Virginia’s Bennett sidelined with freak knee issue, doctors scanning X-rays

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

One of Virginia’s top defensive players, defensive end Chico Bennett Jr., was missing from drills Monday after suffering a freak injury that has Tony Elliott holding his breath.

Bennett, a graduate student from Ashburn, finished Saturday’s scrimmage, but had his knee stiffened to a degree where he couldn’t participate in Monday’s practice.

“We’re still going through the process of trying to get all the information together to figure out exactly what it is,” Elliott said Monday evening. “It was just a freak deal. I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest with you.”

Elliott said doctors are going through the scans to identify what exactly happened after Bennett took a knee after the scrimmage, popped up and the knee stiffened.

“I don’t have a timetable yet because we just started the scanning process this morning, so I’ll be able to update you at a later date,” the coach said. “Obviously as a coach, you’ll be in that position plenty of times, that kind of a scary, anxious period when you’re waiting.”

Elliott said that Bennett has worked so hard, having overcome a previous shoulder injury, and now this happened. 

Bennett is expected to be one of the leaders on a Virginia defensive unit that returns eight starters. A 2022 All-ACC honorable mention, Bennett started the last nine games for the Cavaliers and led the team in sacks with seven, the most by a UVA player since Jordan Mack’s 7.5 in 2019.

“The unfortunate reality of football is next man has to be ready, because regardless of whether it’s two weeks, four weeks, two months, four months, the next guy has to be ready,” Elliott said. “I’m excited [we got] the other guys to be able to have a chance to get some more reps, to get evaluated to see where they’re going to fall in terms of the pecking order.”

If Bennett can’t go, the Cavaliers are going to have to rely on others to fill the void. Senior Ben Smiley has moved back outside after having played inside last season. Grad student Paul Akere was listed behind Kam Butler at the other defensive end spot, then there’s Terrell Jones and Bryce Carter.

“Yeah, I’ve been talking about Ben Smiley, and I told him today, doggone it Ben, you’ve got to do something man, I’ve been calling your name ever since I got here,” Elliott said. “I’m telling everybody that you’re the most athletic, twitchiest guy that I have. In fairness to him, he played out of position last year on the inside, so I feel good about Ben.”

Elliott said he also feels good about Jones and Carter, but that the defensive staff needs to get a fourth and fifth guy ready to go at the defensive end spot opposite Butler.