ACC: Brendan Morgan

Our series continues today with the Cavaliers, who are looking for answers in their defensive backfield after an 8-5 season in 2011.

For a complete recap of the series, click here.

Virginia: CB Demetrious Nicholson

2011 stats: Nicholson notched two picks, two tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, a forced fumble and 60 total tackles as a true freshman.

What he means to the Cavaliers: This is a secondary re-tooling, and coach Mike London said entering the spring that he would keep a close eye on both the defensive backs and wide receivers, looking to see which side would come out on the winning end of downfield throws. Nicholson, who played nearly every snap in his first year in 2011, ended up being named the most distinguished freshman this spring, but that hardly justifies his importance. With Chase Minnifield gone, Nicholson will probably be responsible for covering the opposition's No. 1 receiver this season, and he will have to be the leader of a group facing some questions given its lack of experience. Sophomores Brandon Phelps and Drequan Hoskey could start opposite him after seeing action mostly on special teams last season. Another option is converted running back Brendan Morgan. Regardless, the onus is on a true sophomore to lead this group in 2012, and after a strong debut season, he looks capable of filling the role.
The focus at Virginia this spring has been on the quarterbacks, as coach Mike London needs to name a new starter, and Michael Rocco led the group on Saturday in the Cavaliers' spring game at Scott Stadium.

Rocco completed 10 of 22 passes for 95 yards for the Blue team and seven of 10 throws for 57 yards for the Orange team. Ross Metheny, who also played for both teams, combined to complete 3 of 6 passes for 60 yards. True freshman David Watford completed 1 of 5 passes for 6 yards with both teams. Michael Strauss completed 6 of 14 attempts for 85 yards.

The teams played four 10-minute quarters in a standard game format that included special-teams play. The Blue team featured the majority of the Cavaliers’ returning starters on offense while the Orange team included the returning starters on defense. The Blue team won 17-7. Veteran receivers Kris Burd, Matt Snyder, Tim Smith and Bobby Smith did not play because of injuries. Snyder, Jones, strong safety Rodney McLeod and defensive tackle Nick Jenkins were named team captains for the 2011 season.

Offensive highlights:
  • Perry Jones scored on a 15-yard reception from Rocco and had a game-high five receptions for 35 yards and 7 yards on 11 carries.
  • Rocco threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Morgan.
  • Robert Randolph made a 40-yard field goal.
  • Jones Khalek Shepherd had 15 yards on 10 attempts.
Defensive highlights:
  • No player had a run longer than 8 yards.
  • Steve Greer led all defenders with nine tackles, a pair of sacks and one pass breakup. The two teams combined for 19 sacks since quarterbacks were whistled down when touched by a defensive player. Billy Schautz accounted for three solo sacks.
  • Mike Ahunamba and Henry Coley both had five tackles to lead the Blue team.
  • Chase Minnifield intercepted Rocco on the opening drive when the receiver slipped while running his route.
  • Dom Joseph intercepted Strauss and returned it 65 yards for a score.

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