Column: Are we sure these guys are good?

Defensive back Tyler Coyle faces an SMU opponent during a game on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Rentschler Field. (Charlotte Lao, Photo Editor/The Daily Campus)

Defensive back Tyler Coyle faces an SMU opponent during a game on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Rentschler Field. (Charlotte Lao, Photo Editor/The Daily Campus)

Listen. Shamel Lazarus has a cool name and big body. Omar Fortt nobly enrolled early last year and provided some physicality at times. Tyler Coyle has some size and actually led this godforsaken defense in tackles. Ian Swenson has shown flashes this year and, like Coyle, has size as well. If we are talking body types, at 6-feet-2-inches and athletic, O’Neil Robinson has an intriguing future if he can build upon his currently slender frame. Redshirt sophomore Tahj Herring-Wilson clearly has the trust of the staff, warranted or not, meaning maybe there’s something there. He did lead the team with a whopping five pass breakups

These are the core constituents of the UConn defensive backfield. That is about the most I can say about them. Note, none of it is particularly glowing.

UConn has a wretched defensive backfield. The Huskies pass defense is surprisingly only the sixth worst in the country when it comes to passing yards per game, behind Rice, Houston, Texas Tech, Oklahoma (Bob Diaco warning) and San Jose State. The rush defense was worst in the country. But what did we expect?

The Huskies are throwing a bunch of local kids out there. Fortt, a sophomore from Stamford, was a three-star recruit who is arguably deserving of his time. The same goes for Swenson, a redshirt, who was as well despite coming from Illinois. Robinson, a freshman from East Hartford, was a three star according to 247, but at wide receiver. Lazarus was a three-star from New York City and Herring-Wilson a three-star from down the road in Hartford. Coyle, a two-star sophomore from Windsor, and Ryan Carroll, a two-star freshman from the DMV, round out the group.

Recruiting rankings, especially away from the top echelon, can be a crock of you-know-what, but considering how inept head coach Randy Edsall and his predecessor Bob Diaco are and were in the realm, the purported prestige of the unit isn’t terrible relatively speaking.

Who was terrible? The older defensive backs apparently. Edsall couldn’t, or wouldn’t, play them and ran most of them out of town. He fed his young boys to the wolves and as the aforementioned pass defense stat indicates, it did not go well. UConn did not just have the worst defense in the country, but the worst by a lot and the worst in a long time.

They were physically inept. I listened to a game where the commentator lauded Robinson’s potential but indicated he badly needed the weight room to fulfill it. He subsequently blew a tackle a couple plays later. Speaking of tackles, this unit didn’t make many. They are atop the Huskies defensive leaderboards because the front seven in front of them was abhorrent, not because of their own merit. Fortt missed tackles. Coyle had misplays. I don’t think I ever saw Ryan Caroll make a tackle.

I also don’t think I ever saw Carroll or Coyle successfully cover anyone. I mean it is hard to fathom how truly incapable this UConn defense was.

But guess what? They’re all coming back, or eligible to. Is this good? I am not sure. I am not a great talent evaluator. It is hard for me to say definitively whether or not these guys are cut out for this. I know the front seven were terrible this year, more horrendous than these guys lined up behind them. I could admonish for days too, but the thing is I actually see some upside in this group. I don’t think Billy Crocker is a very good defensive coordinator and that didn’t help them. But several of these guys are too young, raw and ill prepared which didn’t help themselves, or Crocker, either. Was it just a bad set of circumstances? Or all of these dudes just terrible?

I feel bad lambasting them because they went out there each game facing hell and endured it. They should be better next year; they can’t be worse. Two or three years from now these guys could have a tremendous wealth of experience. Or they could be so bad that they are recruited over and become benchwarmers, if they’re still Huskies, by the time they’re upperclassmen (not likely based on UConn’s current efforts on the trail).

Youth is a valid crutch and one that Edsall has leaned on consistently in public. But he put them in this position. It is not a good look when after the conclusion of the season your athletic director is uttering the following:

“The reality is we don’t have the personnel to come competitive right now, and that’s evident,” David Benedict said.

Benedict may not be a scout, but he isn’t saying anything the common fan didn’t see (if they hadn’t quit watching) all season. Does Benedict believe the current personnel can get there? He seems to be willing to give Edsall and Co. his blessing at another go-around, but like me and others he must be skeptical of the players they are employing.

Edsall has nefariously been pushing the estimated time of arrival for UConn’s return to competence years down the road. Like the way he has coached so far, it is not been a winning approach with the fanbase.

More and more people are positing “what is the point of UConn football?” My correlated question would be is three years from now are guys like Lazarus and Coyle going to be good? Is it at all reasonable to project competency in their future? Are they apart of the new age of quality UConn football? Because if not I don’t know what the heck we are doing out here and the future seems mighty bleak.

Kevin Mensah is talented. The quarterbacks have gotten decent buzz. I don’t dislike the younger wideouts.

After the game Edsall said, “I saw some guys get better.” Maybe we were watching different film, but it wasn’t the defense. But if the defense, particularly the backfield with its high variance outcomes, doesn’t shape up then we are in trouble. If the answer to my question is no, these guys are not good, then I can answer an unasked question: Neither is UConn.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.