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Connecticut Preview 2006 - Defense
Connecticut Huskies
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 1, 2006


Connecticut Huskies Preview 2006 - Connecticut Defense

What you need to know ... The whole is better than the sum of the parts. This isn't an ultra-talented group, but seven starters return to the nation's number seven overall defense led by a deep and productive secondary that finished fourth in the country. 248-pound Danny Lansanah is an emerging star at weakside linebacker with a battle to go on all off-season for the other two spots. The line will be the concern early on without a sure-thing pass rusher and counting on 319-pound career backup Ray Blagman to play a big role, literally, at tackle.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Danny Lansanah, 80
Sacks: Dan Davis, Danny Lansanah, 3
Interceptions: Darius Butler, 4

Star of the defense: Junior LB Danny Lansanah
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DT Ray Blagman
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Cody Brown
Best pro prospect: Lansanah
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lansanah, 2) DT Rhema Fuller 3) CB Darius Butler
Strength of the defense: Secondary, depth in the back seven
Weakness of the defense:
Defensive line depth

Defensive Line
The line returns a decent amount of experience, but it needs career backups to grow into steady stars and has to hope for unknown prospects to emerge to provide some sort of depth. Rhema Fuller is the star coming back to his starting tackle spot while 319-pound Ray Blagman will try to replace ultra-productive Deon McPhee in the middle. Can there be more of a pass rush from the ends? Cody Brown and Dan Davis have the potential to wreak havoc on quarterbacks, but there's not a lot to count on behind them.
The key to the unit: Quickly develop enough depth to provide options at each position. Generate more of a pass rush from the ends.

Defensive Line Rating: 6


Projected Starters
- DE Cody Brown, Soph. - 20 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
Brown has all the makings of a big-time pass rusher. He's a quick defender who looked strong as a true freshman getting a starting nod and getting his feet wet in the rotation on the line. He's a linebacker-sized 235 pounds, but he's strong enough to handle himself against the run. 

- DT Ray Blagman, Sr. - 15 tackles, 1.5 TFL
The monster reserve will look to take over one of the starting spots and grow into the rock of the run defense. He's by far the team's biggest lineman at 6-3 and 319 pounds with great strength on the inside. Don't expect him to get into the backfield too often.

- DT Rhema Fuller, Sr. - 33 tackles, 1 sack, 4.5 TFL
Fuller is the star of the line earning second-team All-Big East honors last year. The 266-pound senior plays bigger than his size against the run and can get into the backfield, but not on a regular basis. He showed great promise as an interior pass rusher as a sophomore, and now he has to grow into a disruptive force. 

- DE Dan Davis, Jr. 29 tackles, 3 sacks, 9 TFL
The 264-pound junior has to blossom into the team's top pass rusher. He was the best end last year when it came to getting to the quarterback, and now he has to use his quickness off the edge to be a consistent playmakers.

Top Backups
- DT Lawrence Green, RFr.
Can he make the transition from the offensive side to the defensive line? At 304 pounds he brings the size needed to backup Ray Blagman and be a rock against the run, but it might take a little while.
- DE Jason Ward, Sr. - 20 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL
Ward has filled in when injuries have hit the line getting enough starting experience to be a top backup behind Dan Davis. He's not much of a pass rusher making more plays against the run.

Linebackers
This will be an unheralded group early on, but it should be solid as the season goes on with good depth and interesting prospects. 248-pound Danny Lansanah is a big, talented All-Big East caliber tackler on the weakside, but the rest of the spots are up for grabs waiting to see if converted defensive backs Dahna Deleston and Ricky McCollum can become factors on the outside. The battle for the job in the middle should be a good one with career reserve Ryan Henegan and Julius Williams, who's coming back from a knee injury, fighting for the starting spot.
The key to the unit: Find the complementary players to Danny Lanasanah and hope for the converted defensive backs to be major disruptive forces.
Linebacker Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- Justin DeRubertis, Jr. - 10 tackles
A special teamer so far, the 216-pound DeRubertis will try to complete the trip from walk-on to starter getting the first look at the job on the strongside. He's not big and has limited range, so there needs to be a good rotation to keep him fresh and productive.

- Ryan Henegan, Jr. - 24 tackles, 2.5 TFL
At 241 pounds, Henegan brings some punch to the linebacking corps taking over the starting spot in the middle. He was a steady backup with a little bit of starting experience getting the nod against West Virginia last year, but he might be keeping the seat warm before Julius Williams can return 100% from a knee injury.

- Danny Lansanah, Jr. - 80 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 sacks, 11 TFL, 5 broken up passes
Lansanah found his way back on the team after the suspensions for a car window shooting incident finished up. He then became a godsend for the defense leading the way with 80 stops while showing impressive range and skill in pass coverage. He's the team's biggest linebacker at 248 pounds with defensive back moves and the toughness against the run like a middle linebacker. He'll start on the weakside where he should be an All-Big East talent.

