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UConn football positional preview: Defensive backs

Can Jamar Summers bounce back from last season and return to his 2015 form?

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn continued its tradition of sending talented defensive backs to the NFL with Obi Melifonwu, who was selected No. 56 overall by the Oakland Raiders after a monster senior season and impressive performance at the NFL Combine. While Melifonwu hopes to have the kind of success that Tyvon Branch, Byron Jones and Andrew Adams have enjoyed at the game’s highest level, the Huskies will be hard-pressed to replace him. As new defensive coordinator Billy Crocker continues to implement his new 3-3-5 defense, the secondary, led by senior Jamar Summers, will need to be solid to keep the opponents’ offense in check.

Safety

Brice McAllister - SR - East Longmeadow, Massachusetts

McAllister will try to fill the shoes of Melifonwu at safety and has a fair share of experience at the position, playing in all of UConn’s 25 games over the past two years and recording 25 tackles. He was a candidate to start opposite Melifonwu last year in the spot vacated by Adams, but it ended up being a timeshare. Crocker and the Huskies will need McAllister to make an impact like he did in 2015, where he only had seven tackles but managed to force two fumbles.

Anthony Watkins - RS JR - Fort Meade, Maryland

Watkins is set to make his sixth career start at safety against Holy Cross and hopes to build off a 2016 season in which he had 21 tackles and a pass deflection in 10 games. The 5-foot-10 Watkins seems to hold his own against quality opponents, racking up nine tackles on the road against Houston and recording six tackles against ACC foe Virginia last year.

Tyler Coyle - RS FR - Windsor, Connecticut

Coyle brings some local flavor to the Huskies’ secondary and will be the unit’s youngest starter against Holy Cross. Coyle shined as a receiver and track athlete at Windsor High School and clearly showed Edsall and company enough to grab one of the starting positions.

Cornerback

Jamar Summers - SR - Orange, New Jersey

After a breakout season in 2015 in which he was named First Team All-American Athletic Conference and had eight interceptions, Summers took a step back in 2016. As former head coach Bob Diaco shuffled Summers between safety and corner last season, he was prone to being beat by quality receivers like Syracuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo, who had 270 receiving yards against the Huskies last season. Nonetheless, Summers remains a special talent in the UConn backfield, and a solid senior season could solidify his chances as an NFL draft pick.

Tre Bell - RS SR - Union, New Jersey

Bell, a transfer from Vanderbilt, will suit for UConn for the first time this season after sitting out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules. While Bell had just 33 career tackles during his three years as a Commodore, Crocker has been impressed with what he’s shown so far. Bell brings some much-needed experience and stability to the UConn secondary.

Aside from the starters, UConn has young but talented players ready to contribute off the bench. Backup safety Marshe Terry is the elder statesman on the two-deep and is only a redshirt sophomore. Aside from Terry, Connecticut products Omar Fortt (freshman) and Tahj Herring-Wilson (redshirt freshman) join Jordan Swann and Ian Swenson as backups and will likely see their fair share of game action.

Hailing from St. Luke’s in New Canaan, Noel Thomas’ alma mater, Fortt enrolled as a freshman this past January while Herring-Wilson was a big commitment from Suffield Academy in the Class of 2016 who chose UConn over offers from Virginia and Vanderbilt. Swann, a true freshman, is joined by classmate Swenson, a three-star recruit from the Chicago area, as a backup defensive back.

While the secondary will likely be solid this season for the Huskies, the inexperience on the depth chart, particularly at safety, will likely lead to some inconsistency and growing pains. Even though players like Melifonwu, Jones and Adams are long gone, Summers and Bell should be really solid at the corners while the emerging talent will have a chance to step up.