Linebackers are arguably the most important position on the field for a defense. They have to interact with both the D-line and the secondary, be strong enough to stop the run, and agile enough to drop back into pass coverage. They are asked to stay back and spy the quarterback, or go full steam and attack them on a blitz.
The Huskies have always been strong at linebacker since the transition to FBS in the early 2000s. A big part of UConn's solid defense last season was the linebacking core. With everybody but Jefferson Ashiru returning, it should once again be a strength for the team.
Graham Stewart, RS Senior - 6-foot-1, 237 pounds - Durham, Connecticut
The Xavier-Middletown grad is in his third season with the Huskies after transferring from Florida. He thrived last season in an expanded role, racking up 67.5 tackles and 10.5 TFL, which was tops on the team. He made plays from sideline to sideline, also forcing 2 fumbles, which tied him for the team lead. He will be a starter as an outside linebacker and a leader on the defense.
Marquise Vann, RS Senior, 6-foot-0, 231 pounds - Cincinnati, Ohio
Last season, Vann was the only junior to be named a captain. As the only second-year captain on the roster, Vann will be leading the charge so the seniors can end their UConn career on a good note. On the field, Vann's presence has been long established. He led the team with 82.5 tackles and also contributed 7.0 TFL last season. He and Stewart form a formidable duo as the stars of the Huskies' front seven.
Junior Joseph, RS Sophomore, 6-foot-1, 242 pounds - Sinking Springs, Pennsylvania
Last season, Joseph made the transition from defensive end to linebacker with great results. As a redshirt freshman, he made 32.5 tackles and started four of the last five games of the season. Joseph was the leading tackler in the spring game and played well in the Huskies most recent scrimmage. He will be one of the inside linebackers, and could bring this defense to the next level if he can take another step up in his development.
Jon Hicks, RS Junior, 6-foot-2, 246 pounds - Palmyra, Pennsylvania
Hicks saw time as a backup last season and proved he was an effective run-stopper. Early in his career, Hicks was mentored by fellow linebacker Sio Moore, who now plays for the Oakland Raiders. He is currently poised to have a big season with last year's starter Jefferson Ashiru transferring to Maryland, along with Bob Diaco's desire to implement a 3-4 hybrid scheme. Hicks is definitely a candidate to be a regular in the rotation this season. The UConn Blog's former football guru, Andrew Callahan, wrote a very nice feature story on Hicks earlier this summer.
Matt Walsh, Junior, 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, Madison, Connecticut
Matt Walsh started as a true freshman in 2013, but that was at fullback. Last year he saw time mostly on special teams. This offseason Diaco approached the former Daniel Hand-Madison star about switching to defense. Diaco said earlier this offseason that Walsh was pressing Vann for a starting job, which is incredibly impressive. He will be a part of the linebacker rotation, play in some sub-packages and also on a few special teams units.
Vontae Diggs, Sophomore, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds - Downers Grove, Illinois
Year Zero of the Bob Diaco era saw plenty of true freshman on the field, and many found relative success. Diggs should be grouped there, as he played in all 12 games. His stats don't jump off the page, but for a true freshman playing at one of the deepest positions on the team, his 6.5 tackles are a huge success. He should be a top backup this season, and will allow Bob Diaco to keep his defense fresh with quality depth.
Omaine Stephens, RS Junior, 6-foot-3. 246 pounds - East Orange, New Jersey
Stephens saw limited action last season as a redshirt sophomore. He only appeared in 9 games last season, and only had 2.5 tackles. It's hard to see Stephens' role increase dramatically, and is likely to see action mainly as a backup. Last season's depth chart on the official UConn website has redshirt sophomore Cameron Stapleton listed ahead of Stephens. He will really need to prove himself during summer camp to see meaningful snaps this upcoming season.
It is also worth noting that UConn also has Florida State transfer EJ Levenberry at this position. He was not granted eligibility for this season, and will have to sit out due to transfer rules.
Due to time and space constraints, we only listed players expected to see a lot of time on the field this season. Sophomores Richmond Williams and Jalen Stevens have not seen any action so far in their respective careers. You can read about the incoming freshmen (Jack Dexter, Connor Freeborn, William Richardson, Luke Sowa), and redshirt freshman Chris Britton in our recruiting coverage of the Class of 2015 and Class of 2014.