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UConn Football Position Preview: Defensive line

Travis Jones leads an athletic group of run-stuffers and pass-blockers that could be a strength on this year’s defense.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Travis Jones will have a heavy weight on his broad shoulders heading into the 2021 season. With an unproven defensive backfield behind them, Jones anchors a defensive line that will need to get to the quarterback faster than before.

But if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Jones. After a freshman season where he got 55 tackles and 5.5 for a loss and after 40 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2019, Jones returns to camp in tremendous shape, according to all accounts. He now weighs in at 333 pounds and stands 6-foot-4,

“You talk about a guy that’s transformed his body,” head coach Randy Edsall said. “He has worked his tail off. He really looks good. I think he has an opportunity to have a really, really good year.”

“His technique got better since the last time we played,” defensive coordinator Lou Spanos said. “He’s gotten stronger, and he also improved his foot quickness and overall play speed.”

Jones will play in the middle of the defensive line, taking up space in the middle and plugging gaps, a role that allowed him to rack up those gaudy tackle numbers in previous seasons.

Alongside Jones in the middle of the defensive line is Lwal Uguak. The Edmonton native took on a bigger role in 2019 with 19 tackles, four for loss and four sacks, and brings “a different kind of nastiness” to the defense according to Spanos. He’s played in all 24 games since he arrived on campus in 2018, and has had success as both a run stopper and a pass rusher from the interior line, with 14 quarterback pressures and 18 run stops in 2019.

On the outside, UConn will rely on two extremely athletic defensive linemen to get to the quarterback: Junior Kevon Jones and sophomore Eric Watts. Jones played at Edsall’s hybrid defensive end/linebacker position in all but two games in 2019, totaling 40 tackles and four sacks. Watts was primarily a backup for much of 2019 but still recorded 30 tackles as an edge rusher. Watts is an extremely impressive athlete, standing 6-foot-5 with quick hands and fast feet.

Redshirt sophomore Pierce DeVaughn is the most notable backup, gathering 258 snaps on the defensive line in 2019. DeVaughn can play both the interior and edge rusher positions. Other players who will see time are redshirt freshmen Dal’mont Gourdine and Justin Moore, along with true freshman Nick Harris.