Monday, January 27, 2014

Once again plenty of questions surround UConn's offensive line

Center Alex Mateas is the most experienced of UConn's returning linemen
There were plenty of question marks with the UConn offensive line even before the news broke that Xavier Hemingway, who was expected to compete for a starting offensive tackle spot, was not enrolled at UConn for the spring semester and no longer with the team.

With Hemingway gone, the status of Gus Cruz up in the air and four starters having graduated, there's no question that offensive line coach Mike Foley and head coach Bob Diaco will have their hands full in putting together the offensive line for the 2014 season.

Center Alex Mateas is probably the lone sure thing right now although Dalton Gifford showed tremendous growth as he started the final four games of the season at right tackle in place of Friend.

Guards Tyler Samra (who started against Cincinnati) and Kyle Schafenacker, who redshirted as a true freshman, came to UConn as highly-touted recruits from national powerhouse programs. If they are as good as advertised, the interior of the offensive line should be in good shape. Tackles Richard Levy and Paul Nwokeji, guard Zach Rugg and center Bryan Paull were all in the rotation a season ago. If Cruz gets a clean bill of health and that's a big if due to his season being shut down due to cardiac issues, he could always be bumped outside to tackle. Kyle Bockeloh could be another name to look at in the interior of the line while Tommy Hopkins is a tackle prospect who redshirted as a true freshman. Another option I would have to think the coaches should at least consider is moving defensive lineman Andreas Knappe to the other side of the ball. He certainly fits the size requirements as he was listed at 6-foot-9, 296 pounds as a redshirt freshman.

Diaco has made the offensive line a major priority in recruiting with a commitment from St. Joseph All-Stater Steve Hashemi and offensive tackle recruits Derek Allen and Trey Ratliff visiting last week. Still, expecting a true freshman to come in and start at offensive tackle might be asking a little bit too much.

I addressed the offensive line position with Foley when we met with the UConn assistant coaches earlier this month and here's what he had to say.

"With Kevin getting hurt Dalton got to play a lot," Foley said. "Dalton towards the end of the year played a lot and did a nice job, Alex Mateas I thought really developed as the year went on and really improved over the year before so you have those two guys and there are some good young players. I think the spring will be important for them and next fall in camp but that is college football, that is the way it is and the next guy has to step up and we have to get them ready to do the things we are going to ask them to do.

"There is definitely talent there and it is a matter of getting some experience. One of the things we tried to do and I went back with the offensive line and that was to make sure that during the individual work that they got a lot of work also, not just the starters but everybody right down to the last guy was getting work so I could evaluate them as players to see what they had and try to develop them. What we did in the two-deep is we rotated because we knew we were going to redshirt some guys so a guy like Kyle Schafenacker had been up and I watched him for a couple of weeks, then we put him down and brought about freshman up to look at them. It had nothing to do with Kyle as a player, I liked him, he was a good player and he is going to be a good player but it more so that I could get a look at somebody else up so I could get a look at somebody else. I think there is some talent there and it has to be developed. With O-linemen, very rarely are any of them ready as true freshmen sometimes even as a redshirt freshman it takes a couple of years in the weight room to develop and that is what we are doing."

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