When asked about rising sophomore linebacker Daquan Romero on Wednesday, Virginia's LaRoy Reynolds let out a sigh then cracked a smile.
"Man, he's shocking me a little bit," the rising senior linebacker replied. "He's confident; he's really enjoying playing. He's enjoying the game, making plays."
"He's not as timid as he was before," Reynolds added. "He's got a lot of confidence in him."
The Cavaliers need to replace seven starters on a defense that finished 2011 ranked third overall in the ACC, and Romero is among the players currently slotted to fill those voids. A year after enrolling early at Virginia, he's listed atop the depth chart at strong-side linebacker.
"Just attack it," Romero said when asked to describe his approach to spring practice. "Go hard as I can. Try to get better everyday; try to learn as much as I can everyday. Try to make my teammates better; try to make me better."
Romero appeared in 10 games last year as a true freshman, recording 13 tackles. After practice on Wednesday, he called 2011 "probably the craziest learning experience I've ever experienced in my life, honestly."
"It was so much on me, I didn't know how to handle it. And now it's better, because I'm not new to it," he explained. "I'm way more comfortable. I can feel it, even when I'm watching film, talking more. More accountable, more active, and just loving it more."
Another new face on the Virginia defense is rising redshirt sophomore Drequan Hoskey. He's listed as a starter opposite rising sophomore Tre Nicholson at cornerback.
The past two years, that position has belonged to All-ACC selection Chase Minnifield.
"It's motivating me a lot. It's motivating me in my play, and just my mindset. And just playing football, period," Hoskey said of replacing Minnifield. "Chase is, he showed me techniques and stuff like before he left. He was a great motivation to my game, period."
Hoskey appeared in 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2011. His lone pass break-up came in the endzone in the final minute of the Cavaliers' win at Florida State in late November.
The Cavaliers need three new starters in the secondary next year, to replace Minnifield and safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley. The pre-spring depth chart lists rising junior Rijo Walker as the starting free safety, and rising sophomore Anthony Harris at strong safety.
"As a secondary I feel like we just need to always compete," Hoskey said. "We're always wanting to get better. The seniors left, and we just have to live up to the standard they left."