Starters: Mandy Alonso, Richard Burney
Backups: Aaron Faumui, Ben Smiley
Outlook: Alonso and Burney were both hitting their strides last fall when injuries cut their seasons short. Both are back and healthy, but with improved depth at the position comes added flexibility. Senior Eli Hanback, sophomore Tommy Christ and freshman Jowon Briggs may also see snaps at end.
Starters: Eli Hanback
Backups: Jordan Redmond, Jowon Briggs
Outlook: Much like at defensive end, the Cavaliers now have an array of big bodies to plug into the middle of their 3-4 defense. Hanback leads all UVa players with 36 career starts and is the safest choice. Redmond started five games last season, and Briggs — a consensus four-star recruit — came in with all kinds of hype and is already practicing with the starters.
Starters: Jordan Mack, Zane Zandier
Backups: Rob Snyder, Nick Jackson
Outlook: Mack isn’t far behind Hanback with 31 career starts and may be the Cavaliers’ best pure tackler. He missed four games last fall and still finished second on the team with 66 stops. As a sophomore, he posted 114 tackles. There is some flexibility beside him. Zandier’s nose for the ball is undeniable, but Snyder is big and physical against the run and could see some starts again this year.
Starters: Charles Snowden, Elliott Brown
Backups: Noah Taylor, Matt Gahm, Hunter Stewart, D’Sean Perry
Outlook: Snowden (6-7, 235) has an NFL body and could solidify himself as a promising pro prospect with another productive season. He has some work to do as a pass rusher, but he’s a nightmare in coverage. There’s a three-man race to start opposite him. Brown and Taylor are both lanky and explosive, and Taylor had the most physically impressive offseason of just about anyone on the team. Gahm isn’t as explosive, but he’s stout against the run and he filled in last spring when former Cavalier Chris Peace was injured.
Starters: Bryce Hall, Nick Grant
Backups: Germane Crowell, Heskin Smith, Jaylon Baker
Outlook: Hall led the nation last fall with 22 pass breakups and passed on the NFL Draft to return for his senior season. Darrius Bratton was the favorite to start opposite him, but a knee injury suffered late in fall camp will cost him his junior season. That leaves Grant, a special teams contributor the past two seasons, Crowell and Smith – both sophomores – and Baker, a redshirt freshman, to compete for the open spot.
Starter: Joey Blount
Backups: De’Vante Cross, Chayce Chalmers
Outlook: Blount is the favorite to fill former Cavalier Juan Thornhill’s role. He’s one of the team’s top tacklers and last fall, his coverage skills grew by leaps and bounds. Former quarterback and wide receiver De’Vante Cross moved to safety late last season and has had an entire offseason to master the position.
Starter: Brenton Nelson
Backups: Chris Moore, Chayce Chalmers
Outlook: Nelson’s man-to-man coverage skills are second on UVa’s roster only to Hall. Last season, he spent almost as much time at nickel cornerback than safety, and after Bratton’s injury, he’s sure to find himself there again. Nelson and Blount also form one of the ACC’s top tackling safety duos. Moore missed last season after suffering a preseason injury, and he’s a safety-linebacker hybrid. He looks bigger than the 210 pounds he’s listed at, but the question is does he have the coverage skills to step in for Nelson when he moves to nickel?