When Virginia had its breakthrough season of the Bronco Mendenhall era in 2019, the team’s run to ACC Championship and Orange Bowl appearances was fueled as much by the dynamic play of quarterback Bryce Perkins and the Cavaliers’ offense as it was by grit and capable. UVA protection. A key part of Virginia’s defensive success that season was the Havoc Hoos, a hallmark of the Cavaliers’ front seven, which literally wreaked havoc on opposing offenses, sacking quarterbacks and forcing turnovers.
In 2019, Virginia’s defense totaled 41 sacks, third most in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Two years later, UVA’s defense ranked last in the ACC with 19 total sacks in the 2021 season. pass, thwarting one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football.
Under new head coach Tony Elliott and, in particular, new defensive coordinator John Rudzinski, Virginia’s defense enters the 2022 season with a chip on its shoulder. Steering the ship will require significant improvement in every facet of the defense, but the defensive line in particular has a huge opportunity for growth this fall based on an influx of talent and depth.
This offseason, Virginia added four quality pieces to its defensive depth chart via the transfer portal: Kam Butler (Miami Ohio), Paul Akere (Columbia), Jack Camper (Michigan State) and Devontae Davis (South Carolina). .
Butler, a 6’3″, 265-pound running back from Florence, Kentucky, comes to Virginia after a stellar career at Miami (Ohio). He earned second-team All-MAC honors in 2019 and 2020 and then with a first-team All-MAC selection after a 2021 campaign that saw him record 53.0 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three forced fumbles, three quarterback hits and an interception. With some kind of experience, talent and production, It should come as no surprise that Butler quickly rose to the top of Virginia’s tight end depth chart during fall camp.
“He’s got a great worker, he’s a young guy who played a ton of football and had over 700 snaps last season at a high level and so it’s exciting to have him,” John Rudzinski said of Kam Butler. “He’s one of those guys who came in here and was very intentional. He’s very, very crafty and loves to practice. So what he’s done is he’s raised the level of competition and set the standard for what what replays of the game look like,” he added. Tony Elliott.
Columbia grad transfer Paul Akere also had a strong fall camp. The 6’4″, 258-pound running back earned a spot on the All-Ivy League Second Team last fall after recording 42 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, five sacks and one forced fumble. Watch #1 to make some plays when the UVA defense takes the field against Richmond.
Jack Camper returns to his home state of Virginia after appearing in 27 games over the past four seasons at Michigan State. He had a solid 2020 season for the Spartans, recording 18 total tackles, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. The Virginia Beach native’s experience playing Big Ten football in East Lansing will be invaluable.
“Camper continues to be consistent and he may not be playing, but he’s impacting the game,” Tony Elliott said. “He’s frying the quarterback so someone else can play.”
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Finally, the last player to transfer to UVA this year was Devontae Davis, who announced his commitment to the Cavaliers after spring ball in mid-May. Davis comes to Virginia from South Carolina, where injuries prevented him from taking a more prominent role. He missed the 2019 season with a foot injury, but returned and eventually appeared in a career-high eight games in 2021. Davis recorded four total tackles last season, three of which came in a single game against Texas A&M . Of course, what stands out most about Davis is his size. At 6’4″ and 306 pounds, he has the size to wreak havoc on the interior of the line of scrimmage. If he can stay healthy, Davis could be primed for another season with his new team.
These newcomers bolster a group that already includes difference-makers like Ben Smiley III, Chico Bennett Jr., Jahmeer Carter and Aaron Faumui. With a level of depth and talent not seen in UVA’s defensive line room in recent seasons, the Virginia coaching staff will have tremendous luxury to mix in different defensive looks depending on the game situation. The result will hopefully be a unit that effectively rushes the passer and stops the opposing ground game at the line of scrimmage.
At the very least, the depth should allow the Cavaliers to keep a constant flow of fresh players on the defensive line. When asked which particular defensive players were starting during fall camp, Tony Elliott replied, “They mix it up. They mix it up every day and that’s how I like it to be honest with you. Keep those guys hungry and competitive. You really want to have a D-line that everybody can come in there and start and play for you. If you want to be successful at the highest level, it’s inside out. So I like the fact that every day it’s a different guy based on the performance of the day before. So it keeps those guys hungry. So you’re starting to see all those guys showing flashes of improvement.”
The potential return of the Havoc Hoos in 2022 could be what the Virginia x-factor needs in order to have a big season in the first year of the Tony Elliott era.
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