Virginia outside linebacker Charles Snowden took what he called the “Bryce Hall approach” to setting goals for his junior season.
Much the same way Hall’s teammates and coaches say he devours film, Snowden took a deep dive into the statistics of last season’s All-ACC and All-American edge rushers and calculated the average of their tackles, sacks and tackles for loss.
Snowden didn’t go into specifics about the metrics he set for himself, but high on his list is piling up a few more sacks. It has to be, according Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“We call those havoc plays, and I think for as long as I’ve been a head coach, there are only three or four programs that the sack advantage means more to,” Mendenhall said. “When we have more sacks than our opponent, the win rate is astronomical for us.”
It didn’t take long last fall to pinpoint Snowden as a candidate to have a breakout season. At Indiana in week two, he blocked the first field goal attempt of his career. Two weeks later against Louisville, he posted a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception. The next week, had had a career-high 11 tackles at N.C. State.
Two of the most well-known defensive players in Virginia history, Chris Long and Chris Slade, are excited to see Snowden take the field in year two as a starter.
“I think the sky is the limit for him. He’s a great kid and has so many tools that, quite frankly, a lot of people don’t — his length, his speed,” Long said. “His work ethic seems really good, and if he applies that to building his pass-rush arsenal, I think you could be talking about a guy having an ACC Defensive Player of the Year type season.”
Long (2004-07) played in the golden age of defense at Virginia. Under former head coach Al Groh, he shared the field with Clint Sintim and Kai Parham, both of whom he described as “too big to be so athletic,” and Ahmad Brooks, Darryl Blackstock and Chris Canty, all of whom went on to have successful NFL careers.
He stopped short of comparing Snowden to Brooks, who he said “could do things on the field nobody that big should be able to do,” but Long said if he continues to progress, Snowden (6-7, 235) could find himself in a class of his own.
“There’s no one he really reminds me of because of his length and range,” Long said. “I just think he’s different, and I think he’s got a higher ceiling in a lot of ways. If he continues to add some pass-rush moves and puts on some weight, he can be a player people are going to be talking about for a long time.”
Snowden spent the past two seasons focused on getting bigger and stronger, and since arriving on Grounds in 2017, he has put on 30 pounds. But this year, he spent more time refining his pass-rush technique and making sure he’s agile enough to get low and bend around opposing tackles.
“Last year, I was just hoping and praying I got to the quarterback,” Snowden said. “I’ve been working on a lot of hip mobility, flexibility and core strength.”
Chris Peace led the Cavaliers in sacks the past two seasons, but he’s off trying to make the Los Angeles Chargers’ roster. Not only does Snowden know he has to shoulder at least some of that production, he knows it’s the expectation for whoever co-defensive coordinator Nick Howell sends after the quarterback.
“If he sends you to go get the quarterback, he expects you to get the quarterback,” Snowden said. “Whether you’re a linebacker, a cornerback or a safety, he expects you to get it done.”
Before going on to NFL stardom as a linebacker for the New England Patriots, Slade (1989-92) was an All-American defensive end for the Cavaliers. He still owns UVa program records for sacks in a career (40), sacks in a season (15), career tackles for a loss (56) and tackles for a loss in a season (21).
When Slade watches Snowden eat up space in pass coverage and threaten quarterbacks off the edge, he’s reminded of an ACC rival, former N.C. State defensive end Carl Reeves, who played in the early 90s and was known as one of the conference’s fastest pass rushers.
“They’re both long, lanky, athletic guys who can run,” said Slade, adding that Snowden also reminds him a little of former UVa linebacker Eli Harold. “He’s maybe not as explosive and strong yet, but he can run like that. He can take up a lot of space and get up field and be disruptive.”
Last season, Snowden led all Division I linebackers with nine pass breakups and finished with 61 tackles, two interceptions, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He has a steep mountain to climb to match the career numbers put up by many of the Cavaliers’ greatest defensive players, but Long thinks he’s closer than the statistics suggest.
“I think he can be in that echelon of guys and have a double-digit sack year,” Long said.