Behind enemy lines: Virginia linebackers

BYU running backs Jamaal Williams, Adam Hine, Paul Lasike, Iona Pritchard, and Michael Alisa will all see playing time against the Cavaliers, but to what extent is still a mystery. Fox Sports Virginia beat reporter Jacquie Franciulli gives BYU fans some insight into what the Cougar backs will face in the middle of the UVA defense in Charlottesville this Saturday.

UVA's defense received a boost when Jon Tenuta returned to his alma mater this year as an associate head coach and defensive coordinator. Tenuta's charge will be to get Virginia's 4-3 defense ready to face BYU's fast-paced, high-flying offense and corral Cougar rushing sensation Jamaal Williams.

"The biggest thing you heard this year during camp was Jon Tunuta's voice yelling and getting that defense going," said Fox Sports Virginia beat writer Franciulli. "The one thing that was a big focus this season was getting the defense to play to its potential. One focus this season was aggression and playing to Jon Tenuta's style of defense."

"We're going to plan on the fact that they're new like us," said BYU running back coach Mark Atuaia. "We're going to focus on the things that we are strong against and apply that to what we feel will be successful. They've got run-pluggers and guys that can play in space. We're going to focus on what we do well and let the chips fall where they may."

Virginia's defense playing to its potential depends on 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound junior middle linebacker Henry Coley, who was suspended by Coach London late last season for violating team rules. This year he's back with a vengeance to prove himself as a leader on defense.

"Jon Tenuta is placing a lot of responsibilities of the defense on the middle linebacker," said Franciulli. "I don't know if you remember last year, but Henry Coley was suspended last year for four or five games. After that he really took it upon himself and rededicated himself to the team, the game and to the UVA program. Jon Tenuta told him that he was going to be his guy, so he's really turned things around to be that leader on the defense."

BYU will field many running backs of different sizes, speeds and skill sets. Coach Tenuta will be looking for Coley, strong side linebacker Demeitre Brim, and weak side linebacker Daquan Romero to anchor against the run.

"Henry Coley is a tough guy in the middle and kind of the enforcer and leader," said Franciulli. "He really had to learn a new defense, and over spring you really got to see Cole be that quarterback on the field. He's now learned to appreciate the game more because he now understands it by being in charge out there. The defense has really come together and you could see that over spring camp more so than the offense, and a lot of that is because of Henry Coley."

"Well, number 44 Henry Coley is a stout middle linebacker," said Coach Atuaia. "He's very stout in the run game and is going to be a force to be reckoned with from the middle of Virginia's defense."

Backing up Coley is 6-2, 250-pound sophomore Kwontie Moore.

"Kwontie Moore mostly played special teams last year but they're grooming him to take over for Henry Coley when he leaves," Franciulli said. "He's a smart guy and had a stellar high school career."

At Sam linebacker is 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pound sophomore Demeitre Brim, who is considered one of the more athletic linebackers in Virginia's defense. Brim will be responsible for covering BYU's flexed tight ends and slot receivers.

"The two outside guys, you have Demeitre Brim and Daquan Romero, and Brim is honestly the best of the group they have on the strong side," said Franciulli. "He has good size and has matured a lot. He's very quick and has a great first step. In the spring Brim said he really likes the system that Coach Jon Tenuta has brought in.

"Coach London said they had certain players that would play only in certain packages, but then you have this guy Demeitre Brim who can play in multiple packages, so he's really valuable for them. He dedicated himself over the offseason to getting bigger and is one of the strongest guys there and one person there that, if you were to ask someone about the Cavalier defense, he would be one guy to watch for."

Brim is a taller version of BYU's Spencer Hadley, who played the Sam position last season but is now at the Buck position. In high school, Brim played safety on defense and quarterback back in 2011. An athlete, Brim can cover ground in space and rush the quarterback.

Rounding out the Cavalier starting linebacker corps is 6-foot-1-inch, 235-pound junior Daquan Romero, who played in all 12 games last season and started four after taking over in the middle once Coley was suspended. Romero recorded 44 tackles and led all UVA players who didn't start at least 10 games in tackles.

"Daquan Romero is another guys who dedication himself over the offseason to really become bigger and stronger," said Franciulli. "He played in every game last year and dedicated himself to really learning the game. He's become more of a student of the game this year."

"He moves well in space and is really good both in the run game and in flowing to the ball," said Atuaia.

The BYU offense will have to be aware of Virginia's three linebackers. The Cougars are expecting a dogfight.

"They're essentially like other really good Virginia linebackers they've had in the past," said Atuaia, "so we're going to have to be aware of where they are on the field and be sure to do what we need to do as far as our running backs go."

"It is more of a hard-nose defense I think, but at the same time you're talking about ACC speed," said BYU center Terrance Alletto. "But here at BYU we have BYU speed and BYU strength or independence strength, and that's an important asset on our side."

"The first thing we do when we introduce a team is talk about their personnel," said Coach Atuaia. "We look at their tendencies and talk about their personnel and who they are. Then the rest of the week we focus on us and do what we can do to best attack whatever they do. After we talk about personnel, we focus on how we best attack those things they might be as strong in, so we look at ourselves more and focus on the basics and fundamentals."

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