Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Connecticut Preview
2008 UConn Offense
2008 UConn Defense |
2008 UConn Depth
2007 CFN Connecticut Preview
2006 CFN Connecticut Preview
need to know:
As stingy as Connecticut was in 2007, it might be even better
this fall. Eight starters are back, and some of the neophytes,
such as sophomore linebackers Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus,
are quickly becoming reliable veterans. Lutrus is replacing
All-Star Danny Lansanah in the middle, a more natural fit for
his skill set. At end, Julius Williams and Cody Brown give the
Huskies a formidable bookend that combined for 28.5 tackles for
loss and 16 sacks a year ago. Keep an eye on DT Alex Polito, who
erupted against Wake Forest in the bowl game and continues to
perform like a budding star.
Tackles: Scott Lutrus,
Julius Williams, 8.5
Interceptions: Robert Vaughn, 7
Star of the
Senior DE Cody Brown
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Robert McClain or Terry Baltimore
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Alex Polito
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Darius Butler
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Brown 2) Sophomore LB
Scott Lutrus 3) Butler
Strength of the defense: The front seven, limiting big
Weakness of the defense: Overall depth
Projected Starters: The catalysts once again for
the Husky defensive line will be senior ends Cody Brown
and Julius Williams, a disruptive pair that’s difficult
to contain off the edge. Brown has evolved into one of the Big
East’s most underrated players, a relentless pass rusher with
the strength and tenacity to also contribute in run defense.
While only 6-3 and 246 pounds, he’s had 29 tackles for loss and
13 sacks over the last three years, leading all linemen with 50
tackles a year ago. Named a team captain in the spring, Brown is
type of end that often requires multiple blockers to keep him
out of the backfield.
Williams’ transition from linebacker was a smooth one in 2007,
making 35 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and a team-high 8.5
sacks. Quick off the snap and even quicker around the corner,
he’s an explosive 6-2, 258-pound package with keen instincts for
getting after the quarterbacks. With a full season to learn the
position and add weight, Williams will be even more ornery this
Senior Rob Lunn really came into his own last year, and
returns as the veteran at tackle. More of a no-nonsense
workaholic than a playmaker at 6-4 and 279 pounds, he had 39
tackles, five tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks in the first
meaningful minutes of his career.
The hope around Storrs is that the play of sophomore Alex
Polito in the Meineke Car Care Bowl was a sneak peek of the
next three years. Then just a rookie, he tore through Wake
Forest for three tackles for loss and sack, easily the best game
of his season. Still a little rangy at 6-6 and 271 pounds,
Polito has a bright future after carrying over December’s effort
into the spring.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Lindsey Witten is
almost like having a third starter at defensive end. He has
played extensively over the last two seasons, filling in for an
injured Brown in 2006 and coming off the bench in 2007.
Well-sized at 6-5 and 244 pounds, Witten had 23 tackles, 4.5
tackles for loss, two sacks, and three pass breakups a year ago.
There’s a scrum at defensive tackle involving four eager
redshirt freshmen seeking a role in the rotation. Exiting
spring, Twyon Martin and Scott Schultz had slight
edges in the quest for backup jobs. Martin is only 6-2 and 267
pounds, relying on his quickness and leverage to knife through
Schultz has better size at 6-3 and 274 pounds, and has the
athletic ability of a former high school tight end. Neither
player is locked in on the two-deep, but played well enough in
their maiden spring session to gain a narrow advantage.
Watch Out For… redshirt freshman Jarrell Miller.
Remember him? Miller is the former blue-chip recruit who
selected Connecticut over SEC and ACC schools a couple of years
ago. Although he’s too talented at 6-2 and 268 pounds to keep
off the field much longer, he’s also adapting slowly to an
offseason move from linebacker to defensive tackle. Miller is
currently running with the third team, which he’ll try to change
in the summer.
Strength: The ends. Brown and Williams are
difference-makers off the edge, speed guys who combined for 28.5
tackles for loss and 16 sacks last season. One is as quick and
feisty as the other, creating nightmares for opponents with
lumbering offensive tackles.
Weakness: Interior depth. Yeah, the Huskies will
survive with hard-working Lunn and fast-rising Polito on the
inside, but after the starters, the picture is hazy. There’s a
quartet of freshmen tackles trying to fill the void, most of
whom were not heavily recruited coming out of high school.
