Keeping it simple didn't work last season for UVa's defense

Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid is working to challenge his players more

Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid (photo from U.Va., Daily Press / August 3, 2011)

CHARLOTTESVILLE —

Mike London declined to channel Rex Ryan on Wednesday. So there was no championship guarantee or hazing of a division rival from the University of Virginia's second-year football coach.

But there was this vow during the Cavaliers' preseason media gathering: "Improvement will be made in all areas."

Given his team's 4-8 record last season, London needs to be right. And for reasons ranging from Virginia's personnel to London's motivational flair, I believe him.

But while fans and media will spend training camp hyperventilating about the quarterback competition, the Cavaliers' most critical preparation for 2011 will be on defense.

As ever-quotable coordinator Jim Reid said of 2010: "When we broke down, we broke down dramatically."

To hammer home his point, Reid shared this statistic: Of opponents' 480 rushing attempts last year, 413 netted fewer than 10 yards, with an average of just under 3 yards.

The other 67 were a trainwreck, with opponents averaging a crippling 21.6 yards.

At season's end, Virginia ranked 106th among 120 Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing defense at 203.7 yards per game, and opponents' 5.1 yards-per-carry norm was the ACC's worst.

Reid blames himself for, in essence, coddling the Cavaliers as they transitioned from a 3-4 to 4-3 alignment.

"In retrospect I'm not sure simplifying it last year was a good thing," he said. "You want to challenge players so they think all the time. React fast, make mistakes, but think. …

"I'm not sure we stimulated these guys enough because we made some drastic and dramatic mistakes being very, very simple. … What I have to do is give them enough, show them enough, coach them enough for them to be successful and better than we were last year. I'm not sure simplifying things is the answer with this crowd. You're not at Virginia because you're simple."

The embodiment of Reid's contention is outside linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, Virginia's leading tackler last season as a sophomore.

"He plays fast every second," Reid said. "Sometimes he plays fast in the right spots. Sometimes he plays fast some place else. … We need to corral his energies … and he's going to be absolutely terrific."

Reynolds believes that after a full season and two spring practices, Reid and the defensive players have meshed.

"He knows how certain guys learn and how certain guys react," Reynolds said. "He understands what we're capable of doing."

The Cavaliers' most capable defender is senior end Cam Johnson, but there Reid must tread carefully as well. Johnson has the sickle-cell anemia blood trait, which can affect his stamina.

Reid turned table-thumper discussing Johnson.

"He right now is a 45-to-50 play a game player for us," Reid said. "Now could he go 80? Probably. Am I going to risk that? The answer is no. There's no one who wants to win any worse than the guy talking to you. But there's a limit … to that feeling."

Johnson is an outstanding pass-rusher, and with tackle Matt Conrath healthy after battling ankle issues for two seasons, the line should be solid. All-ACC cornerback Chase Minnifield anchors a quality secondary, placing the greatest burden of improvement on linebackers such as Reynolds and Gloucester High graduate Aaron Taliaferro outside, and Steve Greer inside.

"Mentally we'll be a lot better," Greer said. "(Reid) made a cut-up of those 67 plays and put it on our video system. That's motivation."

"We expect some knowledge to be power to transfer into performance," Reid said. "We've got to make our defense special. So we've got to challenge them. …

"I believe you'll see a little more aggressiveness, a little more risk-taking because we have a little bit more experience and there's a little bit better understanding."

Virginia's media relations staff allotted Reid 15 minutes. As usual, he ran long, and blessedly so.

Reid laughed about his rambling discourse.

"For me, that's deep," he said with a smile. "I couldn't go to U.Va."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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