Our football preview series shifts to the defensive side of the ball as we focus on the one portion of the defense that didn't lose any starters from last season: the defensive tackles. All three key players from last year's position group, David Dean, Donte Wilkins, and Andrew Brown, return to Charlottesville this fall and together they should form one of the better interior defensive lines in the ACC.
The unquestioned leader of the group is Dean who was chosen as one of UVa's two representatives for this past week's ACC Media Days (along with Canaan Severin) and also received 11 votes towards the Preseason All-ACC team at his position, placing him eighth overall. While it's always difficult to judge a defensive tackle by their statistics, Dean still managed to muster 40 tackles, including eight for loss, and one sack last season while serving as the anchor for a Virginia defense that finished 18th nationally and fourth in the ACC in rush defense. He even managed to take matters into his own hands and provide one of the few highlights of last year's Black Friday in Blacksburg with this:
(Please note: I recommend watching the following video until the 1:13 mark, then hitting pause and having yourself a nice drink before you continue reading).
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Starting alongside Dean will be either junior Donte Wilkins or sophomore Andrew Brown, both of whom were given the 'OR' designation atop the post-spring depth chart. Wilkins got the vast majority of the playing time last season, starting five games, including four of the final five. It's worth noting that Virginia's starting defense featured a nickel look early in the season with five members of the secondary, three linebackers, two defensive ends and only one defensive tackle (Dean). Wilkins made the most of his time on the field, however, totaling 19 tackles, two of them for loss and providing a big body (he's listed at six-foot-one, 300 pounds) to occupy interior linemen and free up blitzing linebackers in Jon Tenuta's aggressive scheme.
While Brown also had the 'OR' designation with Wilkins at the top of the depth chart for the first six games of last year he was never fully healthy, battling a lingering turf toe injury before hurting his shoulder later on in the season. Brown failed to crack the starting lineup, appearing in only six games and racking up just four tackles. Brown appears to be fully healthy heading into this season however, and expectations are high for the former five-star prospect.
Rounding out the position group is junior Andre Miles-Redmond, sophomore Jake Babcock, and incoming freshmen James Trucilla and and Eli Hanback. While Miles-Redmond, and possibly Babcock, will likely see some playing time in the rotation it would not be surprising to see the freshmen redshirt (especially Hanback who was mainly an offensive lineman in high school).
Overall, the defensive tackle group should be a position of strength for the Virginia defense. With both starters returning and a five-star recruit finally getting healthy, expect the line to wreak havoc up the middle and free up the rest of the defense to blitz the quarterback at will.