2011 Connecticut Preview – Defense
Connecticut LB Sio Moore
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Connecticut Husky Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Whatever hurdles coordinator Don Brown faces will be lowered by the talent he inherits in his first season at a new school. Save for a few holes, namely at linebacker, Connecticut is absolutely loaded on defense. There's next-level talent at every unit and enough depth to guard against an injury or two. Led by DT Kendall Reyes, the Husky D-line will be fantastic, with multiple players capable of landing on the All-Big East squad. The linebackers will be young, but have a leader and future star in Sio Moore. And the secondary is nasty, bringing back four starters, including CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, from a unit that picked opposing quarterbacks' pockets all year. Brown is capable of picking up where Todd Orlando left, rolling out an athletic defense that attacks and is very difficult to solve in the fall.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Kendall Reyes
Tackles: Sio Moore, 110
Sacks: Jesse Joseph, 8.5
Interceptions: Jerome Junior, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 4
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Jory Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Reyes, 2) Junior LB Jesse Joseph, 3) Junior LB Sio Moore
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, the pass defense, getting pressure, creating turnovers, depth
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, stuffing the run
State of the Unit: With eight lettermen, four starters, and a first team all-star back, Connecticut could boast the Big East's deepest defensive line. And one of the more underrated groups in America. Only Alex Polito graduated, meaning the Huskies will have the luxury of both talent and depth. The rotation is flush, which will be a particularly huge plus to a corps of linebackers that's rebuilding.
At defensive tackle, 6-4, 298-pound senior Kendall Reyes is coming off his best season in a Husky uniform. In his second full year as a starter, he parlayed 39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two picks, and four pass breakups into a spot on the All-Big East first team. A tremendous all-around athlete, especially for his size, he nearly passed on his final year of eligibility and turned pro a year early. At his current rate, he could go high in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Connecticut has star power on the outside as well in the form of 6-3, 257-pound junior Jesse Joseph. He's done a nice job of filling out since arriving from Canada, adding muscle, yet maintaining a quick first step to the backfield. He really began to blossom in his second full season as a starter, collecting 39 tackles and team-highs with 12 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks. Just halfway through his college career, the best is still ahead for No. 91.
Next to Reyes on the inside will be 6-2, 292-pound senior Twyon Martin, another nimble veteran on the inside. A fourth-year starter for the Huskies, he has playmaking tendencies, getting off the ball quickly and forcing linemen to respect his moves. When properly motivated, he can blow up an offense, making 30 stops, five tackles for loss, and three sacks last season.
Depth on the inside will come from 6-2, 272-pound junior Ryan Wirth and 6-5, 300-pound sophomore Shamar Stephen . While Wirth is a plugger, Stephen is one of the future building blocks, especially after Reyes and Martin graduate. One of the biggest players up front, he started eight games as a rookie and delivered 27 tackles, four stops for loss, and a pair of sacks.
On the opposite edge as Joseph, the Huskies will have options. When pressed into action, 6-1, 225-pound junior Trevardo Williams has shown a knack for making playing. More of a situational rusher because of his size, he started seven games in 2010, collecting 29 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
Connecticut is also hopeful that 6-3, 230-pound senior Marcus Campbell will finally be cleared to play after missing the last two seasons to a knee injury. Another speed rusher, he could be a valuable addition if the knee holds up. A more youthful infusion will come from juniors A.J. Portee and Ted Jennings . After earning letters in 2010, both are hoping to climb the depth chart.
Watch Out For … Joseph to be much harder for all-conference voters to ignore. Despite being fourth in the Big East in sacks, he failed to get any all-star. How does that happen? Much more of a known commodity and only scratching the surface of his potential, he'll have fewer problems turning heads in 2010.
Strength: Depth and talent. Inside, outside. Size and speed. The Huskies have it all on defensive line that'll do a nice job of stuffing the run and collapsing the pocket. The staff will also like the depth it inherited, allowing for a rotation that keeps everyone at peak performance.
Weakness: Stopping the run. While the situation improved as the season developed, Connecticut was vulnerable at times against the run in 2010. The Huskies struggled at the point of attack, especially versus Michigan, Temple, Vanderbilt, and West Virginia. With less help expected at the second level, the line has to do a better job of beating the blocks and getting contact on opposing runners.
Outlook: After losing just one body from a unit that was already solid, the Husky D-line has a chance to be dominant in 2011. All the parts are in place, from experience and fundamentals to size and quickness. Multiple linemen from this group will play on Sundays, making it a sure-fire catalyst for the rest of the defense.
Unit Rating: 8.5
State of the Unit: The hardest hit of the defensive units is right here at linebacker, where stalwarts Lawrence Wilson, Scott Lutrus, and Greg Lloyd have all graduated. While there'll be a gaping void on the second level, the Huskies do have some reinforcements to build around and a couple of solid recruiting classes that'll need to start delivering.
Junior Sio Moore is set to take over as the new the cover boy of the linebackers. Overshadowed by better-known teammates, he quietly racked up 110 tackles, 11,5 stops for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Almost on pure physical ability alone, the 6-1, 232-pounder excelled as run defender, using his leverage and raw power to shed blocks and zero in on the man with the ball.
The veterans seeking a promotion are 6-1, 228-pound junior Jory Johnson and 6-1, 233-pound junior Jerome Williams . Johnson has lettered in each of the last two seasons, starting three games in 2009 and making seven tackles last fall. He's added some weight, maintaining his range and sideline-to-sideline range. Williams had seven tackles in nine games, and possesses the instincts and low-to-the-ground leverage needed to make stops against the run.
