Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Big questions exist as the Hoos head into spring practice with only three experienced defensive linemen on the roster.
The Virginia football team took a hit last week when it was announced that defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite had lost his eligibility and was no longer in the program. In his statement, Virginia coach Mike London said that Brathwaite "did not make the commitment he needed to succeed off of the football field." Translation – Brathwaite flunked out of school, or came close to it. A rising junior, Brathwaite would have been a favorite for a starting spot on the defensive line in 2013. Let’s quickly look at what Virginia loses with Braithwaite and where its defensive line stands.
Make no mistake – the loss of Brathwaite is a big one. As Doug Doughty points out, the New York native was Virginia’s most "productive" lineman last season. He had 41 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 3 and ½ sacks. Brathwaite was instrumental in Virginia’s dominant defensive performance against NC State and helped lead the charge in the defensive slugfest at Virginia Tech. He would have had two more years to play for the Cavaliers, and it seemed like he was just hitting his stride.
With Brathwaite gone, Virginia will only have two defensive tackles with significant experience going into 2013. Rising senior Brent Urban started every game for Virginia in 2012 and will be projected to do the same this fall. Justin Renfrow, also a rising senior, should be penciled in at the other starting spot at this point. Having two senior starters isn’t the same as having two proven performers, however. Despite their seniority, Urban and Renfrow only ranked 15th and 20th on the team in tackles last year, respectively.
Behind the seniors, the picture gets even muddier. Rising sophomore David Dean recorded only three tackles in 2012. With Brathwaite gone, he slides into the on-deck spot. Behind Dean are Marco Jones and Vince Croce. Both players were highly-regarded members of Virginia’s 2011 recruiting class but neither has produced yet on the field. Further down he depth chart, rising redshirt freshman Andre Miles-Redmond is a converted offensive linemen.
While the near future of Virginia’s defensive line is murky, the out years might prove brighter. London has landed commitments from a pair of four-star defensive tackle recruits for 2013 – Donta Wilkins and Tyrell Chavis. There was some concern that both players might be flight risks before signing day, but that appears to have settled down. Virginia fans should temper their expectations, however, if they think Wilkins and Chavis will be ready to contribute significantly as true freshman. Even the most talented freshman need to adjust to the size and speed of the college game.
With Brathwaite’s departure, a hole has opened up in Virginia’s otherwise solid defensive roster. London and his defensive staff will need to shore up the line if the Hoos hope to return to a bowl game in 2013. It's unclear at this point who they'll count on to do it.