Aug. 8, 2013
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Name: Brandon Phelps
Vitals: 6-0, 190-pound junior
Hometown: Damascus, Md. (Damascus High School)
College Career: Phelps, who wears jersey No. 21, was one of 12 true freshmen to play for Virginia in 2011. As a sophomore, he started all 12 games at strong safety and finished fifth on the team in tackles, with 48. He also broke up three passes.
New Roles: Phelps started at strong safety and classmate Anthony Harris at free safety last season. After Jon Tenuta took over as defensive coordinator in January, Phelps and Harris switched spots.
"I think it's a big difference," Phelps said after practice Wednesday evening. "I'm playing in the middle of the field and trying to read the quarterback, so I truly feel like an actual free safety."
That's not the first move Phelps has made at UVa. He began his college career at cornerback, then shifted to safety on the eve of training camp last summer.
"I think now, being comfortable with the defense," Virginia coach Mike London said, "he has an opportunity to be a really good safety."
Safeties often must be more physical than cornerbacks, and that presented a challenge for Phelps early on last season.
"It wasn't like he couldn't do it," said Anthony Poindexter, who coaches the Cavaliers' safeties. "It's just a different style that you have to play, playing safety rather than corner.
"He had 12 games last year to get used to playing safety, and I think he's more comfortable this year. After a whole season of playing, a spring and now coming into training camp, I think he's starting to understand the position a lot better, and I'm looking for a big year out of him."
Phelps, whose work ethic in the weight room earned praise from strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus, put on about 10 pounds in the offseason. Phelps said he feels like a safety this year and not like a converted cornerback.
It helps, he said, "having coaches like Coach Dex and Coach Tenuta. They're pretty much defensive gurus, to be honest with you. But I still feel like I'm learning. I'm just trying to be a student of the game and learn everything I can."
Veteran Group: UVa's first-team secondary returns intact from 2012. Phelps and Harris started every game at safety. Two other juniors, Demetrious Nicholson and DreQuan Hoskey, started 12 and 10 games, respectively, at cornerback. Sophomore Maurice Canady started in Hoskey's place in the other two games.
"We have a lot of game experience," Phelps said. "We've just been hanging out together, trying to learn together, and it's going to make us that much better playing together."
After two years together, Phelps said, he and Harris have developed a strong chemistry.
"Definitely," Phelps said. "We hang out a lot in the locker room. Off the field, on the field, we have a nice bond, and I think it's definitely going to make us better players this year."
Phelps, who chose UVa over such schools as Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, is rooming during training camp with one of the secondary's new members, true freshman cornerback Kirk Garner, who's also from Maryland (Baltimore). During the school year, Phelps said, he'll be living with Nicholson and junior wide receivers Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell. All four played as true freshmen in 2011.
Family Tradition: Phelps' parents, Gary and Kathy, are 1984 graduates of UVa. Gary Phelps, who was an all-state wideout at Cave Spring High in Roanoke, played football at Virginia for Dick Bestwick and, later, George Welsh.