- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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I had a chance to catch up with UConn linebacker Sio Moore recently to find out how the Huskies are doing this offseason. Moore is supremely confident his team will have a bounce-back season. Let him tell you why.
How are you feeling about the work you were able to do this offseason, now that it’s almost time to get back to practice?
SM: I feel great. As a player that's been there now going into my fifth year, I feel very relaxed and I feel I have the experience now, so it's going to help. The defense, my teammates as a whole, we grew so much this offseason. Everything was brand new last season, having to learn a new offense and new defense. Now, there's no reason why we shouldn't have the top defense, if not one of the top defenses, in the country and Big East.
Country or Big East?
You are confident in this defense. Why?
SM: We are going to be better on all three levels, the line, linebackers and defensive backs. We lost a big piece of our line in Kendall (Reyes), but we have a bunch of good guys who learned a lot from Kendall and now have an opportunity to make things happen: Ryan Wirth, Shamar (Stephen), those guys, we have Trevardo (Williams) back, Jesse (Joseph) back, Teddy (Jennings) back, a plethora of D-linemen, There is no reason why we shouldn’t control the line of scrimmage. We have a lot of depth at linebacker. We have a lot of guys that really are at a point where they can play. It always helps to have depth at any position. Last year, some of our defensive backs were kind of young, but now there's nothing but experience on the field. The experience of being able to play one year and come back, get a spring ball under your belt and get comfortable with playing that position, it makes you that much better, because now you're able to diagnose plays, you're able to understand what to do. You can play ball without having to think, and as a defense, I think we're there.
With the amount of playmakers we have with Blidi (Wreh-Wilson) and (Dwayne) Gratz on the outside, there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to do the things we're capable of doing. We’re just that much better. Offense, we have weapons and we have guys ready to win. Nick Williams has been working his tail off this offseason, we have Mike Smith, a bunch of guys ready to work, and you can tell by how our offseason has gone, nobody is taking things lightly. Everybody is finding a way to get an edge. When you're around the team and you see how everybody is taking this offseason and how everybody is working, you have no choice but to be confident and to know we’re on the brink. It's there. If we keep working, the sky's the limit, I really believe that.
You really were close in a lot of games last year, let several fourth-quarter leads slip away. How do you fix that?
SM: We had a tough year last year. Nobody enjoyed it. So many games were just at the margin of error. We just have to pay attention to detail, not letting up, executing when other teams don't execute. A lot of times you can lose a game in the fourth quarter, but I believe it's a buildup. It's about making the plays when the other team doesn't throughout a game. If you don't take advantage of the opportunities in the first, second, and third quarters, it puts you at a disadvantage in the fourth quarter. That’s why you have four quarters. Where we're at as a team, speaking on behalf of the defense, we have to be relentless, getting to the ball, making sure everybody is there, accountability. Everybody’s doing what they have to do to be great this season. Nobody's going to settle for anything less than great. For the seniors, we've been here since 2008. We've been here from the International Bowl. Not going to a bowl game hurt, because every year we were able to go to a bowl game, on top of that we were able to win a Big East championship.
When practice starts, we just have to work on fundamentals, techniques, be able to hone in on that, and when the season comes, put that hard work on the field and let it show.
You mentioned the experience. You have eight starters back on defense, going into Year 2 of Don Brown's system. How much do both help?
SM: It's hard to explain organized chaos, and that's what our defense is, organized chaos. Now everybody knows our defense, it's more understood. Our two corners are some of the best corners in the Big East, and they can do near anything on the field, all that does is open up the defense and its ability to be flexible to do everything else. Blidi's cover skills, Dwayne's aggressiveness, I put those guys against anybody, and that helps us out as far as what we want to do with our defensive line and our linebackers, even our safeties. I'm excited about it. Guys like Ty-Meer (Brown), who jumped in midway through last season, and he was able to learn throughout the season. Obviously you have to have growing pains at any position, but through this spring ball, he's turned around. He's an amazing player now, he's a full-package guy. Byron (Jones) was a guy, almost our utility guy, now that he has the time to get to what he knows to do at safety, the sky's the limit for that kid.