Bob Diaco may not know how it feels to run up the stairs leading from the Burton Family complex up to his team's practice fields yet, but we know how things will look like when he gets up there.
UConn released its first depth chart at Tuesday's AAC Media Day in Newport, R.I., a largely meaningless event unless you're into overboard commissioner bravado or listening to coaches shoot down their own preseason poll.
Or, depth charts.
Below is a full list of every current Husky starter on offense and defense with each of their respective back-ups posted behind them. These players will receive most of the practice reps in the coming weeks and are most likely to start against BYU in one month.
So, get to know these names, and check out the few thoughts I've shared on each unit below.
LT Richard Levy/Thomas Hopkins
LG Zach Rugg OR Gus Cruz
C Alex Mateas/Bryan Paull OR Kyle Bockeloh
RG Tyler Samra/Paull
RT Andreas Knappe OR Dalton Gifford
TE Sean McQuillan/Tommy Myers
FB Jazzmar Clax/Matt Walsh
RB Max DeLorenzo OR Josh Marriner
WR Geremy Davis/Thomas Lucas OR Noel Thomas
WR Deshon Foxx/Dhameer Bradley
QB Casey Cochran OR Chander Whitmer OR Tim Boyle
Understandably, most eyes are going to gravitate towards the bottom of this lineup to check on the quarterbacks, so I'll first share my belief that Casey Cochran will be your starter for most games in 2014. However, let's focus at the top, because if there's no cohesion among the first five names, it won't matter who's listed last. Cochran, Whitmer and Boyle are not good enough to regularly take a beating and carry a team, as very few people on the planet can.
Since I started breaking down UConn tape a few years ago, Alex Mateas, the only returning line starter from a year ago, has been a sore spot. Most of his troubles stemmed from a poor base, which often is a result of poor footwork and lack of lower body strength. Ideally, Mateas would be at both his best and strongest in his final season, but there was only minimal improvement from his 2012 to 2013 campaign.
The good news for him is that the members of Diaco's strength and nutrition staff seem to be performing better at their jobs than those from the Pasqualoni era ever did (see: use of blood panels and Casey Cochran dropping 30 pounds down to 217 ..... No typos there).
Now here's the bad news, as delivered by the headman himself.
"There are not a whole lot of dudes there that are going to be able to play competitive, winning football for 12 games this season," Diaco told the media Tuesday.
So, as for the new kids on the block, their development is going to take time. And no one, not even the coaches, knows how exactly they will perform. Odds are strong this group is going to struggle long into the season. Yet we'll simply have to wait and see with them as much as any unit on this team.
Back in December, I projected Richard Levy would start out at left tackle and Samra and Rugg should both be in the starting mix. They've been next in line for quite some time, performed decently at summer practice last year and have the required size.
Over at right tackle is the big surprise, where 6-foot-8 converted defensive end Andreas Knappe is apparently the heads to Dalton Gifford' tails, for Diaco's chart shares their camp battle is currently a coin flip. Knappe does possess the physical tools, but if the young Dane is your opening day starter, it bodes poorly not only for the line, but even more so for Gifford and any hope he has of starting down the road.
Behind the line and signal callers are a group of backs sporting one familiar name and another that faded after summer practices last year. Max DeLorenzo brings a steady, physical approach that always seems to gain a few yards at a time and consequently the trust of his coaches. Marriner boasts more speed, though he has not been exposed to the kind of pounding a full season brings, which DeLorenzo has already successfully survived. He's also slated as a starting kick returner.
Freshman and Connecticut native Arkeel Newsome could indeed be in the mix for carries, but until we hear otherwise, let's strictly focus on the depth chart.
Finally, this year's collection of Husky pass catchers is the most talented part of this team. Geremy Davis is already on the receiving end of NFL Draft projections and will have to post another monster season for UConn to show marked improvement from 2013. Even with the question marks at quarterback and offensive line, there is hope for Davis exceeding 1,000 yards once again because he'll have greater help on the outside.
Deshon Foxx enters his senior campaign entrenched as the starter opposite Davis for the first time in his career. Behind him are a bevy of second-year targets, including Dhameer Bradley, who I believe has a very real chance to break out this season. And don't forget about Noel Thomas or Sean McQuillan, a viable receiving option as the team's starting tight end.
DE Angelo Pruitt/Kenton Adeymemi
DT B.J. McBryde/Folorunso Fatukasi
NG Julian Campenni/Mikal Myers
DE Reuben Frank/Cole Ormsby
LB Graham Stewart/Cameron Stapleton
LB Jefferson Ashiru/Omaine Stephens
LB Marquise Vann/Jon Hicks
CB Byron Jones/Javon Hadley
S Obi Melinfonwu/Ellis Marder
S Andrew Adams/Wilbert Lee
CB Jhavon Williams/Jamar Summers
Forgetting the clear drop-off in talent from UConn's starting line to its second-stringers, there's no wondering why zero camp battles are listed on this side of the ball. Diaco, a longtime defensive guru, knows what he wants, what he doesn't want and, most importantly, what he has.
The pieces for his two-gapping, 3-4 scheme aren't here yet. They're still on their way and won't be arriving in full for a couple of years. In the meantime, he's going to make due with a group that has already has experience switching from three and four-man lines, even though the gapping principles remained the same.
Up front, the Huskies are sorely going to miss the presence of defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, who went unheralded and underrated all last season, until he took home Team MVP and was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Stephen was a prototypical nose tackle at the collegiate level and will be replaced by a combination of Julian Campenni and B.J. McBryde. Campenni's placement as the team's nose guard is interesting, as McBryde's tape has shown he too eat up space, but is less of a pass rusher.
Campenni understands and exercises great leverage technique, however, and when it comes to the job requirements of a nose guard, that is No. 1 with a bullet.
On the outside, look for Frank to serve as the hybrid edge player who will switch between a standing outside linebacker in a 3-4 and a down-in-the-dirt defensive end as part of 4-3 packages. In either instance, the redshirt senior is going to be hunting for quarterbacks on almost every snap he takes. Opposite Frank is Angelo Pruitt, who can provide occasional burst, but may be pushed by the more athletic Adeyemi.
In the linebacking core, Jefferson Ashiru figures to assume a much larger role following the departure of middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood. While Ashiu didn't provide the same pop with his hits and primarily roamed the outside last season, he still boasts good versatility and range wherever he may line up. Overall, this group is a bit undersized, and it will be important to see which of the ‘backers is kicked inside during the Huskies' 3-4 sets.
Should UConn suffer an injury or two along the defensive line, opposing running backs will inevitably make their way to the next level more often, and the inside linebackers have be there to plug the holes. In passing situations, this younger group must also be on top of reading its play-action keys, an area that this unit struggled with over 2013. Opponents consistently threw with success into the vacant spaces behind Husky linebackers after they had bitten hard on run-fakes, and quarterbacks will continue to attack there this fall.
Vacancies project to be few and far between in the secondary, given the high praise Diaco has already bestowed upon senior cornerback Byron Jones and safety Obi Melifonwu. While I'm not ready to label either as surefire stars, the physical potential is undoubtedly there. Redshirt junior Andrew Adams and Jhavon Williams occupy the other starting spots at safety and corner, respectively, and both improved as last season progressed.
Adams' injury in summer practice hurt this secondary early in 2013 and opened the door for Wilbert Lee, who now returns as his back-up. Elsewhere, keep an eye on Florida native Ellis Marder. The redshirt sophomore impressed last summer and has the versatility to play both corner and safety.