Sunday, March 09, 2014

5 keys heading into spring practice

With spring practice starting tomorrow, I figured it was the perfect time to look ahead to what the Huskies need to address over the 15 practices they are going to hold between tomorrow and the April 12 spring game.

The return of Gus Cruz, who started 10 games in last two
seasons is a major bonus for a young offensive line
OFFENSIVE LINE OVERHAUL: It seems as if the offensive line has been the top question mark heading into each of the previous two spring practices and this year is no different. UConn graduated four starters (guards Steve Greene and Tyler Bullock, tackles Jimmy Bennett and Kevin Friend) and lost another potential starter when tackle Xavier Hemingway withdrew from school after being charged with larceny. The line received a major boost when guard Gus Cruz was able to return to the field after he missed the final seven games of the 2013 season due to cardiac issues. Along with center Alex Mateas, he is one of UConn's most experienced offensive linemen. It will be interesting to see how some of the untested players develop during camp and I am especially curious who emerges as the starting tackles.
Quarterback Casey Cochran and offensive tackle Dalton Gifford
are among the returning offensive starters back for UConn
QUARTERBACK DERBY: Other than Scott McCummings, who has been primarily a quarterback in the wildcat formation, all the other QBs with eligibility returned despite rumblings that former starters Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle may consider looking elsewhere. Casey Cochran started the final four games of the season and led UConn to its only three wins but with a new head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach there's no way of telling which of the four quarterbacks (including freshman Kivon Taylor) will emerge as the starter.
DEFENSIVE ENDS ON THE MOVE: While UConn is expected to use both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes, most of the undersized defensive ends from last year's squad are now listed as linebackers led by Reuben Frank. After redshirting as true freshman, the trio of Cole Ormsby, Cameron Stapleton and Jalen Stevens have a chance to push for playing time as linebackers after getting practice reps as defensive ends during their redshirt seasons.
GETTING THEIR KICKS: UConn lost both its top kicker and punter to graduation. Bobby Puyol was pressed into duty as a kicker in the 2012 season finale after Chad Christen was injured so he is a little more of a known commodity. Justin Wain should enter spring camp as the No. 1 punter.
Angelo Pruitt and Jefferson Ashiru are among the top returnees
on the defensive side of the ball for UConn
DEFENSIVE LEADERS NEED TO EMERGE: UConn knew it was losing leading tackler Yawin Smallwood and team MVP Shamar Stephen off its defense and now the Huskies will be without its safety with the best coverage skills as a neck injury forced Ty-Meer Brown to retire. Cornerback Byron Jones and defensive linemen Angelo Pruitt figure to provide some of the defensive leadership, many of the top returning playmakers on defense are underclassmen so it bears watching who takes command of things on the field.


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