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FPM: Defensive Line

As part of TheUConnBlog's 2010 Season Preview Month-ish, we're counting down the days to the UConn football team's opener against Michigan. Today, we're previewing the Huskies' defensive line. You can read all our Football Preview Month-ish posts here.

Previously on TheUConnBlog: This preview seemed like it would be a lot easier to write a month ago. Then word came out that Greg Lloyd, who was supposed to switch to defensive end from linebacker, would miss the season because of a knee injury he suffered last year. Right on the heels of the Lloyd news, it was announced that Marcus Campbell, who was supposed to return to the team after missing last year for academic reasons, tore his ACL and would miss the entire year. Add to that the fact that former-starting tackle Twyon Martin was demoted in the spring (Randy Edsall called him "lazy") and UConn's two-deep on the D-line started to seem like a big game of musical chairs.

Luckily, UConn has a lot of people to fill those chairs. Redshirt junior (and team captain) Kendall Reyes should be the line's anchor. He started 12 of the Huskies 13 games last year (plus four more are a freshman). The other tackle, Ryan Wirth didn't do a lot last year behind Martin (he only appeared in two games), and assuming Martin gets his stuff together after the Spring, I'd expect to see him jump back to the top of the depth chart by the time UConn opens the season.

However, with the injuries to Campbell and Lloyd, the real questions lie at the end position. Jesse Joseph had 38 tackles last season and was the first true freshman to start every game for UConn since 2004. The other end, Trevardo Williams more of a question mark. Williams' bio on UConn Huskies could charitably be described as succinct and lists his outlook for 2010 thusly: "Played as a freshman last year and will look for more time at the defensive end spot." Waiting in the wings behind Williams will be A.J. Portee, who didn't do much in six appearances last year, but looked fantastic in UConn's spring game (11 tackles, three sacks).

2010 Depth Chart:

Starter 2009 Stats Backup 2009 stats
DE SO Jesse Joseph
38 tackles, 2.5 sacks
R-SO Ted Jennings 1 appearance, 0 tackles
DT R-JR Kendall Reyes 37 tackles, 3 sacks
R-SR Alex Polito 6 tackles
DT R-SO Ryan Wirth appeared in two games
R-JR Twyon Martin 36 tackles, 4 sacks
DE SO Trevardo Williams 19 tackles, 2 sacks R-SO A.J. Portee
6 appearances, 1 tackle


2009 High Points:

1. Against South Carolina in the Bowl, the D-line was part of an impressive defensive effort that held the Gamecocks to just 76 yards on the ground on 26 rushing attempts.

2. Lindsey Witten's first two games. Against Ohio and North Carolina, Witten grabbed seven sacks, one of which resulted in a safety.

3. UConn registered 33 sacks last year, its highest team total since 2003.

2009 Low Points:

1. Against Pitt, the Huskies let Dion Lewis wrack up 158 rushing yards (the Panthers had 221 total). UConn blew a 21-6 lead and lost 24-21. The Panthers wore down the line with their final three drives of the game, which took 8 plays, 10 plays and 13 plays each, and which resulted in a touchdown, touchdown, and the game-winning field goal with no time left.

2. As bas as Lewis was, Noel Divine was worse. The West Virginia running back gained 171 yards in the second half (he had 178 in the game), and a 56-yard game-winning TD run late in the fourth quarter.

All-time leaders:  

Sacks: DL Mark Michaels (1982-85) 27 sacks; DT Cody Brown (2005-08) 24 sacks; DE Uyi Osunde (1999-03) 22.5 sacks

Tackles for loss: DE Uyi Osunde (1999-03) 49 (-219 yds); DT Cody Brown (2005-08) 45.5 (-196); DE Tyler King 40 (-177)

Notable alumni: DE Julius Williams is currently in his second season as a Jacksonville Jaguar. Cody Brown has been transformed into a linebacker and now plays for the Arizona Cardinals. Lindsey Witten went undrafted and was signed by Pittsburgh Steelers. However he was cut in training camp and has since signed on with the Hartford Colonials.

Don't take it from us:

--Phil Steele: Ranks UConn 27th-best defensive line unit in America, fourth in the Big East behind Pitt, Rutgers and West Virginia

--Blue Ribbon: Lloyd named preseason All-Big East First Team (whoops); "Wirth is an emerging star."

--Athlon: Lloyd named preseason second-team All-Big East (lesser whoops); "Beyond [Lloyd switching to the defensive line], there aren't many questions on defense."

Our outlook: UConn should be fine at tackle, especially if Martin gets his act together. End obviously offers a lot more questions for the Huskies. Thankfully, end is one of the positions where UConn had a lot of depth, but with Lloyd and Campbell out, all the responsibility now falls to underclassmen. There is certainly talent there, but you never know with that much youth.

Position grade: B- But it is almost impossible to project how the line will turn out with all the question marks. Assuming they avoid any further injuries, that grade could easily climb to a B+ by the end of the year. It could also slip into C or D territory if the Huskies catch any more bad breaks.