Discover more from Husky Football Forum
Depth is the answer for UConn's defense
A whole bunch of experienced transfers joined the roster this offseason, providing hope for continued improvement in 2023.
As UConn football looks to build on its 6-7 campaign in Jim Mora’s first season, the defense is expected to be better on the strength of over a dozen new additions from other Division 1 or junior college schools.
The group of returning players is looking solid as well. All but six or so players from last year’s two-deep depth chart are still on this year’s roster. This is a level of continuity that UConn has not experienced in a long time.
Despite being ranked 108th in overall defensive efficiency, UConn’s 2022 defense was the backbone of the team. UConn’s offense was hampered by injuries and relied on a true freshman at quarterback for essentially every game. Zion Turner did an admirable job but it was on the defense to keep the Huskies in games.
Sometimes it held on. Sometimes it didn’t, like in the close losses to Utah State and Ball State as well as blowout losses to Michigan, NC State, Syracuse, and Army.
Still, the defense keyed big wins over Boston College and Fresno State. It forced crucial turnovers and stops in the bowl-clinching win over Liberty. And if it’s a slightly deeper and more talented crew this year, then guys like LB Jackson Mitchell and DE Eric Watts should be able to build on their promising 2022 performances.
“We came a long way. I believe guys are actually honing in on their talents and locking in,” Watts said.
Linebacker is the position where UConn’s defense saw its most significant losses. Ian Swenson, Hunter Webb, Brandon Bouyer-Randle, and Marquez Bembry have moved on (Webb is still with the program on staff). All were pretty important players on last year’s team, although Mitchell (140 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) ensures that this group has an anchor.
A lot of new names are in the fold. Eriq Gilyard transferred in from Kansas. Junior college transfer Amir Renwick has earned the praise of his teammates. Tui Brown stood out in the scrimmage with some big hits and an interception on a very athletic play. Marice Wilner is another transfer from Nevada. Kevon Glenn transferred from Georgia Southern and Kalen Villanueva arrived from Louisiana Tech as a late roster addition.
Photo: Ian Bethune
This group has enough experience to help make up for the players leaving. Does it have enough to improve? Maybe just staying solid here and improving on the line and defensive back will be enough.
The majority of the experienced reinforcements came at linebacker and defensive back. The defensive line added RJ Wilkins from Illinois, who should contribute to the depth at the position, but a lot is being expected of returning players Watts (10.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks), Pryce Yates (9.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Collin McCarthy (4.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks), Jelani Stafford (3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks), Dal’mont Gourdine (4.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks), and Sokoya McDuffie (2 TFL, 1.0 sacks), an Old Dominion transfer who joined the Huskies last year.
At defensive back, the new names hail from Power Five programs like West Virginia, Washington, and Washington State. They also have great expectations for returning players like Malik Dixon-Williams, Chris Shearin, a 2022 transfer from Missouri, and Malcolm Bell, who had six passes defended each, while Shearin and Dixon-Williams had two interceptions each.
“I like the guys that we brought in… [Washington State transfer] Armauni Archie’s done a nice job. We haven’t seen Torian [White, a transfer from FCS Southern Utah],” due to an injury, Mora said. He also mentioned that freshman Cam Chadwick, from Immaculata HS in New Jersey, moved to cornerback and has been playing well.
“You get Mumu [Bin-Wahad, a transfer from West Virginia] in there, guys that played at the highest level, it’s going to help you,” Mora added, “and having two experienced safeties is helpful.”