With Virginia Cavaliers Football kicking off its season on Saturday at 7:30 eastern time against William and Mary, we’re closing out our positional previews for the Wahoos with a look at the defensive line. With a number of veteran pieces returning, this is a group with the potential to lessen the team’s issues in the secondary from last season and give an experienced but unproven squad on the backend the opportunity to get comfortable.
Obviously increased production from the defensive trenches would be valuable for the mere play-wrecking potential. But the direct relationship that a rising tide from the pass rush could have for the secondary’s boats would solidify the Virginia Cavaliers defense that struggled to get stops last season.
The Returning Players
Returning for his fifth season on Grounds, Mandy Alonso leads the returners on the defensive line. After starting nine of Virginia’s ten games last season, racking up two sacks, four tackles for loss, and 26 total tackles, the starting right end is poised for a big final year in the orange and blue. Behind Alonso on the right side will be Nusi Malani. One of a handful of true freshmen to see game action last season, Malani will be looking to provide quality depth.
Starting opposite Alonso on the line will be former James Madison transfer, Adeeb Atariwa who appeared in seven games for the ‘Hoos last season and recorded a pair of sacks and 16 tackles in those contests. Backing up Atariwa on that side of the line will be third year Ben Smiley who has his own opportunity to break out onto the scene this season. There’s also second year Olasunkonmi Agunloye returning to act as another depth piece on the line after only two appearances last season.
Then, at nose tackle, second year Jahmeer Carter will be counted on to do serious damage. After establishing himself in the rotation last season, the Maryland native will hope to further emerge this season as the defense’s stalwart in the middle of the line. Behind Carter on the depth chart will be Aaron Famui who returns after a year away from the program. Having impressed in his first two years as a Cavalier, Famui will give tremendous depth stacked up with Carter and should provide another veteran presence.
The New Faces
Even with a handful of returners set to take up the majority of the snaps, there are a few newcomers in the class of 2021 who will hope to make a splash in their first year on Grounds.
Most notably, Bryce Carter comes in as Virginia’s highest rated recruit in the class and provides both size and quickness along with the versatility to play inside or out and should thrive in the 3-4 on the edge once he grows comfortable.
Additionally, Tennessee native Michael Diatta is another potential depth piece at defensive end. At 6’5”, 265, Diatta has a great frame to play on the end and to contain.
There’s also Fork Union alum Lorenz Terry entering as a part of this freshman class who is likely going to transition to playing on the edge.
All in all, this is a defensive line group with the potential to have a big year. Generating significant, consistent pressure on opponents’ quarterbacks and bailing out the Wahoo secondary a bit would be huge for this defense and this team as a whole. The pieces are absolutely there for the Cavaliers to be a dominant group up front, enough guys just have to step up in their roles.