11 Returning Starters (5 Offense, 6 Defense)
In what appears to be a self-described "rebuilding year", UVA head
coach Al Groh has his work cut out for him. He lost his starting quarterback,
tailback, three offensive linemen, and his inside linebacker corps has been
gutted. He also lost four assistant coaches, and his program took some hits for
some off the field issues.
Virginia has a very good duo of tight ends in Tom Santi and Jonathan Stupar.
Santi is more of an H-back type player who caught 19 passes for 358 yards and
two touchdowns last year. Stupar is a prototypical tight end who can block. He
is also a very good receiver, catching 24 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown
With the recent injury to leading receiver Deyon Williams, Stupar and Santi
will have to take their game to another level in 2006. It is unknown how long
Williams will be out. He had surgery last Friday to repair a stress fracture in
Virginia could really struggle in the offensive backfield this season. Jason
Snelling, a converted fullback, is set to start at tailback. That’s actually
good for UVA. Snelling is a very good runner and an excellent receiver out of
the backfield. It’s also bad for UVA because he is extremely injury prone and
most people would be surprised if he made it throughout the season without
missing at least a few games.
Behind Snelling, UVA has Michael Johnson and Cedric Peerman. Johnson has
tremendous speed, but other than an occasional big run, he doesn’t do much. He
didn’t carry the ball at all after the Florida State game last year. Cedric
Peerman was a very good kick returner last year, but he only averaged 3.4 yards
UVA’s defensive strength is their secondary. The Hoos return a large number
of players with starting experience and game experience. The best of the bunch
is cornerback Marcus Hamilton, who intercepted six passes last season. They also
bring back Nate Lyles, who was playing well last year before a neck injury ended
his season early.
Tony Franklin, who was once suspended indefinitely by Al Groh, is also back
on the team, and he will factor into the mix. Chris Gorham is an experienced
cornerback, and Vic Hall has a lot of talent. Byron Glaspy, Ryan Best and Jamaal
Jackson provide depth at safety, while Mike Brown and Chris Cook look like they
are going to be good cornerbacks as well.
Interior defense will be UVA’s undoing in 2006. The Cavs play a 3-4, and in
that kind of defense the nose tackle must be very effective. Unfortunately for
UVA, none of their nose tackles stood out last season. Keenan Carter is set to
start there this year, and Allen Billyk will be behind him.
At inside linebacker, UVA loses former five-star recruits Ahmad Brooks and
Kai Parham. They will be replaced by sophomores Antonio Appleby and Jon Copper.
Appleby, a player the Hokies coveted and recruited, played as a true freshman
last season and showed promise. Copper is a former walk-on from Northside High
Virginia has talent and can have a solid season, but they also have a lot of
holes. Their opening week game at Pittsburgh on September 2nd should be a pretty
good one. It could set the tone for the season. If UVA wins, they could go on to
a better-than-expected season, but if they get run out of the stadium, it could
be a long year.