2010 Connecticut Preview – Defense
Connecticut LB Lawrence Wilson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Connecticut Husky Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Smoke and mirrors. How else do you make sense of a defense that never lands can't-miss prospects, yet always seems to be among the Big East's toughest defenses to navigate? An extra helping of credit belongs on the plate of coordinator Todd Orlando, who does a masterful job of bringing out the best in the players he attracts. Connecticut will be rock-solid in the front seven in 2010, clamping down on opposing ground games with tackles Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes, and linebackers Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus. The Huskies' biggest concerns are at defensive end and cornerback, two positions well-stocked with young talent … and questions. The eventual fate of this unit will depend on a slew of gifted sophomores, such as Jesse Joseph, Jory Johnson, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jerome Junior, and Dwayne Gratz. As they grow, so grows the Husky D.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Lawrence Wilson
Tackles: Lawrence Wilson, 140
Sacks: Lawrence Wilson, 5
Interceptions: Multiple, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Jesse Joseph
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wilson, 2) Senior LB Scott Lutrus, 3) Junior DT Twyon Martin
Strength of the defense: Overall athleticism, the linebackers, creating pressure, the interior of the line
Weakness of the defense: Size and inexperience at defensive end, secondary youth , red zone defense
Projected Starters: The biggest offseason project for the defense—and possibly the entire team—is finding a successor to DE Lindsey Witten, who led the Big East with 11.5 sacks. One upwardly-mobile candidate, with an eye on filling the need, is 6-3, 231-pound sophomore Jesse Joseph. He got off to a fast start in his first season on campus, becoming the first true freshman to start in five years. Showing the quickness and closing speed of an outside linebacker, he made 38 stops, five tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks, but clearly needs to add more weight to be a more complete three-down player.
The favorite to man the opposite flank is 6-2, 227-pound junior Marcus Campbell , a career reserve up to this point, who sat out 2009 because of academics. Like a smaller version of Joseph, he's mostly a speed rusher at this stage of his career, with concerns about his ability to hold up in the face of 295-pound tackles. His edge, naturally, will be getting off the snap quickly and getting around the corner before being tied up. In spot duty two years ago, he tallied 10 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.
On the inside, the Huskies are thrilled to be bringing back both of last year's starters. Although 6-2, 270-pound junior Twyon Martin has been pushed during the offseason, that's more about motivation than anything else. He's too talented to be sharing time with anyone, blending an explosive burst and great footwork with good upper body strength. The coveted playmaker on the interior, he busted out with 36 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, a pick, and a fumble recovery.
Next to Martin will be 6-4, 287-pound junior Kendall Reyes, a veteran of 16 starts over the last two seasons and arguably the program's best pure run-stuffer. While he may never be a prototypical space-eater, he has bulked up considerably since arriving and is better prepared to handle 60 minutes of pounding. Like his tag-team partner, he moves very well in space, making 37 tackles, six tackles for loss, and three sacks in his first year as a full-timer.
Projected Top Reserves: The veteran among the interior linemen is 6-6, 284-pound senior Alex Polito. A part-time starter in 2008, he took a step back last fall, making just six tackles as a 10-game reserve. Still, he possesses the right combination of size, experience, and toughness to be a factor in the rotation.
For now, the tackle in charge of keeping Martin honest is 6-2, 275-pound sophomore Ryan Wirth . Unused in his first couple of seasons on campus, he's coming off a solid spring camp, showing an ability to fight through blocks and get penetration. Though unlikely to actually unseat the incumbent, he provides more depth and a glimpse of the future.
In an effort to ignite the outside rush, the staff plans to move former linebacker Greg Lloyd down a level, where he'll be that much closer to the backfield. A 20-game starter, who had 91 tackles and three tackles for loss a year ago, he earned spot on the All-Big East second team before suffering a debilitating knee injury. Once the 6-2, 234-pounder gets healthy, he'll be looking to bring his intensity, instincts, and closing speed to line.
Whether or not Lloyd is at full-strength, 6-1, 224-pound sophomore Trevardo Williams is going to have a spot in the rotation on the outside. One dimensional because of his size, he's able to compensate with cat-like quickness and blazing acceleration. Quick to contribute as a reserve in 2009, he played in all 13 games, making 19 stops, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks.
Watch Out For … Martin to get the message. Coming out of spring, he could not be happy to be listed as a co-starter with Wirth, who doesn't have nearly as much ability. The psychological move should work, bringing out the best in a player, who possesses the talent of a future all-leaguer.
