The song accompanying the UConn offense preview was ? and the Mysterians' 96 Tears. Why? Because the offense is filled with question marks and might make me cry. The song for the defense is Guns N' Roses' Nightrain. Why? Because the song owns and a defense that has me this excited deserves a kick-ass anthem. The song is actually about a cheap and potent brand of wine the band used to drink, but I'd argue any song with lyrics like this:
Loaded like a freight train
Flyin' like an aeroplane
Speedin' like a space brain
One more time tonight
could just as easily be about the UConn defense, which, again, is going to kick ass.
In case I haven't made it clear: I'm excited to watch this defense. Last year's defense was fun to watch. Don Brown lived up to his reputation, bringing an aggressive and blitz-heavy style to East Hartford. It was far from perfect though as the young and thin secondary developed a nasty tendency to give up big plays. So let's start there.
UConn's secondary was rough last season. Not so much because they were bad, but because they were either hit by injuries in key spots (Blidi Wreh-Wilson's time on the bench was an absolute killer), or, in the case of redshirt freshmen Byron Jones and Ty-Meer Brown, they were simply young. When you throw two freshmen out on their own in a new system you should expect two things. First: they're going to get burned. Second: they're eventually going to get better and turn into sophomores.
Brown and Jones will be flanked by the aforementioned Wreh-Wilson (who is stellar) along with senior Dwayne Gratz. Taylor Mack, who has spent the last two years on special teams should also see some time. The concern with the secondary is depth. Safety Jerome Junior was kicked off the team in the Spring and Gilbert St.Louis is apparently gone for good after leaving the team twice in the past week. St.Louis apparently was not going to see the field a lot anyway, so that won't be a huge loss if the secondary stays healthy, but if things go bad it could be felt.
The defensive line is replacing the most after losing standout tackles Kendall Reyes and Tywon Martin. That is less than ideal, but senior defensive ends Trevardo Williams and Jesse Joseph are both returning and should be primed to wreak havoc. Williams is the one to keep an eye on, as he posted an impressive 11.5 sacks last year, nine of which came during a four-game stretch in the heart of the Big East schedule, including four against Rutgers.
Senior Ryan Wirth should help ease the pain of the loss of Reyes and Martin inside. He had an impossibly good spring game, wracking up 7 tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss, 4.5 of which were sacks and one of which caused a safety. Like I said, impossibly good. The other tackle spot is more of a concern. It will eventually be filled by junior Shamar Stephen (17 tackles last year), who has been out all month with a knee injury. Filling in will be redshirt freshman Julian Campenni, so we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach here.
Finally we get to the linebackers and holy hell am I excited about the linebackers. Sio Moore came to UConn to do two things, and by this point I'm pretty sure the redshirt senior is all out of bubblegum. He had 86 tackles last year -- down from the absurd 110 he had as a sophomore -- but he added two interceptions and two forced fumbles so I think we can forgive him for the little slip. Moore was also hurt by the fact that teammate Jory Johnson put up 97 tackles and now-sophomore Yawin Smallwood had 94. They're awesome. All three of them are awesome. I cannot wait to watch them. You can also keep an eye out for senior Ryan Donohue, a Maryland transfer.
There are no guarantees in football and if the injury bug strikes there could be some serious depth issues, but as constructed it's hard not to be really excited about what this defense can do. You have to assume that in the second year of Don Brown's system a lot of the little wrinkles that caused problems last year will be ironed out. Last year's experience bodes well for this year's now-seasoned secondary, and the only place I have any real concern is the inside of the d-line, and Stephen's return (whenever that is) will go a good way toward mollifying my concerns. This is as solid a defensive unit as a UConn fan can ask for. Enjoy watching them, I know I will.