Connecticut Preview 2006 - Defense
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
Tackles: Danny Lansanah,
Dan Davis, Danny Lansanah, 3
Interceptions: Darius Butler, 4
Star of the defense: Junior LB Danny Lansanah
Defensive line depth
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DT
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
Weakness of the defense:
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
- 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
- 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.
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
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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 key to the unit: Averaging over 40 yards per punt
would be a huge boost for the defense.
Special Teams Rating: 8
- 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