An unlikely, but necessary, change at head coach occurred and since then excitement has actually built up to a dull roar—a pretty impressive accomplishment for Athletic Director David Benedict given how the 2016 season ended.
Randy Edsall’s hire on its own did not inspire tons of hope, but Edsall gained some valuable experience in his time away from Storrs and it showed with his coordinator hires. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and defensive coordinator Billy Crocker bring aggressive, modern styles which will attract recruits and fans alike.
This ain’t your older brother’s Randy Edsall era.
The first practices of the second Edsall era began on March 21st, and after Friday night the team will be off until summer camp when the Huskies welcome their 2017 freshmen and transfers, of which there may be a few more in the pipeline.
We never want to read too much into the goings of the Spring Game, but there are a few interesting items to keep an eye on heading into the Friday Night Lights (TM) at the Rent.
Wide Receiver Competition
Noel Thomas caught 100 balls in his senior season. In the historically anemic UConn offense of 2016, that feat deserves a medal or some form of international recognition. For the 2017 Huskies, it means a lot of touches are up for grabs.
In addition to the focal point of the receiving corps graduating—probably to play on Sundays—the Husky receivers competing for playing time will have a lot more opportunities in Lashlee’s offense than they would with the career O-line coach who was inexplicably calling plays the past two years.
Hergy Mayala is the leader to step into the top job. The former Trinity-Pawling (NY) postgrad by way of Montreal, QC didn’t redshirt after signing with the Huskies in 2015 and showed promise as a sophomore despite dealing with injuries, catching 23 passes for 296 yards.
Fellow junior Tyraiq Beals was also a 2015 recruit who got onto the field as a freshman, catching 24 balls for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He couldn’t match that production as a sophomore, but the new offense should be able to find ways to maximize his dynamic talents in the slot.
Class of 2016 recruits Quayvon Skanes and Keyion Dixon have a chance to break out. Both were incredible high school athletes who played quarterback for their teams as seniors and had impressed in practice despite redshirting last year.
Other candidates for playing time include 6-foot-5 junior Aaron McClean and former walk-on Bryan Coney, a Naugatuck native who earned a scholarship before last season.
Billy Crocker’s attacking 3-3-5 defense probably won’t be unleashed in its fullest, most developed form, but we will be getting our first look at it Friday. Crocker has some interesting pieces to work with, including linebackers Cam Stapleton, Junior Joseph, and Vontae Diggs, as well as linemen Foley Fatukasi, Cole Ormsby, and Luke Carrezola. This group could be effective immediately in year one.
Former walk-on Brandon Bisack has been taking first-team reps at quarterback lately, which does not bode well for Bryant Shirreffs’ chances of holding on to the starting job once junior college transfer David Pindell and two freshmen competitors arrive.
It’ll be interesting to see what we get from Donovan Williams, the 2016 recruit whose redshirt was burned last year but could be saved this season, probably for the best. He could eventually end up being a starter but simply wasn’t in any sort of position to succeed after being thrown into the fire last year as a true freshman.
Bisack could be leading the first string offense Friday night. I’m going to venture a guess that won’t be the case when the 2017 season kicks off on August 31 against Holy Cross.
The Huskies lose Jhavon Williams and future early-round draft pick Obi Melifonwu to graduation after a year where the safety position was in flux all season. We could be seeing a lot of new faces in the secondary.
Returning starter Jamar Summers and former Vanderbilt transfer Tre’ Bell are locked in at the starting corner positions while depth behind them appears solid, including freshman Omar Fortt, who has been receiving rave reviews from coaches and players alike.
At safety, just about any name on the roster under defensive back could be a viable candidate for either starting position. That camp competition is wiiiiide open.
The Offensive Line
The evergreen problem, UConn’s offensive line hasn’t been good since Edsall left. For the most part, it has been atrocious.
That said, Trey Rutherford, Ryan Crozier, Brendan Vechery, Tommy Hopkins, and Matthew Peart have been playing together for a while now. Depth guys Steve Hashemi, Kyle Shafenacker, and Daniel Oak have seen time as well.
Last year, we saw the offensive line struggle against the second string defense and it turned out to be an accurate preview of the line’s play in 2016. Hopefully, an improved group emerges this year.