Virginia defensive end Bill Schautz came up gimpy, favoring the right leg he broke in two places last November, after one running play when the Cavaliers held their first practice with shoulder pads Wednesday afternoon. Almost immediately, defensive line coach Jeff Hanson approached the redshirt senior, making sure everything was all right.
Schautz never ended up leaving the field, but it served as another reminder of how significant Schautz’s presence in the lineup will be this year. And it goes beyond the 28 tackles and two sacks he provided Virginia’s defense a year ago.
After he broke his tibia and fibula against the Seminoles, the Cavaliers gave up 81 points in their final two games of the season – a 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech and a 43-24 defeat to Auburn at the Chick fil-A Bowl.
“Billy is a high motor guy and when you see a high motor guy out there running around in everything he does . . . it’s kind of contagious,” Coach Mike London said. “Players see the expectation that it’s just intense effort all the time, and Billy does that. He’s feeling 100 percent now and we’re excited he’s back because he’s definitely very important to our overall operation of the defense.”
Looking back, Schautz calls the timing of the injury – during his best performance of the season and just when Virginia had hit its stride – “incredibly frustrating.” His offseason was spent in rehab, dealing with the intense pain of Graston massages, a technique used to break up deep scar tissue, from the top of his knee to his ankle.
Most of the time, Schautz was alongside linebacker Steve Greer, who was coming back from his own knee injury.
“Me and Greer teamed up when we both had to get surgery and we teamed up together and got after our rehab together,” Schautz said. “It made it a lot better because we treated it as a competition like we treat everything out here. It helped us get better faster. I attribute a lot of my recovery to him.”
Back on the field now, Schautz is sporting a new helmet with a face mask that looks similar to the one popularized by New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. But perhaps more importantly, he also has a new position.
Thus far Schautz has lined up on the right side of the defensive line, going head-to-head with preseason all-ACC left tackle Oday Aboushi because “it allows my good leg to get the good push off,” Schautz said.
Defensive coordinator Jim Reid has made it clear that with the Cavaliers relying on such an inexperienced secondary, they will need a better pass rush this year. Virginia finished with just 20 sacks in 2011, which ranked ninth in the ACC. To help in that department, Reid has also been experimenting with defensive end Brent Urban at defensive tackle during the first week of training camp.
But Schautz said the three-way battle to be Virginia’s starting quarterback has also helped the situation so far.
“We’re emphasizing it a lot more, and I’d say we’re getting a lot more reps at pass rush these first few days of camp because we’ve got a bunch of good quarterbacks and we’re throwing it a lot,” he said. “It allows us to pick up our pass rush.”
Maybe Schautz’s most vital role, though, comes when he returns to his dorm from practice. His roommate during training camp is freshman defensive end Eli Harold, the No. 1 recruit in the state of Virginia last year, and Schautz has already begun “taking him under my wing.”
Harold, who could have a situational role on passing downs this year, said Wednesday he has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.46 seconds. He also played wide receiver in high school and added that if he needed to play it in college, “I know I could. That’s no cockiness [but] I’d rather hit somebody.”
“If I do get in games, I’ll use my speed to get around guys,” said Harold, who is open to taking a redshirt year if coaches feel it’s needed.