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Quin Blanding adapting to new role as leader of the UVA defense

blandingQuin Blanding was better than advertised as a UVA freshman, and he’d come in pretty well advertised, a Top 10 national recruit who was expected to contribute immediately.

Blanding did more than contribute, leading the Cavs in tackles (123), tying for the team lead in interceptions (3) while doing a little bit of everything else in the backfield (10 pass breakups, one sack).

Blanding is adapting to a new role heading into his sophomore season. With Anthony Harris headed to the NFL, Blanding takes over as the guy responsible for setting the defense from the safety position.

He seems to be doing well with the new responsibility. Blanding led the defense in the spring game with nine tackles, and also had an interception and a tackle for loss.

“It’s coming to me smoother. Sometimes there’s a little bump in the road, but that’s what film is for, that’s what practice is for,” Blanding said after the spring game.

The ability of Blanding to grow into the role of team leader on defense is heightened by the losses that Virginia suffered personnel-wise from 2014. In addition to Harris, the Cavs lost Eli Harold and Max Valles, both of whom are early entrants into the 2015 NFL Draft, in addition to Daquan Romero and Henry Coley.

That’s 46.1 percent of the tackles and 79.4 percent of the sacks from 2014 that have left the building.

It’s not just Blanding who will have to step up to make up for the losses. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta said several young guys will have to step up with the losses to graduation and the NFL Draft, including another prized recruit from the 2014 freshman class, Andrew Brown, who had a subpar freshman season in 2014 after being hampered by series of injuries that limited his practice time and effectiveness in games.

“He’s working on his fundamentals. The guy has tremendous ability, but he’s got to stay consistent, his effort and his ability to play off blocks,” Tenuta said.

One veteran, cornerback Tre Nicholson, back for a fifth year, is also being looked at to step up in the fall. The oft-injured Nicholson is in the mix for playing time at corner, along with Maurice Canaday and Tim Harris, said Tenuta.

“Tre is working to be a better player, but he has a lot of deficiencies. But his deficiencies to me are only playing, what, three games in two years? It’s a lot different going against the scout team or whatever, and now he had a chance to come back into spring ball and see what he could do,” Tenuta said.

The pressure on Blanding to improve on what was a top-shelf freshman season would appear to be obvious, but the low-key Blanding shrugs off any idea that he’s under any sense of pressure, which impresses head coach Mike London.

“It’s a learning process for him,” London said. “Anthony Harris is no longer next to him, so he’s got to get everybody lined up. That’s been a challenge for him to be the guy. He’s embraced it. He has some ways to go, but he’s not shy of contact. He will mix it up. I think he’s going to be a special player.”

– Story by Chris Graham