Training Camp Preview -- Defensive Line
Aug. 13, 2014
This is the eighth installment of a series in which VirginiaSports.com breaks down the 2014 football team by position.
CHARLOTTESVILLE — To UVa football player David Dean, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of solid line play for a defense.
As a defensive tackle, Dean might be biased, but his reasoning is sound.
“Everything starts up front,” Dean said after a recent practice. “We have to be disciplined. We have to always know our responsibilities, and if we mess something up, then it goes to the linebackers and the secondary. Everything starts with us, and it’s key that we always are in the right place and doing the right thing and never losing track of our responsibilities.”
The 2013 season was Jon Tenuta’s first as Virginia’s defensive coordinator, and the linemen struggled at times to adjust to his philosophy. The Cavaliers, led by end Eli Harold, tied for 39th nationally in sacks per game, but they ranked 74th in rushing defense, in part because of breakdowns on the line.
But if Virginia can stay healthy up front — especially at end, where there’s little experience behind starters Mike Moore and Harold — the defensive line could be outstanding this fall, even with the loss of tackle Brent Urban (Baltimore Ravens) and end Jake Snyder (Minnesota Vikings).
“We’re a lot better inside,” said Tenuta, whose longtime friend Jappy Oliver joined the Wahoos’ staff this year and is coaching the defensive line.
Virginia’s options at tackle include Donte Wilkins, who started four games as a true freshman in 2013; senior Chris Brathwaite, who did not play last year but was dominant at times in 2012; true freshman Andrew Brown, the Gatorade national high school player of the year last fall; and, of course, Dean, a junior who started 11 games in 2013.
“The experience that David Dean brings us, and his maturity and his mental approach, helps us big-time inside,” Tenuta said. “That guy right there is the guy that makes things go for us inside.”
Dean said: “I just look to get better every day. I set high goals, high standards for myself, and every day I try to come in and reach that. And when I do reach it, I set higher goals.”
Harold, the team’s best pass-rusher, had 8.5 sacks last season. His goal for this fall is 15. He also wants to show he’s not a one-dimensional lineman, and to that end he’s added about 20 pounds since the end of last season, muscle that will should help him battle larger offensive tackles on running plays.
“Now I feel that I can do it all,” said Harold, who’s up to about 250 pounds.
As an upperclassman, Harold knows more will be expected of him this year.
“I have to accept the leadership role, and I feel like I’ve accepted that, and I’m taking it and running,” Harold said. “The younger guys look to me to make plays, and if they have questions, they come to me and ask. Guys like Trent [Corney] and Kwontie Moore, who didn’t play that much. I want to be there for them any way I can and help them be successful.”
At the other end, Moore combines terrific size (6-4, 265 pounds) and athleticism. He was in for only 275 plays on defense last season — far fewer than Harold (794) or Snyder (780) — but may not come off the field much this fall.
In April, Moore received a Rock Weir Award as the defense’s most improved player in spring practice. He’s versatile enough to play tackle when Virginia uses its nickel package.
“I tell you what, Mike Moore’s come leaps and bounds since when I first came here,” Tenuta said.
“He’s a very knowledgeable guy. Understands football. Likes to practice. He’s come leaps and bounds, so we’re going to move him around and do some things with him, as we’re going to do with a lot of guys. We’ve got to create some depth.”
Oliver coached with Tenuta at Notre Dame, and they’ve known each other for decades. Oliver’s familiarity with Tenuta’s philosophy has made for an easy transition at UVa.
“He’s a very knowledgeable person, and he’s taught a lot of different things,” Dean said. “He knows a lot of different techniques, and that helps us. We’re young and we’re all trying to learn new things, so we’re just picking up everything he’s teaching us, trying to soak it all in and just put it out on the field.”
The defensive linemen know their inconsistency hurt the team last season, and they expect their improved understanding of Tenuta’s system to yield better results this fall.
“You’re more familiar,” Harold said. “It allows you to go fast. When you know what you’re doing, you’re obviously going to play fast. “
Dean said: “If we come in every day looking to improve and make strides every day and never be satisfied, I think we have the potential to be one of the best lines in the nation. I truly believe that. But if we come in every day just lackadaisical and settling for less, we’ll never get where we want to be.”
The linemen must be better this year at making reads and “just attacking our gaps and being fast, being aggressive, because it all starts up front,” Harold said. “If we’re not successful, then the `backers are not going to be successful. And if the `backers are not successful, then the defensive backs are not going to be successful.
“It starts up front, so whatever we do, the team is going to flow through us.”
