By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When his shoulder heals, Cam Johnson will return to the starting lineup for the UVa football team.
Johnson, a rising senior, led the Cavaliers in tackles for loss (14.5) in 2010, and he figures to be an all-ACC candidate this season. Virginia’s other starting defensive end?
The competition for that spot continues as the Wahoos’ spring game — April 2 at Scott Stadium — approaches.
Had Zane Parr not decided to pass up his final season of eligibility, UVa would have both of its 2010 starters back at that position. But Parr left school to pursue a professional career, and so defensive-line coach Jeff Hanson must choose a new starter from a group that includes Jake Snyder, Billy Schautz, Brent Urban and Connor McCartin.
“We’re still developing our outside guys, our defensive ends, our edge rushers,” Hanson said after practice Wednesday morning. “They’ve gotten a little better at every practice. We still have to have more consistency out there as far as rushing the passer. But we’ll get there, and we’ve got some guys that are willing to do it. They’ve just got to get better at it, because some of these guys haven’t played much.”
With Johnson limited this spring after offseason shoulder surgery, Snyder and Schautz have been getting most of the work with the first team.
The 6-4 Snyder, whose older brother, Matt, plays wide receiver for UVa, will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall. He played in all 12 games last season and made 14 tackles.
The 6-4 Schautz, an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme employed by Virginia coach Mike London’s predecessor, Al Groh, will be a redshirt junior in the fall. Schautz appeared in eight games last season and made one tackle.
“It was a learning process for Billy on how to play out of a three-point stance,” Hanson said. “Now, he’s gotten better, and he’ll continue to get better, because he wants to. To me, with Billy it’s experience. He’s got to get more experience and more reps.”
Snyder and Schautz are “very similar in that they both can get off the ball, and they’re both about 260 pounds,” Hanson said. “They have the ability to rush the passer, but they’re young, And what I mean by Billy being young is, he’s young at the position, and the more experience he gets, the better he’ll get. Both of them.”
Urban, who’ll be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, moves exceptionally well for a 6-7 290-pounder. But he, too, is playing catch-up. Urban had reconstructive knee surgery in the spring of 2010 and missed the first part of last season.
“He’s continued to improve, and he’s a big, physical presence out there, and we expect big things from Brent,” Hanson said.
McCartin, listed as a linebacker on UVa’s spring roster, recently moved to end, a position at which he periodically practiced last season. He’ll be a junior in the fall. Anyone who watched the 6-3 McCartin play on special teams last season can vouch for his aggressiveness.
“What’s got to happen with Connor is, we’ve got to put a little bit more weight on him,” Hanson said. “Right now he’s about 230. If we can get him to 240 when he reports in the fall, that’s big enough for us. He’s got some quickness and speed out there, and he’s a tough guy and wants to be a great football player.”
The next opportunity for fans to check out the defensive ends — and the rest of the team — comes Saturday in Alexandria. From 1 to 3 p.m., the ‘Hoos will practice at Episcopal High School. Admission is free.