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Bennett, Butler, Carter, Smiley give Virginia D line a mountain of experience

Chris Graham
uva defensive line
Photo: UVA Athletics

The Virginia D line was already going to lose Aaron Faumui, who’d been around since 2018, and was due to move on after six years, five in the trenches.

Coach Tony Elliott was facing the possibility of also having to replace Chico Bennett Jr., Kam Butler, Jahmeer Carter and Ben Smiley III.

Among the good offseason news for Elliott: those four are coming back, giving Elliott and D line coach Chris Slade important building blocks for 2024.

Bennett and Carter were “on the bubble” in terms of returning, Elliott told reporters at his signing day press conference back on Dec. 20.

Bennett had to battle through a freak knee injury at the end of training camp to get on the field, and ended up getting 556 snaps in 11 games, recording 34 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 28 QB pressures and one sack, and a Pro Football Focus grade of 60.1.

The edge rusher will compete as a sixth-year senior in 2024. He missed the 2021 season at UVA with an ACL injury after transferring from Georgia Tech, where he’d played two seasons at linebacker.

“Chico was one that I wasn’t sure on, because he has enough body of work to test the waters and get a shot. But he made the decision that he wanted to come back and improve,” Elliott said.

Carter, a defensive tackle, will be a fifth-year senior in 2024. In 2023, he was on the field for 557 snaps, with 35 tackles, eight QB pressures and one sack, and a PFF grade of 60.4.

Smiley, like Bennett, will also be a sixth-year in 2024. The D end was in on 387 snaps in 2023, with 15 tackles, eight QB pressures and two sacks, and a 51.0 PFF grade.

Butler will be a (gulp!) seventh-year in 2024. His college career started way, way back in 2018 at Miami (Ohio), where he played four seasons before transferring to Virginia in 2022.

He played at UVA in 2022 as a grad transfer, then got an extra year from the NCAA along with his teammates in the aftermath of the tragic end to the 2022 season, following the murders of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.

His 2023 got cut short four games in with a pec injury in the NC State game that led to season-ending surgery.

“I knew if Kam Butler was given an opportunity, he wanted to, because it’s just unfortunate for him,” Elliott said. “I thought he was trending in a great direction from an NFL standpoint, I thought he was having a great season, and that gets cut short, and then the recovery time would put him where he’s missing combine, he’s missing pro days. I don’t know if he had enough body of work. We knew that if he was granted an additional year, he would come back.”

The medical redshirt will get Butler back on the field next fall, which should be a huge boost to the D line.

In 2023, Butler was on the field for 212 snaps, and he recorded 23 tackles, 11 QB pressures, 3.5 sacks and had a 69.5 PFF grade.

The returning guys, grizzled vets, given their age and experience, will make the UVA D line a position group of strength next fall.

Elliott is counting his blessings in that respect.

“There was two of them that I thought we had a good chance. The other two, I just didn’t know, because they played a lot of football, and you know, the NFL is, I mean, that’s something they’ve dreamed about,” Elliott said. “But the message to them was, hey man, if you’re going to come back, let’s go to work. Let’s figure out what it is we need to do to help you improve so you can improve your opportunities for the next level. Come back, lead, and then let’s go finish what we started.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].