We are 18 days away from the start of football season, and starting today content will be flying off the shelves to help you get ready for it. We're going to cover the offensive and defensive tendencies of our new coaching staff, break down each of the positional groups, preview of our upcoming opponents and more. Today we kick it off with an overview of the defensive backs.
Safety Obi Melifonwu
Last year, as a redshirt freshman, the 6-foot-3 Melifonwu had a great first season as the starting free safety. He was making plays around the ball and finished second on the team in tackles with 70 to go along with 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. He was also named to the 2013 AAC All-Academic Team. He played his high school ball at Grafton High in Massachusetts where he was also a standout running back.
This year Melifonwu is expected to be a leader on and off the field. Head Coach Bob Diaco called him, "the most talented safety I've ever been around". This is high praise considering that both of the safeties he coached on Notre Dame's 2012 team (Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter) were NFL Draft picks the following May. With the opportunity to learn from defensive guru Diaco and former All-American safety Anthony Pointdexter, look for Melifonwu to take a big step up this season.
Safety Andrew Adams
Andrew Adams is a redshirt junior who missed the beginning of last year due to an injury sustained during summer practices. His emergence last year is part of the reason Byron Jones moved to corner according to the New Haven Register's Jim Fuller. He progressed very well over the course of last season, finishing with 42 tackles and 2 interceptions despite missing 4 games.
Adams was a 2-star recruit in 2011 from Woodward Academy in College Park, Georgia. Look for him to pair nicely with Obi Melifonwu as our safety tandem for the next two years.
Cornerback Byron Jones
Byron Jones was one of the two players to join Bob Diaco at the AAC Media Days, chosen because of his impressive academic achievements as well as his prowess on the field. Last year, after moving from safety to corner, Jones led the team with 3 interceptions and was also named to the AAC All-Academic Team.
Jones was a 3-star recruit in the Class of 2010 from St. Paul High in Bristol, CT. In his final year as a Husky, he is the veteran leader of a unit expected to improve after returning three out of four starters from last year. Bob Diaco considers him to be one of the best players at his position in the country and Jones has all the measurables to compete against the best wide receivers in college football. He lines up against one everyday in practice-- his roommate Geremy Davis.
Cornerback Jhavon Williams
Jhavon Williams is a redshirt sophomore from Palm Beach Central High in Wellington, Florida. He played in ten games last year, starting five, all at corner. There was a lot of shuffling around in the secondary last year due to injuries and poor play, but Williams was a beneficiary-- earning valuable playing experience. The old coaching staff, as well as some current NFL cornerbacks, have expressed confidence in Williams, and his professional approach should take him far as the starting corner opposite veteran Byron Jones. He's gonna need it, there are some talented players pushing him for that starting role.
Like last year, Williams will wear the No. 6 jersey in memory of fallen Husky Jasper Howard.
S- Ellis Marder
S- Wilbert Lee
CB- Javon Hadley
CB- Jamar Summers
CB- David Stephenson
The first four players on this list are next on the depth chart at corner and safety behind the starters. Redshirt junior David Stephenson, though not listed on the depth chart, played in four games last year, starting one.
Ellis Marder is a player to watch in the secondary. He is versatile enough to play corner, and was pretty impressive in practice last summer. We may see him on the field in sub-packages. Wilbert Lee saw some action last year after Andrew Adams' injury and played in all 12 games, recording an interception against Cincinnati.
Javon Hadley played in five games last year as a true freshman and the other backup cornerback Jamar Summers is a true freshman-- it's very impressive to see him crack the two-deep depth chart going into camp. Along with Arkeel Newsome Summers is one of the highest rated recruits from the Class of 2014 and someone who admirably stuck with the program through the coaching transition.
S- Jeremy Claflin
S- Jordan Floyd
S- Joseph Bivona
DB- Chris DeBerry
Both Claflin and Floyd saw time on special teams last year, Claflin, a redshirt junior, is a three-time All-Academic teamer. Floyd played in all 12 games last year. There is not much information for Joseph Binova on the UConn website or elsewhere on the interwebs, but he did go to the same high school as former UConn star and current Buffalo Bill Marcus Easley, Bunnell High in Stratford. Senior Chris DeBerry walked-on last year after transferring from Bowling Green.
The New Guys
CB- Anthony Watkins
CB- Brice McAllister
CB- Nyrell Moore
These are three of the four true freshman on the roster at defensive back. The fourth, Jamar Summers, is mentioned earlier as a backup corner. Anthony Watkins was a late signee by Bob Diaco and was labeled as an "Athlete" by all the recruiting services-- maybe he can be a contributor as a kick returner in the future. Brice McAllister came into camp as a running back but was quickly moved to corner by the coaching staff. Nyrell Moore is a walk-on from West Haven High in Connecticut.
Overall, defensive back should be a position of strength for the Huskies this season. The group is experienced, talented and athletic enough to improve on last year's shaky campaign. Our pass defense was not highly rated last year, but injuries and an ineffective pass rush certainly played a role in that.
Jones and Melifonwu are the keys here. If they can build off of their solid performances from last season and maintain order in the defensive backfield they should be able to do some damage this year. For UConn to have a successful season we need to worry as little as possible about how the secondary is doing.