Watching UConn football's offense the past few years has been an exercise in torture. With talent deficiencies at the two most important positions—quarterback and offensive line—the offense has relied heavily on some talented skill position players who performed quite admirably under the circumstances.
This year, the running backs will be shouldering the load, as one would expect from an offense molded after a Stanford or Alabama, as Bob Diaco has stated. The diverse skillset of the various members of the backfield should play well if the O-line can hold up.
But at wide receiver, UConn is looking for someone to step up.
Leading receiver Geremy Davis has graduated, and is now with the New York Giants after being picked in the sixth round of this year's NFL Draft. He managed 521 yards on 44 receptions last season, and he earned every single inch of it.
Last year's second-leading receiver Deshonn Foxx (384 receiving yards, 203 rushing yards, 2 total TDs) has also graduated. After going undrafted, Foxx is currently in camp with the Seattle Seahawks, having recently been signed to the 90-man roster.
That leaves junior Noel Thomas as the leading returning receiver, coming off a 26-reception, 305-yard campaign in 2015. That qualifies as a breakout sophomore season for the Connecticut product from St. Lukes in New Canaan.
Thomas came on strong at the end of the season. His best stretch came against top competition in close games where UConn needed every point—ECU, UCF, and Army—totaling 192 yards and four touchdowns in three games. The Huskies should be able to count on Noel Thomas to produce this year.
After that, the field is wide open, especially with the departure of Sean McQuillan from the team following assault charges. He was the fourth-leading receiver last year with 158 yards. Sophomores Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers will be expected to fill his shoes.
Someone will need to break out from the rest of the wide receiver crop, which consists of Thomas Lucas, Dhameer Bradley, and Brian Lemelle.
Lucas is a converted safety who grabbed nine receptions for 122 yards across 11 appearances. Bradley and Lemelle are former 3-star recruits from the Class of 2013 who took a step back after productive freshmen seasons, especially Lemelle, who only recorded five receptions for 24 yards. Bob Diaco spoke highly of Lemelle's improvement following the spring practices and Blue-White game.
Though there is some talent ahead of them, the opportunity exists for a couple of true freshmen who were among the highest rated UConn recruits in the Class of 2015 to contribute early.
The Huskies brought in two receivers over 6-foot-5 in Miami's Frank Battle and Aaron McLean, from Massachusetts. Either of those guys can be an immediate factor in the red zone, a major area of weakness for the Huskies last year. No other wide receiver on the roster has the size to be that much of a mismatch when the ball is in the air.
Incidentally, two other incoming freshmen stand out due to their lack of size. In a recruiting class that averaged 6-foot-3, both Hergy Mayala and Tyraiq Beals must possess special talents to catch the eyes of a coaching staff so determined to bring in big players.
Mayala, at 6-foot-1, picked UConn over offers from Rutgers, Old Dominion, and Buffalo. He is rated as a 3-star recruit by 247Sports and offers a complete skillset - able to run a lot of different routes well and catch the ball in traffic. He also fought hard for yards after the catch. He was also a sound tackler, potentially capable of contributing on special teams.
According to Rivals, Beals is a 3-star recruit and the highest-rated player in the class. At 6-foot-0, the speedster has a knack for making big plays out of small windows on the field. He put up monster numbers as a senior at East Orange High in New Jersey.
All four of these freshmen definitely have their work cut out for them if they are going to get a chance to contribute this season. These are not just warm bodies in front of them. The upperclassmen have the benefit of experience and D-1 training over the newcomers on the team and were highly regarded recruits in their own right.
The important thing is that somebody breaks out. For UConn to be a better offense than last year, two of these breakout candidates need to post solid seasons and one of the younger tight ends needs to be a factor too. Finding out who will emerge among the pass-catchers will be an interesting battle to follow across the summer.