JOE D’S NOTEBOOK
MARYLAND WEEK- Wednesday- Hey, did you hear Randy Edsall’s coming back to Rentschler Field on Saturday Night. Of course, you have. It’s without a doubt, the most highly anticipated home game in the 10 year history of the Rent. I will get into that topic later in the week. But first, I conclude my look at the starting 22 for UConn with the linebackers and defensive backs.
Linebacker was a position of strength for UConn last season with Yawin Smallwood playing between Sio Moore and Jory Johnson. Well, Smallwood’s wing men have graduated and been replaced by Graham Stewart and Ryan Donohue. Smallwood had a breakout season a year ago, making first team All Big East and getting a reputation that put him on virtually every pre season watch list for a defensive player. And it’s also put a big target on his back. Every team knows the key to the Connecticut defense wears #33. But don’t think for a minute that will have any effect on the Worcester native. Smallwood isn’t a chest thumping kind of player. He quietly does his job, and does it extremely well. He will have to be the leader of the defensive unit and occasionally need to make game changing plays. Yawin had 16 tackles on opening night, I would suspect he will be close to double digits in tackles every game this season.
Donohue and Stewart have a chance to be terrific players. Both started their careers elsewhere, Ryan at Maryland where his departure co-incited with Edsall’s arrival. Stewart went from Xavier in Middletown to Florida but left after one year for personal, family reasons. Both had big play capabilities and both play on the edge, literally and figuratively. They have the linebacker type of mentality but have to play with intelligence. Stewart actually won his staring job in pre season camp.Their development will be critical to the defense’s success. Backups Marquise Vann ,Brandon Steg and Jefferson Ashiru as key components of the special teams.
The departures of Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz to the NFL and the pre season injury to Andrew Adams that will keep him out for most of the season mean the secondary is relatively inexperienced. Byron Jones replaced Wilson at corner when he was hurt two years ago, moved to safety last season and is now back at corner. The New Britain native has the size and intelligence to play corner, but does he have the speed ? The other starting corner, Taylor Mack struggled two years ago, barely getting on the field. But he has steadily improved and defensive coordinator Hank Hughes has a world of confidence that Mack can play on an island. Ty-meer Brown is the only starter back in his same position from last season. He doesn’t get a lot of publicity but I think is quietly, one of the most consistent players on the football team. He is the physical type of player you need at safety. Obi Melifonwu has stepped in for Adams and frankly,may have been the second best defensive player against Towson.Obi is physical and seems to have a nose for the football But he is a red shirt freshman and will make mistakes. Limiting them is critical.Depth in the secondary is not a strength of this team and the starters have to stay healthy.
No one on the defensive side of the ball was happy with their performance in Game One. The Huskies have to get back to the aggressive attacking defense that played so well for most of last year.
Saturday, we will have the Tailgate Show with Bob and Kevin as soon as the Yankees and Red Sox are done. Our network pre game show starts at 6. Obviously, while we appreciate the work of Sean Mulcahy in the opener, it will be great to get our big guy, Wayne Norman back in the booth.