A look at the Cavaliers’ defensive linemen, by class:
* No. 58, tackle Chris Brathwaite (6-1, 295-pound senior, Brooklyn, N.Y.). In 2012, Brathwaite was not a starter but still led the Cavaliers with 10 tackles for loss. He was out of school last fall, however, and has yet to crack the two-deep at tackle this summer. When he’s healthy and engaged, Brathwaite can be a disruptive force on the line.
* No. 92, tackle Greg Gallop (6-1, 290-pound senior, Chester). Gallop, a former standout at Thomas Dale High, came to UVa as a walk-on. Now on scholarship, he’s been working with the second team in training camp this summer. He has a bachelor’s degree in political philosophy, policy and law.
* No. 96, end Cameron Fitch (6-2, 275-pound senior, Chesapeake). Like Gallop, Fitch is a former walk-on who’s now on scholarship. A Grassfield High graduate, he has a bachelor’s degree in history from UVa.
* No. 57, end Stephen Lawe (6-5, 280-pound senior, Norfolk). A graduate of Maury High, Lawe has a bachelor’s degree in African-American and African Studies from UVa. He’s played in three games for the ‘Hoos, all last season.
* No. 7, end Eli Harold (6-4, 250-pound junior, Virginia Beach). Harold, who led UVa in sacks with 8.5 last season, has 10.5 for his career. A former star at Ocean Lakes High, he heads into his third college season as an All-ACC candidate. Harold bulked up in the offseason and should be stronger against the run this fall.
* No. 32, end Mike Moore (6-4, 265-pound junior, Hyattsville, Md.). One of the most heralded recruits to enroll at UVa in 2012, Moore has started only game in his college career, but he’s assumed a leading role on the defense this summer. He’s big enough to also play tackle and usually slides inside in the Cavaliers’ nickel defense.
* No. 55, tackle David Dean (6-1, 295-pound junior, Virginia Beach). Another UVa defensive lineman with All-ACC potential, Dean started 11 games last season and finished with 7.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks. Dean starred at Green Run High.
* No. 43, end Trent Corney (6-3, 250-pound junior, Brockville, Ontario). A freakishly gifted athlete from Canada, where he also starred in track & field, Corney is still learning the nuances of football. But after two seasons in which he primarily played on special teams, he’s likely to have a larger role on defense this fall. In his most memorable performance in 2013, he had five tackles, including two sacks, against VMI.
* No. 34, end Kwontie Moore (6-2, 275-pound junior, Norfolk). A graduate of Norfolk Christian, like his UVa teammates Wilfred Wahee and Mario Nixon, Moore is a converted linebacker who’s been working in training camp with the second team. He’s also an option at tackle in Virginia’s nickel package.
* No. 93, tackle Donte Wilkins (6-2, 285-pound sophomore, Woodbridge). This former Potomac High star impressed as a true freshman last season, starting four games. In Virginia’s base defense, Wilkins has been starting alongside Dean at tackle in training camp.
* No. 56, tackle Andre Miles-Redmond (6-4, 285-pound sophomore, Richmond). A graduate of Hermitage High, Miles-Redmond played in four games as a redshirt freshman last season and made two tackles, one against VMI and the other against Ball State.
* No. 9, tackle Andrew Brown (6-4, 305-pound true freshman, Chesapeake). The 2013 Gatorade national player of the year, Brown had 30 tackles for loss, including 18 sacks, as an Oscar Smith High senior last season. He enrolled at UVa in January. Early in spring practice, he suffered a toe injury that has limited his participation in training camp this summer, but Brown figures to be a key member of the rotation at tackle this fall.
* No. 90, end Michael Biesemier (6-4, 250-pound true freshman, Lynchburg). Biesemier was originally headed to JMU but switched his commitment after receiving a late scholarship offer from UVa. He’s an excellent athlete who also played basketball and lacrosse at Virginia Episcopal School.
* No. 99, end Darrious Carter (6-5, 225-pound true freshman, Indiana, Pa.). As a senior at Indiana Senior High, Carter made 15 sacks and broke up 15 passes last fall. He also starred in basketball and track & field in high school. Carter committed to Temple last summer but had a change of heart in December, when he opted for UVa.
* No. 54, end Cory Jones (6-5, 205-pound true freshman, Washington, D.C.). A one-time Toledo commitment, Jones switched to Virginia in late January. He’s an intriguing prospect. In his only season of high school football, he totaled 150 tackles and 26 sacks for Archbishop Carroll last year.