Top Backups
- Dahna Deleston, Soph. - 43 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 interception, 1 broken up pass
Can the 201-pound Deleston make the transformation from safety to linebacker? If he's even close, he'll take over on the strongside with his next-level speed too much to allow Justin DeRubertis to stick in a starting spot.
- Julius Williams, Jr.
Ryan Henegan is good, Williams is better. The 243-pound junior missed all of last year with a knee injury after showing decent promise as a freshman. He'll be a good addition to  the special teams and a pass rushing playmaker when he gets to see time in the middle.
- Johnathan Smith, Soph. - 49 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL, 1 broken up pass
Smith stepped in when Danny Lansanah was suspended and finished the season as the team's most productive reserve. He finished fifth on the team in tackles and should once again be a major factor in the rotation using his speed to give Lansanah a bit of a break. However, he's 40 pounds lighter than Lansanah.

Defensive backs
The nation's number four pass defense returns three starters and enough depth and experience to have a nice rotation all year long with big-time competition for some of the starting spots. Darius Butler isn't going anywhere as one of the Big East's brightest young cornerbacks, and Marvin Taylor should grow even further in his role at free safety. Speedy Tyvon Brach is an emerging star on the other side of Butler. Safeties Allan Barnes, Donnell Ford and Donta Moore will start the season as reserves, but they could all see starting time at some point.  
The key to the unit: Make a few more big plays. This is a talented group that shouldn't slip after a great 2005, and now it needs to use all its experience to pick off more passes.
Secondary Rating: 8.5

Projected Starters
- CB Darius Butler, Soph. - 36 tackles, 4 interceptions, 8 broken up passes
Butler turned into a major playmaker as a true freshman becoming the only defensive back to start every game an growing into the team's best shut down corner. He's a good ball hawker and a decent tackler.

- FS Marvin Taylor, Jr. - 64 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up passes
A top starter over the second half of last year, Taylor became a surprise playmaker doing a little bit of everything well including being a standout on special teams. He's not huge, but he's a good hitter with a nose for the ball. He was rarely out of position considering it was his first year as a starter.

- SS M.J. Estep, Sr. - 35 tackles, 3.5 TFL
Estep isn't going to make many plays against the pass, but he's a nasty run defender with the speed to play either safety position. He had a good year despite missing time with a broken thumb, and he'll now be the team's most experienced defensive back with 113 career stops.

- CB Tyvon Branch
, Jr. - 43 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up passes
Branch can flat out fly winning the New York state high school championship in the 100 and 200 meters. Darius Butler is the team's best corner, but Branch has the speed and size to handle the faster receivers. He started off last year as manly a special teamer and turned into a reliable starter with huge upside.

Top Backups
- FS Allan Barnes, Sr. - 5 tackles, 1 TFL
Barnes appeared on the verge of being a starter at corner, but it didn't happen and he say a limited role last year making most of his plays on special teams. He's a veteran reserve who can play just about anywhere, but he'll start off behind Marvin Taylor at free safety.
- CB Earnest Cole, Sr. - 18 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Cole has been a strong, career reserve with 87 career tackles, but he only has one interception in his 30 games. He's experienced and savvy enough to start at either corner spot if needed, but he'll be more valuable as a reserve behind Tyvon Branch once he recovers from an arm injury.
- SS Donta Moore, Jr.
Moore is back on the team after being suspended last year for a car window shooting incident. He started off this spring deep down on the depth chart, but he'll quickly move his way up into playing time with good pop and the tackling ability to finish in the top 15, even as a reserve, in stops.

Special Teams
Placekicker Matt Nuzie has to play like he did in 2004 when he connected on 20 of 28 field goals, and the punting game has to be much more productive after averaging a mere 32.3 yards per kick. The return game was tremendous last year averaging 24 yards on kickoff returns. Darius Butler should get the first look at the job. Larry Taylor is one of the nation's best all-around kick returners averaging 34 yards on five kickoff returns and 12.3 yards per punt return. The punt coverage unit has to be much better, but part of last year's problems were because of the punters.
The key to the unit: Averaging over 40 yards per punt would be a huge boost for the defense.
Special Teams Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- PK Matt Nuzie, Sr. - 10-19 FGs, 27-29 extra points
Nuzie struggled a bit after an amazing sophomore season. He had four kicks blocked leading to six misses inside the 40. He has a good deep leg with range up to 50 yards hissing from 50 last yards and 51 in 2004. Now he has to be more consistent and find his old form.
- P Chris Pavasaris, Sr. - 26 punts, 949 yds, 36.5 average, 7 inside the 20, or Shane Hussar, Jr. - 50 punts, 1,962 yds, 39.2 average, 11 inside the 20
It'll be a battle all season long for the starting punting job. Hussar held it over the first half of the season and wasn't all that bad, but he wasn't consistent and the coaching staff was looking for more production. Chris Pavasaris took over, but he didn't have much success showing less consistency, but better overall accuracy.

Related Stories
Connecticut Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Connecticut Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Connecticut Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 1, 2006








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