Out of a quartet of redshirt freshmen, the two-deep will get filled out and starter could emerge. Andrew Opuku, Michael Osiecki, Brandon Steg, and particularly Yawin Smallwood are primed for action in their second year on campus. The 6-2, 227-pound Smallwood, in particular, had a terrific offseason, vaulting to the top of the depth chart ahead of the other rookies.
Watch Out For … more Moore. He had the quietest 100 tackles on a conference champion in recent history, but he'll no longer be a well-kept secret. He's the man at linebacker for the Huskies, and has the right combination of size, speed, and tenacity to develop a following outside just the Big East.
Strength: Athletic ability. When Randy Edsall and his staff were calling the shots, the Huskies had a penchant for attracting quality athletes and transforming them into dynamite linebackers. While raw, those athletes are still in the program, simply needing more seasoning and reps.
Weakness: Experience. Only Moore has been a regular, which means it's going to take time to build up the unit's experience and formulate a pecking order. The future looks good, but it's always a little unsettling when so many first-year kids are in the hunt for serious playing time.
Outlook: No doubt a work-in-progress, the Huskies have enough of a track record in this area to feel positive about the future. It'll take time and some extra coaching, but with Moore leading the way, the Connecticut linebackers figure to improve as the season progresses. The battle among the freshmen will be an interesting one that'll birth at least one future star by November.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: From a secondary that picked off more passes than touchdowns allowed, Connecticut returns all four starters and seven letterwinners. The only departure, S Mike Lang, was a backup who's no longer with the program. After needing to rebuild and going somewhat young in 2010, the Huskies are set to reap the rewards with a group that's a year older and meshing into a cohesive unit.
As expected, junior Blidi Wreh-Wilson emerged as a stopper in the secondary and one of the Big East's rising stars at cornerback. On the cusp of becoming an all-star, the 6-0, 191-pound ball-hawk had 57 tackles, five pass breakups, and four picks, two that were taken back for touchdowns. He's an unfinished product, but he flashes the speed and the hips to become the next Husky to continue his career on Sundays.
The other corner along with Wreh-Wilson will be 6-0, 188-pound junior Dwayne Gratz, who has lettered twice and started all 13 games in 2010. He improved as the season went on, making 63 tackles, picking off a pair, and breaking up a team-high nine passes. A former top recruit, he has the closing speed and length to become a lockdown defender. There's enough depth at cornerback to consider moving at least one defensive back over to safety.
Seniors Gary Wilburn and Kijuan Dabney have played a lot of football in East Hartford, earning five letters between them. Dabney goes 6-1 and 192 pounds, and is no stranger to the starting lineup. Wilburn started a pair of games in 2010, chipping in 16 tackles.
As it was a year ago, the starting safeties are expected to be 5-11, 183-pound senior Harris Agbor and 6-1, 214-pound junior Jerome Junior . Junior is a defensive back who plays with the physicality and mindset of a linebacker. He has good size and drives through his tackles, making 59 of them and four interceptions as a second-year starter. Agbor is more of a free safety, defending the pass and using his speed to cut off throwing lanes. A starter in eight games a year ago, he had 42 tackles, four stops for loss, and a couple of pass breakups.
Depth at safety is rather thin this year. A concern for the staff, but good news for 6-0, 184-pound redshirt freshman Ty-Meer Brown who expects to be in the two-deep. A terrific athlete, he could stand to add some muscle during the offseason.
Watch Out For … Wreh-Wilson to get avoided. The word is getting out that No. 5 is not the kind of cornerback that opposing quarterbacks want to test. He has outstanding instincts and field awareness, and knows what to do when the ball is in his hands. The problem for Husky opponents is that picking on Gratz is nearly as dangerous.
Strength: Takeaways. Up and down the roster, the Huskies are a bunch of bona fide thieves, watching the quarterback's eyes, jumping the route, and taking off the other way. Connecticut was eighth nationally in picks, and with everyone back, a repeat performance can't be discounted.
Weakness: Coverage softness. The Huskies too a few too many chances last season, and occasionally got burned for it. They were only seventh in the Big East in yards allowed, and gave up a healthy 11 yards per completion.
Outlook: Last season was supposed to be the rebuilding year in the secondary, but the Huskies performed beyond expectations in pass defense. With 2010 in the rear view mirror and all of the kids a year older, there's reason to believe that this will be one of the toughest Big East teams to throw on in the fall.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: Everyone of significance is back for another year, giving Connecticut the ingredients of one of the Big East's best special teams units. Senior PK Dave Teggart is coming off an all-star year, hitting 25-of-31 field goals and all 36 extra point attempts. More important, he was clutch, hitting a couple of game-winners and nailing both attempts beyond 50 yards. Sophomore Cole Wagner was solid in his debut as the punter, averaging 41.3 yards and dropping 26 of his 79 punts inside the opponents 20-yard line.
Watch Out For … the return men. The Huskies took three kickoffs back for touchdowns in 2010, two from junior Nick Williams . An All-Big East selection, he led the nation with an average of more than 35 yards a chance.
Strength: Teggart. He really turned the corner in 2010, improving his accuracy and his drive on kicks. On a team that struggles in the red zone, he's an important weapon, bailing out the offense and making sure the Huskies don't finish long drives with no points.
Weakness: The coverage teams. Connecticut continues to have problems in this area, tackling poorly and playing too softly. The Huskies were 85th in kickoff return defense and 91st in punt return D.
Outlook: The Huskies made a quick turnaround on special teams in 2010, thanks to the play of Teggart, Wagner, and Williams. All three are back, seeking similar results and a little more help from the coverage units. If Connecticut can tighten up those areas, it could boast the league's top group.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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