CHARLOTTESVILLE — Senior linebacker Jordan Mack had the simplest explanation to break down his big play in Saturday’s Virginia football spring scrimmage.
“I did what I was supposed to do,” Mack said of his interception and 55-yard runback for a touchdown. “When you do that, it just happens.”
For Mack, doing what he’s supposed to do has never come easier. After bouncing around at different linebacking positions throughout his career, Mack has settled into a home at the spot UVA calls its backer, one of two inside linebacker positions.
“He looks really comfortable where he is,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He looks faster in diagnosis of plays and he looks faster in reaction. For his sake and our team’s sake, I’m glad for him that he’ll be able to stay at a similar spot and now from spring through the fall and through a season.”
Mack, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound Georgia native, has been impactful everywhere he’s played in the Cavaliers’ base 3-4 defense, beginning with his freshman year when he played outside linebacker. That season, he became a starter and finished with 40 tackles and 1½ sacks.
The next year, he moved inside to the Buck position to play alongside Micah Kiser, now in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams. He finished with a career-high 114 stops, and he, Kiser and safety Quin Blanding became the first trio of UVA teammates to each post 100 or more tackles in one season.
With Kiser playing professionally, Mack slid into his Mike position and was on his way to posting career numbers until a shoulder injury cost him four games in the middle of the season. Still, he ended the year with 66 tackles, six of them for losses, and 2½ sacks in nine games.
Now, he’s back at Buck and, after the spring game, said the difference between the inside positions is almost negligible.
“It’s just all about getting used to it and just being disciplined in your assignments and going playing fast,” Mack said. “Just more game experience, what things are like, how’s the feel of it, how to play things, and the different things I’m going to see. It’s just all about getting that experience in live game action.”
Virginia has a pair of juniors vying for the starting job at Mike linebacker in the middle of a defense that will return eight starters a year after ranking third in the ACC in points allowed per game (20.1).
Both Zane Zandier (65 tackles, two sacks) and Rob Snyder (53 tackles, one sack) were productive getting playing time as sophomores last season as UVA went 8-5 and beat South Carolina in the Belk Bowl.
On the outside, Charles Snowden returns after a breakout sophomore season. Now, Virginia is hoping another Maryland native can have a big sophomore campaign. Noah Taylor, who like Snowden is from Silver Springs, was one of the emerging stars for the defense this spring.
That’s not all Taylor has in common with Snowden. At 6-foot-5, he has a similar build to the 6-7 Snowden and another UVA outside linebacker, 6-5 junior Elliott Brown.
“It’s easier to see through the line, it’s easier to see the whole picture,” Taylor said of why his height is an advantage at his position.
“It’s easier to look through the tackles and see the quarterback and the running backs and make a better play.”
Mack is the only senior among the likely starters at linebacker this season, joining nose tackle Eli Hanback and cornerback Bryce Hall as the unit’s most experienced players.
Note: UVA announced the addition of two graduate transfers at wide receiver on Tuesday. As reported earlier, Richmond’s Dejon Brissett, who missed most of last season with an injury, will join the Cavaliers this fall, as will Arizona State’s Terrell Chatman. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Chatman was a college roommate of current Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins.