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John-Kevin Dolce to start over Matt Conrath in Virginia's 'three-man rotation' at defensive tackle

Fifth-year senior John-Kevin Dolce aims to enter Saturday’s season opener against Richmond weighing 256 pounds, which qualifies him as light – relatively speaking, of course. Dolce will serve as one of Virginia’s two starting defensive tackles, a position typically filled by, shall we say, more hefty individuals.

Coach Mike London assured reporters on Monday that Dolce’s strength and quickness would make up for whatever he lacked on the scale.

“Pound for pound, he's probably one of the strongest guys on the team. Just ask him. He'll tell you that,” London said. “But as an edge player, I think it suits his skills and his abilities. If he were still a 3-4 (alignment) nose tackle or defensive end, that'd be probably tougher for him.

“But he's done a great job of playing on the edge and doing the things that (defensive line) Coach (Jeff) Hanson has taught him, being able to use his hands well. He is kind of an up-the-field, aggressive kind of guy. We'll be excited to see how that can transition into playing against another opponent.”

Dolce, who has never weighed more than 262 pounds, said he bench-pressed as much 485 pounds this summer. He said he considered trying to push his weight up to the 270-275 range, but realized that in a 4-3 defensive front, “there’s no need to.” The coaching staff told Dolce to weigh between 255 and 262, and that’s what he plans to do.

London believes lining up in a 4-3 defensive front will allow Dolce to “go vertical through his man and then utilize some of his strength and quickness.” Dolce will line up shaded either to the outside shoulder of the opposing guard or to the outside shoulder of the opposing center.

In the 3-4 front Virginia used under former Coach Al Groh, Dolce and other defensive tackles were asked to play head-up on an opposing offensive lineman, control said opponent and be responsible for two gaps. Last season, Dolce tallied 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

With Dolce and junior Nick Jenkins (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) listed as the team’s starters at defensive tackle, redshirt junior Matt Conrath (6-foot-7, 270 pounds) will take on a reserve role. Last season, Conrath recorded 45 tackles and two sacks. He missed two games due to a high ankle sprain. Conrath moved from defensive end to defensive tackle in the offseason.

Conrath – who won recognition as the team’s most outstanding interior lineman in 2009 – has started all 22 games in which he has appeared for Virginia. That streaks appears likely to end Saturday, though London noted Conrath still will see plenty of playing time.

“It will be a three-way rotation, basically,” London said. “Whether who starts, when you look at the three guys inside, Nick, Matt and John-Kevin, they'll probably play the same amount of snaps because they've all earned it and they've warranted it. Matt is back now off that injury that he had. He's had a pretty good camp, but John-Kevin has played well ... I think the three of those guys inside in a rotating fashion will give us what we need.”

By Steve Yanda  |  August 30, 2010; 5:34 PM ET
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