Outlook: Very few people outside Connecticut have
paid much attention to Brown and Williams. That’s about to
change. After failing to earn All-Big East recognition last
year, both might land on the team if, as expected, they continue
living in opposing backfields.
Projected Starters: The big news at linebacker is
that Freshman All-American Scott Lutrus has relocated
from strongside to the middle in order to make the most of his
extensive athletic ability. In his debut, the 6-3, 228-pound
sophomore had 107 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and four
interceptions, laying the ground floor for what’s going to be a
prolific career. He can do a little bit of everything, blending
outstanding speed and instincts with the leaping ability of the
Like Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson played to Freshman
All-American reviews, moving into the lineup after Ryan Henegan
was injured and finishing with 113 tackles and 8.5 tackles for
loss. Still somewhat undersized at 6-1 and 217 pounds, he’s an
extremely hard worker on and off the field and one of the
fastest players on the Husky D.
Connecticut’s new “husky” or strongside linebacker will be its
former strong safety, senior Dahna Deleston. Another
example of the defense’s desire to get the fastest players on
the field at one time, he’s a speedy 6-0, 211-pounder with two
years of starting experience already in the back. In the
secondary last year, Deleston delivered a career-high 103
tackles and represents an upgrade in pass defense.
Projected Top Reserves: Once Deleston graduates,
it’s expected that sophomore Greg Robinson is expected to
take over at strongside. After earning his first letter with the
program, he beefed up to 6-2 and 228 pounds without losing any
of the burst or lateral quickness that could help make him
special in the future.
Lutrus’ understudy on the inside is expected to be 6-1,
229-pound redshirt freshman C.J. Marck. A solid
all-around athlete who’s physically ready for the Big East, he’s
coming off a solid spring that propelled him into the two-deep.
Rounding out the backups is sophomore Greg Lloyd, who
played in five games as a freshman and is expected to backup
Wilson. The biggest of the weakside linebackers at 6-2 and 239
pounds, he’s also the son of the former Pittsburgh Steeler
All-Pro by the same name.
Watch Out For… Lutrus to author a monster second
season with the Huskies. A perfect fit to play the middle on
defense, he’s poised to put up the kind of numbers that produce
All-Big East recognition and considerable attention outside the
Strength: Range. All of the linebackers, and particularly
the starters, move well from sideline-to-sideline with the hips
to avoid getting burned in pass defense. Lutrus, Wilson, and
Deleston have safety speed, which makes them very dangerous on
Weakness: Proven depth. The starters are set, but
now that Henegan is gone, the second unit no longer has
dependable upperclassmen to keep everyone focused. In fact, of
the 11 linebackers on the roster, only three are juniors or
Outlook: The overnight maturation of Wilson and
Lutrus along with the move of Deleston gives Connecticut an
underrated set of linebackers that should be even more effective
than last year. With Lutrus manning the middle, expect
coordinator Todd Orlando to do plenty of freelancing with Wilson
and Deleston on the outside.
Projected Starters: While 5-11, 181-pound senior
Darius Butler is expected to play some receiver this
year, his primary role remains as the Huskies’ most dependable
cover corner. Entering his fourth season as the starter, he has
lockdown potential to go along with sure-tackling in the open
field. As a 13-game starter, Butler had 54 tackles, seven pass
breakups, and a career-low two picks, largely because
quarterbacks try to avoid his side of the field.
Fighting it out at the other cornerbacks spot will be juniors
Robert McClain and Terry Baltimore. McClain got a
crash course in the position after switching from running back,
making 30 tackles and picking off three passes, primarily as the
nickel back. At 5-9 and 197 pounds, McClain is plenty tough, but
also vulnerable over the top.
Baltimore closed the gap on McClain in the spring, using his 15
practices to impress the coaching staff with his track speed and
improving cover skills. Just 5-10 and 171 pounds, one of his
main objectives is to add a little more mass in order to be a
factor in run defense and at the line of scrimmage.
