CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- For three seasons now Nick Jackson was the dependable leader in the middle of the Virginia defense, racking up more than 100 tackles for three-straight seasons, but the Cavaliers are less focused on replacing and more on filling.

"It'd be nice to have another guy to have 100 tackles, but I don't know if it has to be that," UVA linebackers coach Clint Sintim said.

Jackson departed this offseason with a move to Iowa for his final season of eligibility. Sintim now looks at a much younger group to fill the void left behind, especially with veteran Josh Ahern currently out this spring.

"Nick was a great player for us, as I mentioned," Sintim said, "I'd rather a guy have six or seven tackles and a couple TFLs."

For Sintim it is all about the right tackles and he believes the young, up and coming group in the middle of the defense can make those plays. James Jackson is at the top of that list now as a junior, after finishing third on the team in tackles (60 total) in six starts last fall and winning the team's most improved defensive player honor.

"Don't have Nick anymore and he was a huge part of our team and he was a great leader," Jackson said, "But I really think we're coming along well and a lot of guys are prepared to take on those new roles."

A couple of second-year players in Stevie Bracey and Trey McDonald have also been in the mix for one of the two first team linebacker spots in spring practice. Bracey leaned on Nick Jackson often as freshman, especially considering the two went to same high school in Atlanta at The Lovett School, but has already seen signs of leaders emerging in the young room.

"I don't know if you hear us break it down, but we say L-B-C, which is linebacker corps, but it's also leaders by choice," Bracey said, "That's also another thing that we have all been able to step up and become the leaders of the defense."

James Jackson says he feels comfortable making the calls in the middle of the defense, but also added it might not look exactly the same without Nick Jackson and players all over the defense have stepped up into the leadership void.

As far as production, Sintim continues to harp on making the right plays and in a veteran laden defense that might be all players like Bracey, Jackson and McDonald need to do.

"At the end of the season if they end up with 50, 60 tackles so be it," Sintim said, "The hope is they're the right 50, 60 tackles."