Jackson could be next man up for UVA defense

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- With senior Jordan Mack and juniors Zane Zandier and Rob Snyder on the roster, inside linebacker was considered one of the deepest positions on the Virginia defense entering the season.

That depth at inside linebacker took a hit with this week's announcement that Snyder will miss the rest of the season with a lower leg injury. Snyder made 13 tackles in the Cavaliers' first three games, but didn't play at Notre Dame. A pair of first-year players, Nick Jackson and Josh Ahern, are listed as the backups behind Mack and Zandier on UVA's depth chart for Friday's visit to Miami.

Ahern has yet to appear in a game this season. Jackson is one of three UVA true freshmen to appear in all five games, though most of that playing time has come on special teams, and he is yet to record a tackle.

"I think there was a time last week in the Notre Dame game where Coach Hunter was pretty close to putting him in," UVA co-defensive coordinator Kelly Poppinga said this week. "And so I'd say there's a good chance we'll probably see him at inside 'backer this game."

Zandier and Mack have started all five games for the Cavaliers, and rank first and third on the defense in tackles. Mack also has a team-high six sacks, while Zandier's pick-six sparked UVA's comeback against Old Dominion last month. Mack, Zandier and Snyder were three of the defense's top eight tacklers last season as well.

Poppinga has been praising Jackson since preseason camp, when he said that even with those three veterans back, the freshman was pushing for playing time at inside linebacker. This week, he called the freshman "a great practice player."

"He understands the scheme really well. He's super smart," Poppinga said. "He's physically ready, and athletically he's one of our best pass rushers from inside linebacker, and he drops into coverage great. He does a lot of things really well."

Third-year safety Joey Blount says Jackson has a better handle on his responsibilities at inside linebacker -- both before and after the snap.

"He came in very quiet. Freshman, he just wants to do what he has to do to help the team," Blount said. "But in the role he is now, he has to be loud. He has to be kind of obnoxious in the middle. Just repeating things over and over again, so everyone can hear it. And he's getting the hang of that."