Football Preview Weekish: Defensive line

As part of TheUConnBlog’s 2011 Football Preview Weekish, we’re counting down the days until the Huskies' season opener against Fordham on Sept. 1. Today, we take a look at the defensive linemen.

If UConn is to scratch out some semblance of respectability this season, less than a year removed from a Fiesta a Bowl berth, it will have to be done up front.

The Huskies have ranked inside the top 50 nationally in rushing defense in the past three seasons, included 16th in 2008, and in the top 50 in sacks since 2007.

UConn's slow climb to the top of the Big East, starting in earnest in the dream season of 2007, has been fueled by a combination of a solid running game, mistake-free football and stout defense (Formula 2007, it has been dubbed). And the latter has been achievable thanks in large part to the continual success the Huskies have had up front.

While Randy Edsall failed in several areas of the recruiting game, the defensive line has been a source of strength for the past half-decade. In 2008, Cody Brown (11 sacks) turned what was the best season ever by a UConn defensive lineman, and both he and fellow end Julius Williams would end up on pro rosters. The following season, long-time backup Lindsey Witten topped Brown's sack mark, with 11.5. And while the pressure up front took a half-step back last season, then-sophomore Jesse Joseph burst onto the scene with 8.5 sacks, and Kendall Reyes was named first team All-Big East.

In 2010, the Huskies will start perhaps the best defensive front four in team history. (2009 may have featured the most talent, with Witten, Reyes, Twyon Martin and Joseph as the core four, but the latter trio was still a bit raw and unexperienced at the time.)

Joseph, who finished fourth in the conference in sacks last season, is a bona fide stud who has started all 25 games of his young career. Reyes and Martin, who have 60 starts between them, may be the best defensive tackle duo in the conference. Starting defensive end Trevardo Williams has shown flashes, and Bloomfield's Marcus Campbell will finally get a chance to contribute again after suspensions and injuries have sidelined him since the 2008 season.

Not much may go right in what could be a long season in Storrs. But the defensive line won't be to blame.

Depth chart (Defensive End):

  1. #48 Trevardo Williams (Jr., 6-1, 231); in 2010: 29 tackles, 5 TFL, 4.5 sacks
    #91 Jesse Joseph
    (Jr., 6-3, 262); in 2010: 39 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL
  2. #95 Kenton Adeyemi (Fr., 6-4, 251); in 2010: high school senior
    #98 Teddy Jennings
    (RJr., 6-5, 248); in 2010: 7 tackles, 2 TFL
  3. #97 B.J. McBryde (RFr., 6-4, 277); in 2010: redshirted
    #58 Jonathan Louis
    (RFr., 6-5, 250); in 2010: redshirted
    #26 Marcus Campbell
    (Sr., 6-3, 231); in 2010: missed season with knee injury (had played in 23 of 26 games in 2008-2009)

Depth chart (Defensive Tackle):

  1. #4 Twyon Martin (RSr., 6-2, 273); in 2010: 30 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL
    #99 Kendall Reyes
    (RSr., 6-4, 295); in 2010: 39 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks
  2. #53 Ryan Wirth (RJr., 6-2, 268); in 2010: 4 tackles (7 appearances)
    #59 Shamar Stephen
    (RSo., 6-5, 315); in 2010: 27 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL
  3. #56 Angelo Pruitt (RFr., 6-2, 299); in 2010: redshirted
    #51 Tim Willman
    (RSo., 6-3, 279); in 2010: 1 tackle (1 appearance)

2010 high points:

  1. Kendall Reyes' scores an 84-yard Fat Guy Touchdown on an interception return ... except it was called back on an illegal block in the back. Despite weighing almost 300 pounds, Reyes looked fairly fleet of foot, making him UConn's No. 2 running back by default this year. During UConn's Media Day earlier this month, Reyes did a backflip for the cameras. Seriously.
  2. Jesse Joseph was Mr. Consistency, recording sacks in eight games out of nine beginning with the Texas Southern win. He had one sack apiece in the crucial Big East wins over West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse and Cincinnati.
  3. Reyes' forced fumble on Syracuse's Ryan Nassib was recovered by Trevardo Williams inside the Orange 5-yard line, setting up the touchdown to put away an important win in the Carrier Dome

2010 low points:

  1. UConn's rush defense was actually worse last year than in 2009, despite returning three starters to the defensive line last year. They went from 133 yards allowed and 3.8 yards per carry allowed in '09 to 143 and 3.9 last year.
  2. Michigan and West Virginia both ran for over 250 rushing yards against UConn, which I guess is kind of excusable; Temple and Vanderbilt both averaging 5.5 yards a carry against the Huskies, not so much.
  3. The lack of pressure on Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd, who was making his debut, was blamed for Dodd's incredible outing (365 yards, including two fourth-quarter bombs). UConn sacked the Rutgers QB five times, but far more often gave Dodd all the time he needed in the Scarlet Knights' come-from-behind win.

Notable alumni:

In recent years, the Huskies have had some fine defensive linemen (Reyes might be their best ever, in my opinion).

DE Cody Brown was taken in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals; he signed with the Detroit Lions a few weeks ago.

Three other D-linemen have ever been on an NFL roster: Julius Williams (2009, Jacksonville Jaguars), Bill Cooke (1975-1980, various teams) and DT John Contoulis (1964, NY Giants).

Where this unit ranks:

Phil Steele: 4th in the Big East

Athlon: 2nd in the Big East

CFN: 1st in the Big East

Bottom line: Indeed, the defensive line could be quite good. But this season, they'll have to live up to the lofty standards of past front fours without the aid of one of the best and longest-tenured linebacking cores in the nation.

A recent training camp injury that will keep Joseph out "a while," per media reports, could also derail things.

Still, considering the depth and talent Edsall has been able to amass over the years, don't expect much of a letdown from this group any time soon.

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