When asked for his assessment of the new defensive style Virginia plans to play this season, veteran defensive end Jake Snyder had one word:
As in different good or different bad?
"More aggressive," he said. "We have all just really been working hard this spring trying to learn everything and pick up the new defense. I think it is going to be good for us."
Coach Mike London overhauled his coaching staff after a 4-8 season and brought in Jon Tenuta to run the defense. Tenuta has made a career out of employing aggressive, attacking defenses, and Hoos fans saw that firsthand last week during the team's spring game. The defense was credited with 14 "sacks" -- essentially any time a defender got two hands on the quarterback. Though they were not allowed to tackle the quarterbacks, it was evident that the group was much more active, particularly up front.
That is a huge area the Hoos have spent time working on this spring, because they were below average in sacks a last season with just 17. Snyder is the top returning player in that category, with 2.5. Chris Braithwaite led the team with 3.5, but he is no longer with the Hoos. The inside players, though, look promising. Brent Urban returns, and he had 3.5 sacks in the spring game.
The surprise has been tackle David Dean, who was selected the team's most improved player on defense this spring.
The other area that has to be improved is takeaways. Last season, UVa had 12 total -- eight fumble recoveries and four interceptions, tied for third worst in the nation. Contrast that with NC State, where Tenuta worked last season. The Wolfpack had 16 interceptions to rank in the Top 20. Of course, they had veterans in their group last season, and the Hoos were very inexperienced in the back end.
Still, Snyder said the Hoos spent plenty of time working on takeaway drills this spring.
"Getting takeaways is always such a big key in any game," he said. "And we didn't do a good enough job of that last season. So we all know we have to do better to be a better defense."
One of the other key question marks about this group this spring is at middle linebacker, where the team loses team leader and leading tackler Steve Greer. Henry Coley has moved over from the outside to take over the spot, and Snyder says he has done a good job this spring.
"It's always tough to replace a great player like that," Snyder said. "Henry has done a great job doing it. He spends more time out of anybody in the film room and the meeting room, because he has to know what everyone else is doing at all times."