Saturday, June 07, 2014

UConn ready to hit ground running without McCombs

Max DeLorenzo is UConn's most experienced tailback following
departure of Lyle McCombs, the team's top rusher last season
Plenty of people have weighed on how the UConn running game is going to look following the dismissal of Lyle McCombs, I figured it was my turn to join the party.

McCombs was UConn's leading rusher in each of the last three seasons  and considering that other than Max DeLorenzo, the other players vying for playing time at tailback will have a combined total of seven career carries, a lack of experience is certainly an issue. For an untested running back the biggest potential pitfall tends to be pass blocking which was an underrated part of McCombs' game.

First, for the sake of full disclosure I never fully understood why he was UConn's featured back. I was not covering the team during his best season but in the last two seasons I was not overly impressed with what I saw from McCombs. He simply wasn't big enough to move the pile and he didn't show enough escapability for a back of his size to be productive. He did display the ability to make things happen if he got into the secondary but that didn't happen very often. Still, on the team lacking experienced playmakers McCombs played a heck of a lot of football and only three UConn running backs ever ran for more yards than he did so I won't attempt to trivialize what his absence could mean.

At the practices I witnessed during spring camp McCombs was running with the first-team offense and he had more carries than any other player at UConn's spring game so obviously he was figuring into Bob Diaco's plans at that point.

Now the question is who emerges as the featured back?

DeLorenzo is the returnee with the most experience and he had his moments during the 2013 season although his 3.5 yard per carry average was the lowest among UConn running backs with at least 10 carries. DeLorenzo did have the longest run in the spring game with a 16-yard scamper. Josh Marriner came to UConn with plenty of hype so after redshirting as a true freshman, perhaps he could factor into the equation as well. Marriner and DeLorenzo had the Huskies' rushing touchdowns in the spring game. Clax also received some carries during the spring game. Both Clax and fellow fullback Matt Walsh have the ability to be short-yardage backs if asked to do so. Then there are the three incoming freshman running backs. Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome, who rewrote the Connecticut high school record book comes in with the most buzz while Ron Johnson and Brice McAlister were extremely productive high school backs.

History has shown that running backs can make an impact at the collegiate level as quickly as any other player. While Arkansas' Alex Collins was the only FBS freshman to run for 1,000 yards during the 2013 season, nine of the top 100 rushers were either true or redshrt freshmen. It won't be a surprise to see one of the true freshmen utilized in the upcoming season. Of course with all the attention given to McCombs and the running back situation, it will still come down to how well UConn's offensive line can perform.

When I spoke to Diaco about the tailback position moving forward, he didn't seem overly concerned.

"We've got six scholarship players at the position that all have aptitude, three older players and three brand new guys coming in," Diaco said. "The tailback issue is not going to have an issue functioning."

When I sat down with Diaco last week I asked him which players are stepping up in the leadership department which is something that could be of even larger importance now that McCombs is no longer a member of the team.

"Alex (Mateas), Geremy Davis, Deshon Foxx, the quarterbacks are doing a good job collectively. Byron Jones, Andrew Adams, Angelo Pruitt, Julian Campenni those guys," Diaco said.

While time will tell who emerges as the top rushing threat on the 2014 UConn team, the one certainty is that things will look different on offense for UConn without McCombs lining up at tailback.

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