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Countdown to Virginia Football: #58 Eli Hanback

Freshman DE Eli Hanback is a likely starter on the DL.

Virginia Media Relations

Position: DE
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 280
Year: Redshirt Freshman
Hometown: Ashland, VA
Twitter: @elihanback

In a continuing theme, Hanback is another guy who changed positions due to the change from 4-3 to 3-4 defenses. Hanback was recruited as a 4-3 DT. But in the new defense, he’s a better fit as a DE. He’s not quite big enough or strong enough to play inside in a 3-4, at least not every down. It is possible that he’ll slide down there at times, because he has very good quickness for a guy his size.

Interestingly, most recruiting services saw Hanback as an OL, whether inside or outside. He was rated a 2 star recruit by Rivals, but 3 stars by ESPN, Scout and 247. Of course, considering he was an OL recruit, those ratings don’t have a whole lot of meaning.

Hanback has already added 10%+ pounds of muscle since arriving on grounds. That extra strength and bulk is very important as a 3-4 DL, because he’ll often be asked to occupy two blockers. His highlight video shows a very physical lineman who packs a lot of punch into his intitial contact with his opponent (whether he’s playing OL or DL). As a DL, that initial pop will create some separation, which can give him the freedom to shed blocks and make plays.

In the video on his Hudl page, check out the very first highlight. He pops the OL, creates some space and then is able to get past the blocker and makes the tackle for loss. This is pretty much perfect technique from a DE in a 3-4 (which is how he’s lined up on this play). There are other examples of him making similar plays. These highlights are from 2013, which was Eli’s junior year. One hopes that he’s developed since then, which is promising. It is also nice that Hanback has experience playing in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, as Coach Mendenhall has talked about using both schemes depending on situations.

There are also some plays in the video that show Hanback lining up in the middle of a 3-4 DL. Considering the Hoos currently have 3 DTs on the roster and 2 of those are seniors, Hanback may be a candidate to move inside after Donte Wilkins moves on. He’s young and he’s got a big frame, and it seems like he could add another 10-20 pounds of muscle without sacrificing too much quickness.

Coach Mendenhall has mentioned Hanback as a candidate to start on the DL alongside Wilkins and Andrew Brown. Since both of those guys are upper-classmen and potentially will not be around next year (a big year from Andrew Brown almost certainly sends him to the NFL), it would be nice having a freshman on the line this year to develop some continuity.