on that,” Rudzinski said. “I think we’ve got to put the best players on the field. As long as a young man can be productive, what we’ll do is find a way to get him on the field.”

While the front seven receives a lot of attention, the secondary features an interesting – and wide open – competition for snaps. The departures of defensive backs Joey Blount, Nick Grant, and De’Vante Cross opened a lot of playing time so beyond Johnson, a lot of players are working to learn the new schemes and find their way to the field.

Someone like Darrius Bratton (6’0″, 193) offers experience and some explosiveness, while fellow senior Antonio Clary (6’0″, 199) brings versatility and physicality to the table. There’s a bevy of sophomores