Senior Bowl a UConn reunion

12senior

John F. Silver

It’s an unlikely place for a reunion for UConn football members.

But Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. (4 p.m. NFL Network) is going to have a distinct UConn flavor, at least on defense, where three Huskies are playing.

Cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz have both impressed this week according to various reports — and the Senior Bowl has more coverage than any practices I have ever see. Also, linebacker Sio Moore, fresh of impressing in the East-West Shrine Game was a late pickup to the squad as he is subbing for injured Trevardo Williams, who has a bum ankle and can’t play to show off how he plays at linebacker.

So, how are the 5-7 Huskies with three defenders on the Senior Bowl defense, and four if you count Williams? It shows two things:

  1. The nations No. 10 ranked defense is really No. 10 and not a paper tiger statistically (Random thought. in one sense they under performed with their inability to generate a ton of turnovers. That’s actually more bad luck and it turns around year-to-year).
  2. The offense was very bad (that’s not a random thought, undeniable fact).

Gratz, Moore and Wreh-Wilson are all explosive players with a ton of physical gifts and more importantly, a ton of playing time as each has played major time since thier freshmen season. Wreh-Wilson was the guy who replaced the late Jasper Howard as a redshirt freshman in the lineup.

That has paid off at the Senior Bowl as the experience combined with the physical measures are finally getting the players noticed. There is no mirage due to the laundry in NFL circles.

Wreh-Wilson

Wreh-Wilson

First off, let’s tackle Wreh-Wilson, who is the type of guy who explodes at these meets once people get a good look at him. Wreh-Wilson is a big corner, a “prototype” at 6-1 1/2 and 195 pounds and looks much bigger than that on the field. He had 46 tackles, one interceptions and nine pass breakups.The term you always hear with Wreh-Wilson in is “long”, which is just an easy way of saying that his arms are longer than what’s average for a guy his height. Wreh-Wilson plays bigger as a defensive player because of his long arms and that helps him blanket receivers. Think about how important that is with the NFL going towards the Julio Jones type of receivers.  He had only one interception this year for the Huskies but that’s not concerning. What scouts are going to look at is how many times he was thrown at, and more importantly, how poorly UConn played in the passing game when he was out. When Wreh-Wilson was out of the game the Huskies faltered.  They did it last year when he was out with a leg injury, and when he was off the field it was big play time for the offense.  Wreh-Wilson’s weakness? He takes an awful long time coming off blocks in run support, and, there’s a question of lateral quickness at his size. Will his flat-line speed transfer to on the field? But, I think he has enough buzz to get taken in the upper half of the draft. I will let the experts on others figure out where.

Here’s some thoughts from what others saw on Wreh-Wilson this week:

2013 SENIOR BOWL, WEDNESDAY FALLER: CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut (North Team)…For the cornerback position, Wreh-Wilson looks the part at 6 feet 1 and 192 pounds with 32.5″ arms, but his lack of speed has showed up on several occasions during practice this week. He has lined up in both press and off-coverage, but struggles in his transition to quickly flip his hips and blanket his man downfield. Not every cornerback can play man coverage and I’m not sure I would trust Wreh-Wilson outside of zone coverage. – Dane Brugler, NFLDraftScout.com

http://www.detroitlionsdraft.com/2013/01/senior-bowl-notebook-north-squad-day-one/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Blidi Wreh-Wilson of UConn is a corner that I like more than most heading here, and he solidified that today on the field. He was very tough in jam, not letting Mellette get three yards up the field and showing good quick footwork to mirror the receiver when he danced at the line. He also got a pick on Dysert with a great jam on Wheaton on an out where Dysert never should have thrown it. One negative was that he was very easily blocked against the run, the one thing that Marshall WR Aaron Dobson did well today. Scratch that, I also found in my Dobson notes “made a very sharp corner break”.

 

Gratz

Gratz

Gratz is a little different. He’s strong and well built, and I always thought suited for safety like a Tyvon Branch. But, as a corner he’s a physical player who is terrific in run support and a ball-hawk. He doesn’t have Wreh-Wilson’s speed or fluid athleticism, but he is good in coverage, smart and can tackle really well. I like Gratz as a safety, and he is good in run support and is a physical defender. A thing to consider about Gratz and Wreh-Wilson is they have experience playing a lot of man. That builds toughness and character and a lot of times they were on that “island” when UConn brought pressure. Certainly, both got beat and that’s what happens. What is impressive is how they kept coming. I think he sneaks into the draft, and maybe with what he does is a mid-round guy now down there. I think there is a place for him in the NFL.

Here’s what is being said about Gratz:

Dwyane Gratz, CB, Connecticut - Able to maintain leverage and position throughout the route with his plus length, Gratz turned manhandled opposing receivers off the line in drills. In 11-on-11′s, Gratz made an excellent play in cover 2-press by forcing an outside release, passing off the vertical stem of the outside receiver and turning inside to locate an incoming target for a pass deflection. Again, great length and physicality from a prototype cover 2 corner.” – Eric Galko, Optimum Scouting

Then there is Moore, a player I figure will be a a special teams guy at worst. Moore is 6-3, 240-pounds and is fast with big-time upper body strength. The key for Moore is his versatility. He showed he can rush the passer, and played even a little defensive end at the end of the year, and

also showed he could play in coverage as he often matched up with the slot receiver and tight end in Don Brown’s attack defense. He’s also a productive tackler and playmaker. Moore’s greatest asset is energy. He never stops going on the field and doesn’t get tired. He’s not afraid to play with energy and abandon and if you aren’t a starter in the NFL, being positive and full of energy is exactly a kind of player that makes a roster. He’s a good player.

Here’s a bit on Moore:

Connecticut LB SIO MOORE, a late injury replacement to the roster, played energetically as a strong-side linebacker and defensive end. Moore was especially strong against the run, where he forced runners to bounce outside and away from their hole after closing from the flank.

Moore

Moore

One word on Williams. His move to LB is simple, at his size he can’t play defensive end in the NFL. He is going to have to show a lot in terms of footwork and defensive reaction. But, he’s a sack-master, and he has blazing speed even for a linebacker. Those types of guys, even in limited fashion, find ways onto NFL rosters.  If you want to do one thing well as a football player, sacking the quarterback is that skill set.  That talent covers up all kinds of warts. Lastly, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Some NFL types can look at the same player and come away with vastly different opinions (Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning for some?).  But, the key is getting a chance to show off, and UConn’s quartet has sure done that.