The rise in recent years of spread offenses and potent passing attacks has made strong secondary play more important than ever. Thankfully, Virginia should have one of the most experienced and talented returning group of cornerbacks in the ACC. Last year's team ranked just 48th nationally in pass efficiency defense, but with both top corners back and another key player returning from injury, this year's unit should improve on that figure.
The corners are led by standout senior Maurice Canady who garnered 12 votes in last week's preseason All-ACC poll. Canady was tasked with stepping into the role of the number one cornerback last season and more than held his own, starting all 12 games while racking up a team high three interceptions and 12 passes broken up to go with 37 tackles. Given Canady's success it would not be a surprise to see teams orient their passing offense towards the opposite side of the field and away from the star senior.
Filling in on that opposite side will be sophomore and Richmond native Tim Harris (both he and Canady attended Varina High School). Harris showed flashes of immense talent and potential last season as he started five games, including the last two, and nabbed an interception in addition to 19 tackles. Too often, however, Harris found himself turned around in coverage and he struggled at times in tackling after the catch. Harris' unique combination of size (at 6'2" he's the tallest cornerback on the roster) and speed provide him with the physical tools to be an elite corner and his progression from last season will be a key aspect in how this year's pass defense performs. You can see more about how Harris spent his offseason in the VirginiaSportsTV spot below:
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Rounding out the two-deep at cornerback is senior Demetrious Nicholson and junior Divante Walker. Nicholson is a familiar name and former mainstay in the UVa defense who has been besieged by injuries in recent years, including a lingering bout with turf toe last year. The injury limited him to just one game, a start against Kent State in which he recorded an interception and five tackles. Fortunately, Nicholson was granted a medical redshirt and he appears to be at full strength heading into the fall. Walker never started last season, but he appeared in 10 games and racked up 10 tackles. Walker and sophomore Kirk Garner will likely see some time in dime packages or in the case of injury.
Overall, the cornerback group should be a reliable strength for UVa in 2015. With an established star in Canady, a talented counterpart in Harris and experienced depth in Nicholson, corner is unquestionably one of the deeper and more experienced aspects of the Virginia defense.