Linebacker remains a critical component of UConn's 3-4 defense, which is set up for the second line to make plays.
There were growing pains in year 1 of the system, as expected. But the Huskies do bring back a veteran corps of linebackers that will stabilize the defense.
Leading tackler Marquise Vann returns inside after 105 tackles a season ago. Vann is one of the more productive players in the American and is the leader of the defense. Graham Stewart also returns after 94 tackles and 10.5 for a loss. Vann and Stewart were far from perfect and have room to improve, but the base of knowledge and production are there.
The Huskies also bring back Junior Joseph, who moved into the starting lineup late last year, and will have to fill the pass-rushing OLB role. Luke Carrezola (8 tackles as a true frosh) comes into camp as the favorite for the job, but Cam Stapleton will also be an option. The Huskies also moved fullback Matt Walsh to linebacker in the spring and the coaching staff raved about his performance.
Other Players that are in the rotation include sophomore OLB Vontae Diggs and junior Jon Hicks. The Huskies have a deep reservoir of players at the position with sophomore Jalen Stevens, junior Omaine Stephens and redshirt freshman Chris Britton in the mix.
The Huskies have veteran linebackers in Stewart and Vann returning, but there is a critical need to develop depth behind them in case of injury and the future.
The Huskies also need pressure from one of the young LBs in Carrezola and/or Stapleton. The Huskies didn't generate nearly enough sacks and pressure out of the linebacker position a year ago.
The Huskies want athletes at the position and instead of signing linebackers took a shot at athletes. The Huskies have William Richardson and Dallas Parker as potential LBs/DEs and anyone of the incoming tight ends could be moved if need be. The goal is for athletic, big and tall linebackers in the future.
The Huskies did lose a first round draft pick in Byron Jones, but it's not as big a loss as you think. Jones was injured early in the season and the team that played the bulk of the snaps return. The unit is led by safety Andrew Adams, who had 96 tackles while Obi Melinfonwu is the incumbent at strong safety and added 75 tackles last year. Adams is solid and Melinfonwu has tremendous athletic ability, though he still struggled with his reads at times and burned for big plays often.
The Huskies have depth and experience at safety with special teams maven Wilbert Lee and junior Ellis Marder both in contention for a spot. Jordan Floyd is also a veteran athlete who has played several years.
Corner is where last year's Jones' injury will help out. Jhavon Williams and Jamar Summers will be thetop two corners while Javon Hadley and John Green are both early candidates for the backup corners and nickel slots. Brice McAllister was pushed into action as a true freshman and has the athletic ability and size to be a starting corner eventually. The Huskies also brought in a pair of corners in John Robinson and Aaron Garland that could play right away, particularly the highly-regarded Garland out of greater Chicago. Robinson is a tall corner in the 6-2 range.
The secondary has experience, depth, and talent and can go three deep. There isn't a player the caliber of Jones in the unit, but there is experience across the board after a year where several freshmen had to be pushed into action.