UVA defense coordinator is famous for running a pressure defense. In short, he likes to blitz. Zone blitz, all out blitz, delayed blitz, he doesn't care. He's going to bring pressure. Of course, blitzing for the sake of blitzing doesn't work very well, if you bring pressure, you have to get there. Otherwise, there aren't enough defenders covering the receivers and a QB can pick you apart.
So, if you're going to blitz, that means you need LBs who can rush the passer. (Obviously, DLs who can rush the passer help too.) Heading into last season, UVA LBs had a total of 3 sacks in their careers, with DaQuan Romero leading the way with 1.5 sacks (Henry Coley had 1 and Demeitre Brim had 0.5). To put it plainly, Tenuta had to find somebody who could rush the passer from the LB position.
During the first two games of the season, Eli Harold had 2 sacks, but the LBs hadn't done anything. The third game almost doesn't count because it was against VMI, but we did see the debut of Max Valles. Valles was a guy with outstanding size and quickness. During his post-grad season spent playing DE at Fork Union, he had built some muscle and developed his pass rush skills. Upon arrival at Virginia, he was initially slotted at TE, but quickly made the move to OLB. I'm betting Tenuta fought for him.
He didn't do much in the VMI game, but then he played big minutes in the Pitt game. And he was everywhere. If the Hoos had managed to win that game, there's a good chance Valles would've been the MVP of the game. He had 2.5 sacks, and led the way in an onslaught against Pitt QB Tom Savage.
After that game, Valles started 4 times and played in every game. He spent most of his time playing in the nickel package, as a pure pass rusher. He didn't really have the discipline to play in rushing situations. He was in the game to one thing - get to the QB. While he didn't have any more sacks until the Virginia Tech game (1.5 in that game), he played well and was often in the backfield causing problems.
Heading into his sophomore season, Valles is considered a lock at starting SLB. The news going around is that he will slide down to DE in nickel situations (with DE Mike Moore moving inside as a pass rushing DT). We'll probably see a lot of the nickel package, as it gets more speed and playmaking onto the field, And because we have so much depth in the secondary, and very little depth at LB. In fact, I would bet that we see more nickel and substitute defense than we see "base" defense.
It remains to be seen if Valles is capable of being an all around OLB. Can he take on a pulling lineman and make a play in the ground game? Can he cover a RB in the flat on a pass route? Can he sniff out a screen and avoid getting out of position? He really wasn't able to do any of those things last year, but he was raw. His athleticism and quickness for his size is off the charts, and hopefully he's learned some more pass rush skills during the past 9 months. With 2 senior LBs, Valles' is going to be asked to be a leader at LB for the next couple of years.