Strength: Athleticism. Inside and out, Connecticut is sure to harbor one of the quickest and most disruptive front walls in the Big East. While outside pressure is commonplace at this program, it's at tackle, where these guys will be equally tough to handle. Martin and Reyes have outstanding get-off for big men and two valuable years of experience already in the vault.
Weakness: Size. All of that explosiveness comes at a price. The Huskies are just not very thick along the defensive line, which will prove costly against some of the schedule's bigger and more physical opponents. The ends are like glorified linebackers, which has to make you wonder about their ability to hold the line and stuff the run.
Outlook: Losing Witten is a big hit, but the Huskies should be able to survive with a collaboration of speedy edge rushers and feisty interior linemen. The larger concern might be at the point of attack, where the defense is going to lose some battles because of its lack of girth and true inside run-stoppers.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: The leading man at linebacker will once again be 6-1, 217-pound senior Lawrence Wilson, the anchor at weakside. One of the team's best all-around athletes, he's coming off a seminal, All-Big East first team season, making a league-high 140 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, two fumble recoveries, and three forced fumbles. A tremendous playmaker, who'll defend the pass as well as the run, he has the range and read-and-react instincts to make stops all over the field. An overlooked recruit from Tuscaloosa, Ala., he's now hoping to use his final year as a launching point to the NFL.
The Huskies' other returning starter of the group is 6-3, 240-pound senior Scott Lutrus , the new man in the middle. A three-year starter, he's looking to bounce back from an injury-hampered season that limited him to six starts and a career-low 69 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. However, this is the same player, who posted more than 100 stops in his first two seasons, earning All-Big East honors in 2008. He has excellent field awareness and the range and pass coverage skills of a safety. If the stinger that plagued him in 2009 doesn't recur, he should finish his career as productively as he began it.
The newcomer of the starting unit, now that Greg Lloyd has been relocated, is 6-1, 219-pound sophomore Jory Johnson, who's slotted in at "Husky" linebacker. In the mold of so many other Connecticut defenders, he's all about the speed and athleticism, trading ideal size for the ability to get from here to there as quickly as possible. His first season provided an opportunity to flatten the learning curve and start three games, finishing with 28 tackles and five stops behind the line.
Projected Top Reserves: The heir apparent to Wilson at weakside is 6-1, 231-pound sophomore Sio Moore, a player many hope has star potential down the road. An explosive all-around athlete, with a little more bulk than those around him, he's the prototype at the position for Connecticut. After being limited to just four games and six tackles in 2009, his role will blossom considerably if he stays healthy.
Providing the occasional blows for Lutrus in the middle will be 5-11, 248-pound sophomore Jerome Williams, who appeared briefly in four games and had a tackle in his first season. A low-to-the-ground defender, he's tough to hit squarely or move off his strong base. Ideally, he'll get a few more reps on defense and special teams before competing for a bigger role next season.
Watch Out For … Lutrus to bounce back in a big way. One of the Big East's best defensive players, you wouldn't know it a year ago. The stinger really hindered his ability to play at full speed, but now that he's healthy again, he's poised to return to his all-conference, tackling machine form.
Strength: Star power. In Wilson and Lutrus, Connecticut has two of its three starters with all-conference talent. While Johnson remains a question mark at this point, he'll have the luxury of being surrounded by a pair of athletes, who know their way around the field and rarely miss tackles that enter their crosshairs.
Weakness: Size. Yeah, it's by design, but this remains a smallish group of defenders that have to be careful not to get trucked by pulling guards and larger tight ends. While Lutrus is an exception in the middle, Wilson and Johnson average only 6-1 and 218 pounds, which means they're safeties on a lot of other campuses.
Outlook: The coaches felt secure enough about this group to shift Lloyd, a second-team All-Big East selection, to defensive end. That should tell you all you need to know about the Husky linebackers. Wilson and Lutrus are loaded with talent and know-how, giving Connecticut two possible 100-tackle guys and outstanding run supporters. If Johnson plays above his pay scale, this will be one of the league's best sets of linebackers.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: There's a glass is half-full scenario in the defensive backfield, as Connecticut welcomes back a pair of starters. Sophomore Blidi Wreh-Wilson is in the improbable position of being the most accomplished of the team's cornerbacks. In his Husky debut, he started nine games, making 40 tackles and breaking up six passes. A 6-0, 184-pounder, he improved as the season progressed, showing the playmaking and cover skills to eventually bloom into a star.
