Virginia hopes to answer some questions on defense during spring practice

Yahoo! Sports Staff
Yahoo! Sports

Virginia coach Mike London's second season was surprisingly successful as the Cavs battled for the ACC's Coastal Division title and earned their first bowl bid since the 2007 season.

But he and his staff have some work to do this spring, especially on defense. Virginia returns 12 starters but needs to rebuild its secondary and defensive line, find a new go-to receiver and revamp the interior of its offensive line.

Going into the 2011 season, two of UVa's strengths appeared to be its offensive line and its secondary. With big help from the former and, at times, in spite of the latter, the Cavaliers were able to post an 8-5 record.

Virginia found a quarterback last season with Michael Rocco, one of seven starters returning on offense.
(US Presswire)

Virginia at-a-glance

Coach: Mike London (3rd season)
Last season: 8-5, 5-3 ACC
Spring practice dates: March 19-April 14
Returning starters
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (7): T Oday Aboushi, G Luke Bowanko, TB Perry Jones, T Morgan Moses, TE Colt Phillips, QB Michael Rocco, WR Tim Smith
Defense (5): LB Steve Greer, CB Demetrious Nicholson, LB LaRoy Reynolds, E Jake Snyder, LB Ausar Walcott
Special teams: None

The Cavs found a quarterback in Mike Rocco (2,671 yards, 13 touchdowns), got great production from the line and earned a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But a defense that returned three returning senior starters in the secondary gave up too many big plays and was a weakness late in games.

With several players not participating this spring because of injuries, the majority of Virginia's redshirted 2011 recruiting class should get plenty of reps.

Brad Franklin of – a website that covers Virginia – provides a more in-depth look at spring practice.

The biggest problem: Defense. London is going to lose some sleep over the next few months over how his team replaces those six full-time starters on defense (three linemen and three defensive backs). The reality is that the Cavs still are in a state of transition and the bulk of London's recruiting work is starting to make its way into the two-deep. The projected new starting linemen have experience; they now need to make the jump from backup to consistent starter. CB Demetrious Nicholson returns after making some freshman All-American teams, but the other three defensive back spots are a big question.

[ Florida State spring preview: Can Seminoles live up to the hype this time? ]

On the spot: WR Tim Smith. It's Smith and it's not even close. A year ago, the Cavaliers found a quarterback in Rocco, but he primarily threw the ball to either TB Perry Jones or to then-senior WR Kris Burd. To put the production that UVa is losing at receiver in context, Burd caught 66 passes. The next two receivers combined caught 81. In terms of yards, Burd was responsible for 916. The next two combined bested him by just 158. With Burd gone, the go-to guy needs to be Smith, a junior who had 33 receptions for 565 yards and three TDs. With two sophomores also in the mix (former four-star recruits Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell), Smith is the veteran and the leader of a wide receiving corps that has to pick up its production in 2012.

On the verge: LB Daquan Romero. If you're looking for a Cavalier who may surprise people in 2012, it could be Romero. He enrolled early as a freshman, and this is his second spring. There are a lot of expectations from the coaching staff. UVa has solid returning starters at linebacker in LaRoy Reynolds (weakside) and Steve Greer (middle), and Romero has a chance to nail down the starting spot at strongside linebacker this spring. Though Romero played in spots last season, this will be the first extended amount of playing time in a 4-3 defense.

General overview: Because of some injuries, some young guys will be getting meaningful reps, and they must do something with them. There are several positions where the clear starter is out this spring, which could end up being a boon for depth purposes. The Cavs need to replace their kicker and their punter. K Drew Jarrett, who sat out the 2011 season, has returned to the team and factors in the mix with P Alec Vozenilek and K/P Ian Frye. Virginia benefits from having had extra practices in late December, a result of earning its first bowl bid since 2007. The steps the Cavaliers took in the 2011 season and potentially in the spring this year will go a long way toward determining if UVa is for real in the ACC's Coastal Division.

For in-depth coverage of Virginia athletics, go to

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