This spring provides a Take 2 of sorts for Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown.
Now that the exceptionally gifted lineman is completely healthy, coach Mike London is expecting much more. Especially since the defense needs to find playmakers with five key starters gone -- including Eli Harold, Henry Coley and Max Valles, who combined for 24 of the team's 34 sacks.
"Andrew Brown looks good right now," London said in a recent phone interview. "It's time for him. All the things that were talked about when when came in -- now he's healthy. He's 290, squatting over 500. We feel good about where we are right now."
Brown came into Virginia last year with as much hype as safety Quin Blanding. They were two highly touted ESPN 300 recruits with incredible upside. But Brown was never 100 percent healthy. He enrolled in school early but hurt his toe during spring practice and was forced to the sideline. The turf toe lingered throughout the season and then Brown injured his shoulder.
He did end up playing in six games -- including the final four. But he was unable to make the same impact as Blanding, who went on to become ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Freshman All-American.
Now, Brown has an opportunity to shine. London said Brown is penciled in with the starters for the start of spring practice, set to begin next month.
"When you’re a big guy and have the whole turf toe issue, pressing that 300 pounds, cutting and planting -- you need that when you’re playing up front," London said. "Then he had the shoulder issue. I know it was frustrating for him, but the kid has been super throughout.
"He's excited about being healthy and we’re going to expect big things from him. He’s got to learn the game as he goes on, but he’s got a lot of talent and ability."
Despite losing five starters -- Daquan Romero and All-American safety Anthony Harris also are gone -- London is encouraged with the group he returns on defense. He points to experience along the defensive front with Mike Moore, David Dean and Donte Wilkins returning along with Brown. He points to the secondary as well. Despite losing Harris, the Hoos return Blanding, Maurice Canady, Tim Harris and Demetrious Nicholson, granted a medical hardship waiver.
At linebacker, London believes Micah Kiser and Zach Bradshaw have what it takes to step into starting roles. What provides some confidence is the notion that many of the veterans are going into Year 3 in Jon Tenuta's defensive scheme. Plus, London believes some of the staff shifts he made this offseason will put players in better position to succeed. Tenuta will now work with safeties, while Mike Archer moves to linebackers.
"It’s the whole maturation process, on the field, in the weight room, in the community -- then the proverbial aha moment occurs," London said. "A few guys like that now are going to be counted on to be the starters and significant contributors. It’s not about the scheme or the system, now it’s about taking all the different situations that occur when you become a smarter player, taking all those things and putting it together on the field."