Gone are the two captains, the playmaking defensive tackle and the leader of the entire unit for the past three seasons.
But when the Virginia defense hits the McCue Center practice field today for the start of spring practice, the change will be welcomed.
Steve Greer won’t be there. Neither will LaRoy Reynolds or Chris Brathwaite. Jim Reid has been replaced by Jon Tenuta.
Let a new era begin for Wahoo defensive football. It will be defined by one glaring theme.
“We’re not just going to stand still,” said UVa head coach Mike London. “We’re not going to be a hood ornament where we just sit there and look nice. I think you’ll see an aggressive approach to the defense. You’ll see corners having to cover and you’ll see rush guys having to be relied on to put pressure on the quarterback.”
That all comes from Tenuta, the Cavaliers’ new defensive coordinator who took over after Reid was fired. Tenuta has over three decades of experience with “conservative” rarely being in his vocabulary.
“The style of play, you got to love it as a defensive player,” said Virginia rising junior safety Anthony Harris, “being aggressive, getting after the offense, dictating what they’re going to do and just adjusting from there based off what they’re doing to you.”
Tenuta’s blitz-heavy style has produced big numbers during his career.
Over his last 10 seasons as a defensive assistant, including five coordinator years at Georgia Tech and a coordinator year at Notre Dame, Tenuta’s teams have averaged 24.7 takeaways and 34.3 sacks a season. The lowest takeaway output came in 2004 when Tenuta’s Yellow Jackets forced just 17 turnovers. The lowest sack total came in 2008 when his Fighting Irish had just 22.
Under Reid, the Wahoos averaged just 16.3 takeaways and 18.6 sacks in three years. They were last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in takeaways and 10th in sacks in 2012.
“I know that Coach Tenuta has done his homework,” London said, “and has done a lot of things in a lot of places that gives the appearance of being a very zone pressure, a lot of movement orientated team. But if you ask him, he wants to be sound in all areas.”
Tenuta will get to work with a defensive line that returns ends Jake Snyder, Mike Moore and Eli Harold, but is without Brathwaite (ineligible), a tackle who led the Cavaliers in tackles for loss last season.
The battle to fill the would-be junior’s hole will be one to watch for in the spring.
From winter workout results, London is already leaning in Brent Urban’s direction.
London said the 6-foot-7, 280-pound senior is down to “something like 11 percent body fat.”
“He knows this is very important for him,” London said. “ ... I know Brent has put himself and worked himself into a position to be a dominant player. He’s going to have to perform like that on the football field.”
Urban made 20 tackles, had two sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown last season.
At linebacker, there’s a loss of leadership plus talent.
Greer, a four-year mainstay in the middle, has graduated along with Reynolds, a fellow captain who totaled 178 tackles his last two seasons on the weak side.
Junior D.J. Hill, who relieved an injured Reynolds for two starts last season, figures to get an audition for the Reynolds departure. The middle spot, however, will feature storylines from the likes of sophomore Kwontie Moore and junior Henry Coley.
“It’s very important for Kwontie to step out and step up and actually fight for a starting position,” London said. “Right now, Henry Coley is there. ... All those guys that are in those positions understand that this is not a given. You earn what you get.
“Kwontie, for right now, with the winter conditioning and all the reports I have from [director of football training and player development Evan Marcus] in the weight room, has done an outstanding job. So the competition in that position, I’m sure will be played out in spring.”
The secondary is the lone spot where familiar names return.
In 2012, UVa started four sophomores — Harris and Brandon Phelps as safeties, Demetrious Nicholson and Drequan Hoskey as corners.
Harris (87 tackles, interception) and Phelps (48 tackles, three pass break-ups) have flipped positions. Harris is now the strong safety and Phelps has moved to free.
Promising sophomore CB Maurice Canady is the wild card after his freshman season saw two starts and produced two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“We have a lot of guys coming back,” Harris said. “We were pretty young last year. So this year, we’re all excited with the guys returning as well as the guys coming in.”
Including a new coordinator with a new approach.
“Having a defensive coordinator that you know is going to play an aggressive style,” Harris said, “you know that style of play is going to cause turnovers, opportunities for interceptions, sacks, which creates a lot of energy and creates an exciting game.”