UConn set for spring game tonight

Ed­sall wants to get more play­mak­ers in­volved in at­tack

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jim Fuller jfuller@nhreg­is­ter.com @NHRJimFuller on Twit­ter

STORRS » It’s hard to pre­dict what is go­ing to tran­spire in Randy Ed­sall’s sec­ond stint at the helm of the UConn foot­ball pro­gram, but it seems safe to as­sume that Noel Thomas’ pro­gram record 100 catches is go­ing to be safe for a while.

Ed­sall watched the tape of the of­fen­sively-chal­lenged UConn 2016 team. As im­pres­sive as it was see­ing Thomas come up with catch af­ter catch dur­ing his se­nior sea­son, Ed­sall was not en­am­ored with just how much the Huskies re­lied on the sure-handed re­ceiver.

Thomas had at least twice as many tar­gets as the next clos­est Husky in eight of the 12 games. Unof­fi­cially, Thomas was tar­geted 162 times while all the re­turn­ing re­ceivers, tight ends and run­ning backs com­bined for 11 fewer tar­gets.

Hav­ing an of­fense where more pass catch­ers are fea­tured is one of Ed­sall’s pri­or­i­ties.

“We don’t want to just have one guy that is a go-to guy,” Ed­sall said. “We can be bet­ter if we have three or four guys in there who we know we can throw the ball to and have the abil­ity, you can throw the tight ends in there too to catch it and make plays, make yards af­ter the catch.”

Hergy May­ala, Tyraiq Beals and Aaron McLean com­bined for a to­tal of 32 catches a sea­son ago. That num­ber fig­ures to in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing their ju­nior sea­sons. UConn fans will get to see how the trio is em­brac­ing ex­panded roles at Friday’s 7 p.m. spring game at Rentschler Field.

Keyion Dixon and Quayvon Skanes, who both red­shirted dur­ing the 2016 sea­son, have seen more snaps with the first-team of­fense as spring prac­tice has moved on to

give new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rhett Lash­lee other op­tions at re­ceiver while for­mer quar­ter­back and tight end Tyler Davis was re­cently moved to re­ceiver.

“They have come up big,” May­ala said of Dixon and Skanes. “This spring has been big for them, they are im­prov­ing. They were red­shirted last year and they are ready to go. I just tell them play your game, the game is fun and if you make a mis­take, you have to go full speed.”

Mov­ing from a plod­ding, let’s not snap the ball un­til the play clock in un­der 10 sec­onds phi­los­o­phy dur­ing Bob Di­aco’s ten­ure with the Huskies to Lash­lee’s up­tempo, no-hud­dle of­fense has re­quired some adjustments for the of­fen­sive play­mak­ers.

“The first cou­ple of prac­tices we got a lot in­stalled but af­ter prac­tice three, ev­ery­body was re­ally in tune and ready to go,” May­ala said.

One of the most sur­pris­ing as­pects of spring drills has been quar­ter­back Bran­don Bi­sack see­ing time with the first team ahead of for­mer starter Bryant Shirreffs. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if Bi­sack or Shirreffs gets to work with the start­ing of­fense dur­ing the spring game.

“We have a good com­pe­ti­tion at quar­ter­back,” May­ala said. “We have two good quar­ter­backs in Shirreffs and Bi­sack so it feels great to know that both groups are go­ing to get good work in.”

With ju­nior-col­lege trans­fer David Pin­dell as well as in­com­ing fresh­men Jor­dan McAfee and Marvin Washington set to join the team dur­ing sum­mer/fall camp and Dono­van Wil­liams, who started the fi­nal three games dur­ing the 2016 sea­son, ex­pected to be re­cov­ered from his re­cent knee surgery for sum­mer/fall camp, no de­ci­sions on the start­ing quar­ter­back will come af­ter spring camp ends on Friday. That could be said for pretty much ev­ery po­si­tion on the team.

“I am not go­ing to have a two-deep at the end of the spring,” Ed­sall said. “It will be an al­pha­bet­i­cal thing be­cause it doesn’t make any sense to put a two-deep out right now be­cause so much can hap­pen in the next three months and the month of Au­gust, we have all of these other guys who will be join­ing our team. The depth chart will mat­ter when we get into game week, right now it doesn’t mat­ter to me.”

Ed­sall said Friday night will have as much of a real game set­ting as pos­si­ble with the first team of­fense and de­fense go­ing head to head fol­lowed by the sec­ond team squads fac­ing off. Don’t ex­pect much in the way of spe­cial teams. If there is punting, it will fea­ture just the snap­per, punter and a re­turner to call fair catches.

Wil­liams, de­fen­sive end Luke Car­rezola as well as of­fen­sive line­men Ryan Crozier and Tommy Hopkins have missed some if not all of spring camp so don’t look for them to be out there. E.J. Leven­berry, a likely starter at line­backer, suf­fered a torn ACL putting his avail­abil­ity for the 2017 in se­ri­ous jeop­ardy.

Mostly it will be a chance for a UConn team com­ing off a 3-9 sea­son and which was outscored 130-16 in the fi­nal four games of the sea­son to give the fans some­thing to get ex­cited about.

“I am ex­cited to show the fans the new Huskies, a new UConn foot­ball which will be good,” tight end Tommy Myers said.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

UConn foot­ball coach Randy Ed­sall.

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