Joining Wreh-Wilson at cornerback will be 6-0, 190-pound sophomore Dwayne Gratz , who benefited from playing in all 13 games and starting four in his first reps coming off a redshirt year. A key recruit from the 2008 class, he had 20 tackles and four pass breakups, playing with a physical bent and showing good closing speed on the ball. He was recruited to contribute early in his career, and has not disappointed.
At one safety spot, yet another sophomore is a riser, with a high ceiling. Jerome Junior was in the starting lineup for all but one game in 2009, making 48 tackles and his first career interception. Although he had routine lapses throughout his first season of action, he also turned with his physicality in run defense and the long arms needed to defend the pass.
Topping off the starting secondary is 6-0, 214-pound senior Kijuan Dabney , an experienced player looking to bounce back from an injury-shortened 2009. Slated to start, he only suited up for two games and made seven tackles before being lost to a shoulder injury. In 21 games, he's yet to even deflect a pass, so his coverage skills will be in question, but he hits like a linebacker and will be an asset at filling lanes and stopping the run.
Projected Top Reserves: The closest thing to a veteran at cornerback will be 5-11, 196-pound junior Gary Wilburn. He's appeared in 10 games over the last two seasons, mostly on special teams, and needs to elevate his game in order to keep the freshmen from nipping at his heels.
At safety, 5-11, 186-pound sophomore Mike Lang is a potentially interesting candidate for playing time this fall. One of just three true freshmen to letter in 2009, he caught a couple of passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, while returning a kickoff for another score. Loaded with athleticism and bursts of speed, he now needs to prove he can dish out the punishment and be a contributor on defense.
Watch Out For … the maturation of the young kids. In all likelihood, three-fourths of the defensive backfield will be comprised of sophomores. While all of them played last season, that doesn't mean that they're suddenly immune to lapses in coverage and blown assignments.
Strength: The future. While it could take some lumps in 2010, by 2011, the Husky secondary could be a defensive strength. With so many freshmen lettering and contributing a year ago, this unit is going to get better and better with each passing game during the fall.
Weakness: Softness in coverage. Too often last year, the Huskies got burned on third down and near the end zone. They allowed more than 64% of passes to be completed and were near the bottom of the league in yards per attempt and touchdown passes yielded. No Robert McClain or Robert Vaughn presents an even bigger challenge.
Outlook: Although the future looks promising, getting there will require a few hairpin turns. Wreh-Wilson, Gratz, and Junior are going to be terrific players for the Huskies, but in the immediate future, these are still young players that are going to mistakes and are trying to determine a leader.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: Though his job doesn't appear to be at stake, junior PK Dave Teggart needs to improve his consistency in 2010. After nailing just about everything he attempted as a rookie, he was only 14-of-23 on field goal tries last year. Even worse, he was only 4-of-9 from beyond 40 yards and was never even asked to make an attempt from beyond 50 yards. The good news is that he's experienced and has made clutch kicks in the past. However, for a program that plays in a ton of tight games, he really needs to step it up this fall.
The Huskies also need to replace P Desi Cullen, who'll be supplanted by one of two redshirt freshmen, either Chad Christen or Cole Wagner. The pair was basically in a dead heat coming out of spring. A former quarterback in high school, Christen has good size and the leg strength to also compete for kickoffs. Wagner will also provide depth at wide receiver, testament to his overall athletic ability.
Out of junior Gary Wilburnand sophomore Nick Williams, the Huskies need to find a new punt returner to replace Robert McClain. Kick returns, on the other hand, are set with junior Robbie Frey, who averaged just under 30 yards and scored a touchdown, which would have ranked No. 2 in the Big East had he qualified.
Watch Out For … the battle at punter. On a team with few glaring weaknesses and as much depth as it's ever had, the little things could be the difference between a December and a January bowl game. The competition between Christen and Wagner is one of those little things that'll have a profound impact on the play of the defense.
Strength: Teggart. Despite all of the concerns regarding his accuracy, the Huskies can take solace in having a veteran kicker, entering his third year as the starter. Although he'll drive the staff nuts at times, he'll compensate by being a rock when the outcome of a game hangs on his right foot.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. Even worse than the uncertainty at punter is this area, which was witness to some shoddy tackling and soft coverage. Not only did Connecticut rank 86th nationally here, but it also yielded a pair of kickoffs to be taken the distance.
Outlook: From covering kicks to the uncertainty at punter, the Huskies have plenty of work ahead of them in the summer. At the end of the day, their final special teams grade will rest most with Teggart, who could be the difference-maker in a handful of tight games this fall.
Unit Rating: 6
- 2010 Connecticut Preview |
2010 Connecticut Defense |
Connecticut Depth Chart
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