The UConn Huskies saw four of their defensive players get selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, taking a major chunk of the No. 19 scoring defense in the country last season with them. Luckily for Paul Pasqualoni and the Huskies, though, the best part of their excellent defense of 2012 is still on campus with junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood. The challenge for Smallwood next year is to pick up the slack for those other pieces UConn lost.
Smallwood already broke out as the leader of the Huskies’ defense during his sophomore year. He played with incredible instinct and recognition, getting to plays before they had fully developed. His 120 tackles led the team by a wide margin and he chipped in 15 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks to boot while forcing a pair of fumbles. He will have to do even more, however, in 2013 until other playmakers emerge for Connecticut.
In all, the Huskies lost six of their top ten tacklers from a year ago, including a pair of senior linebackers in Jory Johnson and Sio Moore. Johnson and Moore combined for 167 tackles last season with 22 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks (all Moore’s). The most experienced option coming back next season at linebacker is sophomore Jefferson Ashiru and junior Brandon Steg who each had just eight tackles apiece last season.
The Huskies offense can’t be counted on to be significantly better in 2013 than it was a year ago, so the pressure is on the defense to maintain their high level of play from the 2012 season. That means the pressure will be on their proven leader at linebacker, Smallwood, to pick up the slack of the defense until the entire unit gets running up to speed. Can he keep the Huskies afloat?