Because the players have been recruited to the system and based on a chat with UConn defensive coordinator Hank Hughes the talent is there for the Huskies to continue doing what they were doing last year..
What’s goin on?
Before we get going on defense let me make this clear. Plano (Tx.) High quarterback Richard Lagow’s name was left out of a story in the paper I wrote earlier this week on 2014 recruit Logan Marchi – but it wasn’t intentional. There was no significance to it. Nothing is up. I made the mistake of leaving his name out, ok?
Hughes is stepping into the DC’ role with Don Brown and his aggressive, hair on fire style of play having moved on to Boston College. It’s Hughes’ second run as defensive coordinator at UConn He also did it under Randy Edsall but the Huskies style then was hardly what it’s been the past two years in terms of going at quarterbacks at a rapid pace but Hughes’ past defenses have been effective.
Those teams had experience – even the one last season was loaded in that category, this one has some but not as much. Still, if you think the Huskies might pull it back because they lost a lot two starting corners, two linebackers and two defensive linemen, think again.“I think we’ll be very similar to what we’ve been,” Hughes said by phone. “Certainly P has some things he wants to do and there’s some things we’ve done in the time I’ve been here but our kids know a good part of what we’ve been doing recently so obviously we’ll keep as much as of that stuff as we feel like applies to who we’re playing but I think we’ll stay fairly similar. You have to be aggressive to some degree or you’re not…it’s death by inches, just a slow death but by the same token, we’re going to have our kids fit into our system. We’re not just going to radically change. These kids have been recruited for this and guys have been working in this system. It’s not like we’re going to have a whole different system because we lost some starters.
“We’ve got some good players we have to replace. You don’t replace guys like that overnight. Guys have to develop themselves and get better at their techniques and guys have to step up. As you know, that’s the way it is every year. This year we lost some really good players on defense but other years we’ve lost good players, too. It has a bearing. Believe me. I’d like to franchise tag every one of those guys and bring them back.”
Hughes can’t do that. Though there will be inexperience among what is still expected to be a solid unit the Huskies really must play together, have each other’s back and they’re going to have to get in that mode quickly.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Hughes said. “Collectively, we have to play well together. I think that’s what we got good at [last year] everyone knew what they were doing and played well as a unit and it made us a pretty strong defense and that’s huge because [if not] you beat yourself. If you’re physically getting beat on something – that happens a percentage of times where some guy just physically blocks a guy or makes a guy miss, or somebody makes a nice throw and catch – but more times than not in this business, sometimes you make a mistake and hurt yourself it’s because you put yourself in a bad position, you don’t fit the right gap, you didn’t take the play on with the right shoulder, etc. those kinds of things.
“Everyone has to play within the system so those things don’t happen. Obviously if you have good players that will help and we’ve got some good players and have plenty of pieces to be a good defense.
‘We have talent now it’s just fitting in the syste, getting good in your fundamentals and techniques, getting good at the scheme, knowing how to fit it up and doing it on an instance notice. You don’t have time to re-do it when you get in the game you have to fit it up the right way, get the right coverage. You can’t bust in your coverage or your zone drop or not pick up your man or not peel on your guy if your peeling off a guy in the blitz or whatever it is - everybody has to play within the system and play within themselves and play together. That’s the key.”
DT Ryan Wirth and DE Trevardo Williams are gone but Hughes pointed to the return of DE Jesse Joseph who missed much of last season with the Achilles injury. He was awfully high on the return of an experienced Shamar Stephen, Julian Campenni, B.J. McBryde at a defensive end, Angelo Pruitt at tackle and Mikal Myers, also inside.
“Reuben Frank is going to help us at defensive end this year,” Hughes said. “He’s probably the most talented of anybody there. I mean this guy is going to be an animal when he gets into the gane. This guy is big, strong and fast – and he’s talented. He’ll play. That’s the position we recruited him to play. When we recruited him he was on the board and we offered him as a defensive end before it was kind of one of those deals where we lost somebody and moved him over to offense but he was recruited to come in as a defensive end where he has a chance to be a really, really special player. You’re going to hear about him. One of the guys I thought who really came on at the end of spring practice, too was Andreas Knappe. He’s up to 294 pounds now and is a big kid [ at 6 feet 9]. He’s starting to get to where he understanding how to play in the leverage, using hands. When you’re experienced in thereyou just try to like get a hand on everybody and you get knocked around. Now he’s learning how to focus is energy.”
“Physically, guys like Marquisse Vann, even when you test him running, jumping, lifting wights, that guy has numbers, test a guy like Graham, got some big-time numbers, those are some strong guys now,” Hughes said. “Ryan Donohue, to me, is a differnt guy physically. He kind of got in with Wirth a little bit and has really improved himself because Ryan Wirth is the kind of guy he has to eat certain things, weigh train this much, he was a fanatic about his conditioning and it made a big difference. Ryan Donohue made himself a lot better this spring than he was maybe when he got here as far as strength, speed, those kinds of things. We have enough tools it’s just everybody has to be exact at what they’re doing. That’s where experience help you when a guy gets so good at playing something that it becomes second nature to you.”
Lastly, Hughes broke it down the way it should be broken down. There’s no games to be played here. Everyone knows what the deal is …
“We’re all in this, every one of us, myself included, we’ve got to get better between now and the opening ballgame but I think we have the pieces to put together a good defense and there’s no reason we can’t. A lot of it is confidence and playing hard. You get confidence by doing something over and over again. If you do it six different ways and get beat on five of them you’re not going to have a lot of confidence so we’re going to repeat it, get good at what we do, get guys to play, play hard, run to the ball and play physical.”