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UConn Football Positional Preview: Offensive and Defensive Line

Going through the starters and depth for the guys in the trenches.

Ian Bethune - The UConn Blog

UConn's offensive line has been arguably the biggest barrier to success on the football field. It made modest improvements from 2014 to 2015, but this year the expectation is that it performs much better in 2016.

Four of last year's five starters return from a year ago. This continuity and consistency should benefit them greatly, as many players have multiple years of experience under their belt.

The center position is arguably the most important position on the line for this reason, as he needs to be able to decipher the defense and make protection adjustments while being on the same page as his quarterback. The return of Ryan Crozier, who missed all of last year, at the pivot is huge for the Huskies. While Brandon Vechery played well in his absence, Crozier was one of UConn's top linemen two years ago and should be another leader on what is a very big and experienced unit.

The only youth on the roster will come from left tackle, where redshirt freshman Matthew Peart has won the starting job over incumbent Richard Levy. Peart is a giant at 6-foot-7, 304 pounds, but also has good athleticism for the position. He’s impressed in practice, and even Richard Levy has admitted that Peart is the better player. As a freshman, he will undoubtedly make mistakes and struggle at times. But as long as he can improve as the year goes on, and follow the lead of his experienced counterparts, the Huskies’ quarterback won’t have to resort to scrambling so often on passing plays.

Opposite Peart at the right tackle stands another massive human, Andreas Knappe, a 6-foot-8, 325-pound senior from Denmark. Knappe has been a starter for the past two seasons and was named a captain as a junior last year. His combination of size and athleticism has him very much on the radar as an NFL prospect.

The other starter from last year returning at the same position is left guard Tommy Hopkins. A redshirt junior, Hopkins is one of the most experienced players along the line, having played 25 games so far in his career. This experience will be very beneficial to have next to Peart.

At right guard, the battle is between two former starters in Brandon Vechery and Richard Levy has concluded with Levy in the starting role. Levy has been the starting left tackle for the past two seasons.

For the first time in a while, it feels like the Huskies are at least solid in every position and in some places quite good. There’s nobody that really causes much worry, although a freshman at left tackle is definitely worth monitoring. The Huskies have solid depth as well behind the starters in Vechery, Trey Rutherford, Steve Hashemi, and Daniel Oak, who have all chipped in and done well in spot duty.

If the line can perform, it allows the rest of the offense to take a step forward. The talent at the skill positions is there for the Huskies, but the offensive line has often been a hindrance in allowing those players to get the ball in space. If Arkeel Newsome has more holes to run through and Noel Thomas has more time to run routes, the offense will be able to perform at a much higher level than we have seen recently.

On the flip side, the defensive front has been one of the strongest positions for the Huskies for years now, and this season is no different. Arguably the deepest and most talented position group on the roster and will anchor a defense that should be among the best in the conference.

Despite losing starters Julian Campenni and Kenton Adeyemi, the D-line is not expeced to drop off. Adeyemi's replacement, Cole Ormsby, saw a decent number of snaps last year and drew praise from Bob Diaco before going down with a season-ending injury against Cincinnati in October. Mikal Myers, filling in for Campenni at nose tackle, started two games last year and performed well in a rotational role.

Starting next to Myers will be Foley Fatukasi who, despite only being a junior, is one of the most experienced members of the line with 24 games played over the last two seasons, making over 51 solo tackles, seven sacks and four forced fumbles in that time, Fatukasi has been the most productive player on the line, but will have competition this year.

Luke Carrezola is one of the most versatile weapons in Bob Diaco's arsenal. Carrezola was listed as a tight end coming out of high school but has been an edge defender since he came to Storrs. His combination of athleticism and strength allow him to play either defensive end or outside linebacker in the Huskies system. He started 12 games last year, leading the team with 11.5 tackles for loss, and was second on the team with six sacks, including two against Houston.

On the two-deep depth chart, Sheridan Lawley and Cameron Stapleton are listed as backups at defensive end while Sean Marinan and redshirt freshman Kevin Murphy are behind Fatukasi and Myers, respectively. With a good amount of experience returning, the defensive line should improve this season.

As the saying goes, games are won and lost in the trenches. This year UConn could be successful on both sides of the ball.