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UConn football defensive coordinator Billy Crocker on the nuances of the 3-3-5

At the start of his first training camp at UConn, Crocker explains how linemen depth and a strong secondary are key to the Huskies’ success this season.

After spending five seasons orchestrating a tenacious defense at FCS Villanova, Billy Crocker is ready to do the same at the FBS level with UConn.

The Huskies’ new defensive coordinator takes over after helping Villanova hold opponents just 15 points per game last season, the lowest in the FCS. Crocker is known for his 3-3-5 defense, which heavily utilizes defensive backs and can provide multiple looks to throw off offenses.

“It gives us the ability to put more athletes on the field,” Crocker said of the 3-3-5. “The [3-3-5 has] flexibility to give different looks at different times... Different configuration, different personnel, different pieces and being able to do some more things out of it without changing groupings and that kind of stuff.”

Whoever ends up being the fifth defensive back in Crocker’s scheme will have a myriad of roles in order to give the Huskies defensive flexibility.

“He’s going to be a blitzer, he’s going to have to do things in coverage, he’s going to stop the run. He’s going to have to do a lot of everything, pretty much,” Crocker said.

With this season being Crocker’s first at UConn, Crocker is assessing the roster’s strengths and weaknesses and tailoring his defense to it.

“You have to work with what you have. If we need to change a little bit of what we do because of the personnel we have, then that’s what we have to do,” Crocker said.

Crocker’s defensive strategy bodes well for a school like UConn, who has had a history of stout defenses and a long list of defensive backs in the NFL, including Byron Jones, Andrew Adams and Obi Melifonwu most recently.

Despite losing an impact player like Melifonwu, UConn still has defensive backs like Tre Bell that can contribute. The former 3-star recruit transferred to UConn from Vanderbilt prior to last season and has made an impression on Crocker this offseason after sitting out 2016 due to NCAA transfer rules.

“I think he has a shot to be a very good player. He has a great attitude, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Crocker said of Bell. “He’s a smart football player as a corner, he can anticipate what the opponents trying to do to him, why they’re doing it and he can put himself in good positions to make plays because of that.”

Even though Crocker’s defense primarily features three linemen, pressuring the quarterback is still important. In his final season at Villanova, Crocker had the benefit of having defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, who had 11 sacks as one of the premier defensive players in the FCS and was selected in the second round by the Kansas City Chiefs.

While UConn likely doesn’t have a player like Kpassagnon on the edge, Crocker is pleased with the depth and talent of the defensive line with players like Foley Fatukasi and Luke Carrezola.

“Up front you got some decent depth there, some guys that can affect the games for us, which is huge,” Crocker said. “Even though we’re only playing three guys up front, you have to win up front still. We have some guys that have the ability to be disruptive and that’s what we’re looking for up front.”

Aside from the X’s and O’s, Crocker is happy about the team’s mindset as they prepare to take on Holy Cross on Aug. 31 to kick off Randy Edsall’s return to UConn.

“When you get a group of guys who are just worried about doing their part, then you can have success,” Crocker said. “This whole unit so far has taken that approach and attitude.”