Even after finishing No. 4 nationally with seven interceptions,
junior FS Robert Vaughn isn’t being handed the starting
job, a favorable sign about the talent level in Storrs. The 6-0,
192-pounder also chipped in 56 tackles and four pass breakups,
showing good speed and an even better break on balls in the
The situation is even less certain at strong safety, where
sophomore Kijuan Dabney and redshirt freshman Jonathan
Jean-Louis are waging a tight battle that’ll continue deep
into the summer. For now, the edge belongs to Dabney, a 6-1,
204-pound athlete who lettered as a freshman and can really
deliver the payload. His development since the end of the season
allowed the Huskies to move last year’s starter Dahna Deleston
Although the 6-0, 200-pound Jean-Louis is a year behind in
experience, he’s hard working hard on and away from the field in
order to narrow the gap. Fast and physical in the secondary,
he’ll earn his first letter no matter who wins the job, playing
on special teams and contributing as the extra defensive back in
Projected Top Reserves: Settling in behind Butler
at cornerback is sophomore Jasper Howard. A dynamite
athlete with great quickness, he’s only 5-9 and 168 pounds, a
major concern if he gets caught trying to cover a big, physical
The challenge being felt by Vaughn at free safety is coming from
Aaron Bagsby, a 6-1, 185-pound redshirt freshman who
isn’t playing like a rookie. One of the program’s top recruits
from a couple of years ago, he’s a fluid athlete and explosive
leaper who’s making up for lost time after sitting out last
season with a shoulder injury.
Watch Out For… Dabney to make the relocation of
Deleston to linebacker look like a shrewd move. Naturally, he
lacks Deleston’s experience, but based on the early returns,
he’s going to be a playmaker out of the secondary who’ll support
the run and created turnovers with punishing licks.
Strength: Keeping the ball in front of them.
While not a collection of stars with NFL futures, the Huskies
are well coached at preventing the big play. In fact, last
year’s pass defense, which returns almost completely intact,
allowed just 9.8 yards a completion, No. 3 nationally behind
Ohio State and Kansas.
Weakness: The other cornerback spot. Butler
is a sure thing who quarterbacks will want to avoid, but the
opposite cornerback, McClain or Baltimore, is not nearly as
stable. Both are going to get picked on a lot, and will get
exposed if they’re not up to the challenge.
Outlook: Although Butler is the only defensive
back with a degree of star power, it doesn’t seem to hurt the
pass defense, one of the most overlooked in the country over the
past few years. The Huskies will continue to frustrate opposing
passing games that’ll find the long ball cut off and the passing
Projected Starters: Senior Tony Ciaravino
set a school record with 22 field goals on 27 attempts, yet is
still not a certainty to be the Husky kicker on opening day. An
ace from inside 50 yards, going 23-of-25 for his career, he’s
being challenged redshirt freshman David Teggart, who has
the stronger leg of the two and has the mechanics to offset a
lack of experience at this level. An all-around good athlete,
he can also punt or handle kickoffs if the need arises.
For now, the punter will be Desi Cullen, a junior who
averaged 40.7 yards and showed excellent leg strength on
kickoffs in his first season on the job. Also the holder on
field goals, he’s rapidly becoming one of the most valuable and
versatile players on special teams.
In Tyvon Branch and Larry Taylor, the Huskies lose two of the
most dangerous return men in the country, neither of whom will
be easy to replace. Senior Darius Butler and sophomore
Jasper Howard are two candidates being considered as
Watch Out For… a placekicking platoon. Ciaravino
may not be a missile launcher, but he’s been too consistent on
mid-range field goals to bench in favor of a freshman. The more
likely scenario has the incumbent handling the majority of the
kicks and Teggart gaining live experience when attempts beyond
50 yards are needed.
Strength: The kicking game. Ciaravino has injected
a dose of stability into a Husky kicking game that was a mess
before he arrived. The combination of his intermediate accuracy
and Teggart’s length bodes well for the Connecticut special
teams this fall.
Weakness: Kick coverage. The Huskies have spent
extra time this offseason addressing the Big East’s worst
coverage team, a unit that allowed almost 24 yards a return in
Outlook: With the kickers and punter in good
shape, Connecticut will spend the summer tightening up its
coverage teams and trying to find a few returners that can
offset the departures of Taylor and Branch. The latter is a
process that might not have a suitable resolution at any point