The defense has long been the hallmark of UConn football since the early days of the first Randy Edsall era. The secondary in particular has been top-notch, with seven NFL draft picks since 2005.
Last season, however, the secondary struggled, in large part due to the Huskies inability to replace free safety Andrew Adams. Cornerback Jamar Summers dealt with some regression as well, compounding the problem even further.
Things don’t get any easier this season as the Huskies have just one starter returning, much to the dismay of defensive backs coach Curome Cox.
“So Obi’s not coming back?” he joked. “I was hoping he might show up.”
With the new defense utilizing five defensive backs, the lines between cornerback and safety blur, meaning the players are expected to know all the positions.
“Guys are going to have to know it all. We all play the same positions so there’s going to have to be some versatility,” Cox said. “Even at corner, a corner is going to have to do what a safety does. That’s the great thing about this defense, it keeps you guessing.”
After losing three starters to graduation, every player will have a chance to compete for a starting job, something Cox is looking forward to.
“I feel like it’ll be some good competition,” he said. “It's an opportunity for some guys who haven’t played yet to go get that experience and they’re excited for that.”
But with nearly every spot up for grabs, the door is open for younger players to make an impact.
“Some of these younger guys played multiple positions in high school so it gives them that versatility,” he said. “They have the athletic ability to play corner, the ability to play safety, so that’s the good thing. It definitely gives you an opportunity for playing time.”
One of the most intriguing names going into camp is Vanderbilt transfer Tre’ Bell. He had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules but has still managed to shake off the rust and impress the coaching staff.
“Tre’ has been good to have. He gives you experience and good leadership ability,” said Cox. “He’s always trying to get better and people see that. I know he’s anxious to get his opportunity.”
The other senior cornerback, Jamar Summers, is looking to bounce back from a rough junior season. After intercepting eight passes in 2015, Summers regressed last year and also had to move to safety midway through the year to help out the team. Cox is hoping he can get the senior back on the right track.
“The skill is there. He’s had some success and one of the things he’ll realize is that he controls everything,” said the coach. “For him, he’s gotten better at being a student of the game as well as being consistent. So I’m excited for him to come back and play up to his ability and make plays.”
With so much uncertainty in the secondary, Cox isn’t worried about finding five starters; That won’t concern him until the season opener. For now, he just wants the unit to build on the previous day.
“We’re looking right now to hopefully get better every day,” he said. “I don’t even know (who’s going to start) and that’s the good thing.”
“We’re going to put the best 11 out there on August 31 and see if they can help.”