Next man up: Virginia has to replace Briggs, Snowden on D
This time last week, the Virginia defensive front was built around two of the best players in the nation at their positions – nose tackle Jowon Briggs and outside linebacker Charles Snowden.
Both are gone now – Briggs deciding to enter the transfer portal, Snowden lost on the seventh snap of UVA’s 55-15 win over Abilene Christian to a broken right ankle.
As the ‘Hoos look to the stretch run, it’s next man up for Bronco Mendenhall and Co.
First, to nose tackle. Jahmeer Carter, a 6’2”, 305-pound true freshman, started on Saturday and got 25 snaps, and was effective.
Hard as it can be to determine effectiveness for a guy whose job is to control the two A gaps, Carter had a QB pressure and a tackle, and a 68.6 Pro Football Focus grade, a tick above the season PFF grade for Briggs (PFF season grade: 68.4).
Carter is listed #1 at nose tackle on the two-deep for Saturday’s game at Florida State.
“He is playing really well,” Mendenhall said. “I love what I see from him, not only in performance but effort, mindset, his love for football, his discipline, he’s doing a really nice job.”
Jordan Redmond, a 6’0”, 310-pound sophomore, is the #2.
Redmond, who played in 13 games and got 191 snaps in 2018, but only got three games and 20 snaps in what turned into a redshirt year in 2019, got 27 snaps against Abilene Christian on Saturday, with one pressure, two tackles and a 65.5 PFF grade.
Redmond “can help, and he’s going to need to help,” Mendenhall said.
“He did some nice things in the game, so I was really excited and happy for him. And hopefully that’s kind of a new beginning and a new opportunity to reestablish himself,” Mendenhall said.
One other D lineman, 6’6”, 270-pound true freshman Olasunkonmi Agunloye, saw his first action in 2020, getting 27 snaps against Abilene Christian, with four tackles and a 68.4 PFF grade.
Agunloye is listed at #2 at the left defensive end spot, behind 6’3”, 280-pound grad transfer Adeeb Atariwa (PFF season grade: 67.8), who has five QB pressures and 11 tackles in 219 snaps this season.
The other end spot has 6’2”, 280-pound senior Mandy Alonso (PFF season grade: 64.1) at #1 and 6’6”, 250-pound freshman Nusi Malani (PFF season grade: 56.4) at #2, though Mendenhall told reporters on his Monday Zoom presser that the ongoing status of Malani, who left the Abilene Christian game in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return, is not yet known.
There is experience and depth at outside linebacker.
Matt Gahm, a 6’3”, 240-pound senior, got 43 snaps against Abilene Christian last week, and had a sack, four QB pressures and a pass breakup.
Gahm is listed at #1 on the depth chart at will linebacker in place of Snowden (PFF season grade: 67.3).
Listed at #2 at will is 6’3”, 235-pound redshirt freshman D’Sean Perry (PFF season grade: 70.7), who was on the field for 17 snaps, contributing a tackle, QB pressure and a game-ending 84-yard picksix.
Another senior, 6’5”, 210-pound Elliott Brown, will get more reps at the other outside ‘backer position, backing up 6’5″, 225-pound junior Noah Taylor (PFF season grade: 72.3) at sam.
“Elliot is a dynamic athlete, really skilled in space. A fast and effective pass rusher. I think that those things manifest on Saturday night,” Mendenhall said.
Brown (PFF season grade: 63.5) got 34 snaps in the Abilene Christian game, with four QB pressures and three tackles.
Gahm (PFF season grade: 73.4) has gotten more playing time in 2020 (209 snaps, to 51 for Brown) – with four sacks and 14 total QB pressures on 70 pass-rush snaps, and 17 tackles, with one missed tackle.
“Matt’s completely equipped and prepared. He plays really hard. He has all the skills, he’s experienced and he’s ready,” Mendenhall said. “The word seamless would be used just in terms of transfer from one to another, they’re different and distinct in style and role. But between Matt Gahm and Elliot Brown, they have experience, they have maturity, they’re well-versed in our program.
“There is no replacing Charles, but I’m thankful that those two are available.”
Story by Chris Graham