UConn set for spring game tonight
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 up-tempo, 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.