Virginia is looking to build off its 8-5 season in 2011. This year, the Cavaliers won't sneak up on anyone, and these players need to play well for Virginia to keep the program moving in the right direction.
Offense: Virginia has to replace its top receiver from a year ago in Kris Burd, who caught 66 passes for 913 yards with three touchdowns. Expected to step up and fill the void is redshirt junior wide receiver Tim Smith. Smith caught 33 passes for 565 yards with three touchdowns in 2011. He has good speed and has shown that he can be an effective deep threat. Smith has worked in the offseason on becoming a better all-around receiver. He focused on his intermediate route running and his hands, and he will need to be the go-to receiver for whoever wins the quarterback battle.
Defense: Virginia linebacker LaRoy Reynolds had a good year in 2011. He finished second on the team in both tackles (88) and tackles for loss (8). Reynolds seemed more comfortable in his second year playing outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Jim Reid's 4-3 scheme. He was a safety during his freshman season for former coach Al Groh. Reynolds has all the tools to be an elite outside linebacker in college football, and if he takes another step forward this year, that would be a huge help for a Virginia defense that faces a lot of question marks.
Special Teams: In most other backfields, sophomore running back Khalek Shepherd would get plenty of work. Unfortunately, Shepherd has three backs who are in front of him on the depth chart. That didn't keep Shepherd from contributing on special teams last year. He averaged 26 yards per kickoff return, which ranked third in the ACC, and almost returned a couple kickoffs for touchdowns. Shepherd might not make a big impact offensively, but the Cavaliers need him to be a difference maker on special teams.
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