No two positions on UConn football’s roster were hit harder by graduation than the defensive line and linebackers. On the Huskies’ first two-deep depth chart of the season, five freshmen are listed along with three sophomores.
While that much youth certainly isn’t ideal, the silver lining is that head coach Randy Edsall and defensive coordinator Billy Crocker are using players that fit into the 3-3-5 system, unlike last season.
The elder statesman of the group, Atkins is the lone senior listed as a starter. The Saugus, Massachusetts native hasn’t seen a ton of time over his career, appearing in four games with just two tackles. He is currently listed as an “or” starter with freshman Jonathan Pace, but Atkins could get the nod early in the season due to his experience.
Speaking of Pace, the Boston native is impressing enough as a true freshman to be listed as a starter. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, he’s tall but needs to add weight to his frame so he won’t get pushed around in the trenches.
Thomas, an Edsall recruit in the class of 2017, redshirted his freshman year but is in line for a lot of snaps in his first season on the field. At 6-feet, 280 pounds, he’s a touch small for the position but has been good enough in camp to earn an “or” starting spot.
Fines is a graduate transfer from Miami and arguably the mostly experienced starter up front. He played in five games during his two-year career in South Beach while also bringing some much-needed veteran leadership to the group. Fines has two years of eligibility remaining for the Huskies.
Another true freshman, Ugauk hails from Edmonton, Canada. Like Pace, he’s listed at 6-foot-5, 261 pounds which is a little light for the position, which means he could be limited to pass-rush situations.
Jones has been the star freshman throughout camp so far and outright won the starting job at nose tackle. The New Haven native still needs work but projects to be a force in the middle of the line.
“There’s nobody that’s going to handle him one-on-one,” Edsall said at the early signing period. “He’s going to draw a double-team every time.”
Kevin Murphy is an experienced secondary option at nose tackle and see a fair amount of snaps this season. Carlton Steer, a senior from East Hartford, is one of the backups at defensive end.
Beavers saw significant action as a true freshman with 12 appearances where he totaled 15 tackles, three tackles for loss and three sacks. With a full year in the system, Beavers should take a step forward into being one of UConn’s top defenders.
Another true freshman with a starting job, Jones has been earning praise from Edsall before he even stepped on campus.
“I think the guy a lot of people missed the boat on was Kevon Jones,” the coach said on National Signing Day. “I think he might’ve been the best kid in the state.”
Jones is backed up by senior Sterling Santana in case he can’t handle the bright lights of college football, but the early returns on the East Hartford native are promising.
Despite being a redshirt junior, Thomas has barely played since his high school days. He saw action in four games at Lackawanna Community College in 2015 but has dealt with injuries almost constantly since. Edsall believes Thomas could be a hidden gem for the Huskies if he can stay healthy.
Class of 2016 members Eddie Hahn and Ryan Gilmartin are both listed as backups in addition to Sterling. They all have solid experience (relatively) and are solid secondary options in case the starters struggle or injuries hit.