The Virginia football team is coming off its first eight-win season since 2011 and a dominant performance in the Belk Bowl against South Carolina. Add to that the Cavaliers’ highest-rated recruiting class since 2014 and it’s easy to see how expectations in Charlottesville are at a level unmatched by any UVa football team in the past decade.
The unofficial transition from summer to fall begins in a couple weeks with ACC Media Days in Charlotte, North Carolina. Leading up to the event, we’ll feature 19 UVa players to watch in 2019. Some are familiar names. Some are new. All are expected to play massive roles in Virginia’s continued rebuild this season.
Virginia’s coaches waited until the Belk Bowl last season to debut their “NASCAR package,” which baffled South Carolina with twin outside linebackers on each end of the defensive line bracketing a pair of tackles. The Gamecocks had no idea how to adjust to the length and explosiveness coming off the edge.
Number 17 on our list of Virginia football players to watch in 2019 is junior outside linebacker Elliott Brown. He was one of those sack hungry pass-rushers who helped shut out South Carolina, 28-0, and he’s one of the top candidates to replace Chris Peace, who led the Cavaliers in sacks the past two years in a row.
Tale of the tape
» Height: 6-5
» Weight: 210
» Hometown: Odenton, Maryland
» Last season: Brown appeared in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and in relief of Peace. He finished with just five tackles but recorded his first career solo sack against Pittsburgh and followed the next week with his first career interception against Liberty.
» Depth at the position: The Cavaliers have no shortage of talented pass rushers on the edge, beginning with Charles Snowden, who burst onto the scene last season. Brown, Noah Taylor and Matt Gahm are the favorites to start on the other side in place of Peace. Freshman Hunter Stewart has a shot to see early snaps, and fellow first-year D’Sean Perry’s athleticism makes him a dark horse candidate for playing time.
» Number to know: 53. During a post-graduate year at Taft School in 2016, Brown — then a wide receiver — caught 53 passes for 504 yards and five touchdowns.
» Outlook: The race to replace Peace is most likely going to come down to Brown and Taylor. They have the length the Cavaliers’ coaches are looking for, especially after watching Snowden wreak havoc last season in coverage. Gahm is a high-energy, high-effort player who is going to see snaps, but he doesn’t possess the athleticism to affect the game the way Brown and Taylor do.
In search of LBs
Brown is the latest example of a growing trend on the UVa recruiting scene of scouts going in search of skill position players to turn into linebackers. The best example of that in the Cavaliers’ locker room is Snowden, who was a basketball star in high school and only played a couple years of organized football. Last season, he was second on the team with 7.5 tackles for a loss and added 2.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Inside linebacker Jordan Mack was a cornerback in high school, and current freshman outside linebacker Jarius Satiu was a wide receiver and defensive back at Fork Union. Brown played wide receiver at Flowers High School in Maryland, and he lined up at receiver and linebacker at Taft School. He also played basketball and ran track and was a three-sport all-county selection.
“There’s a skill set there that we’re looking for,” Virginia Director of Player Personnel Justin Anderson said. “Those basketball guys and receivers, they’re asked to work a lot in space, so they have to have good body control, a burst and toughness, which are all things you look for in a linebacker.”
Even though he was playing receiver at the time, Brown had an encyclopedia of linebacker knowledge at his disposal during his final two seasons at Flowers High School. In 2015, former NFL linebacker Cato June took over as the program's head coach.
June spent the bulk of his professional playing career with the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2006, he was selected to his first Pro Bowl and was the Colts' leading tackler on the way to a win in Super Bowl XLI. His coaching career began at his alma mater, Anacostia High School in Washington, D.C. Now, he’s on Ron Prince’s staff at Howard University as the outside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.