Friday, August 01, 2014

Quarterbacks on center stage as UConn prepares to open camp

Bob Diaco, with Tim Boyle during the spting game, said
ball security is a top priority for UConn's quarterbacks
Like it or not, the quarterback position is treated just a little bit differently by the media.

When you look at the 2014 UConn team, especially the offensive group, the quarterback position might be the spot where the Huskies are in the best shape as Chandler Whitmer, Tim Boyle and Casey Cochran return after each starting four games last season. The trio combined to throw for 2,810 yards, the highest total for a UConn team since 2009 and 10th highest mark in program history.

There are significantly more questions surrounding the offensive line and tailback positions with inexperienced and untested players being thrust into key roles as well as curiosity surrounding how much of an impact the young receivers and tight ends are going to have this season. Still, as UConn prepares to open preseason camp tomorrow, all eyes - at least outside of the program - will be on the quarterback position.

UConn coach Bob Diaco said that previous performance is irrelevant (the efforts during spring practice under the watch of his staff notwithstanding) and the starting quarterback will be determined by what transpires in the next couple of weeks. He was also quick to shoot down the notion that Cochran, who led the Huskies to all three of its wins a season ago, and Whitmer, who quarterbacked UConn to five wins during the 2012 season, are ahead of Boyle in the quarterback derby.

"I would say that it is not accurate in that we are going to have an open competition for the next two weeks," Diaco said.

He also said he intends to use more than one quarterback during games which is sort of curious since all three have similar skill sets. None of the three will be playing their way onto the field as a result of their running ability so I don't really get the purpose of using more than one quarterback but then again, my opinion doesn't really matter in the process of determining the quarterback pecking order.

What does matter to Diaco is ball security.

A season ago UConn opponents scored 39 offensive touchdowns and exactly 1/3 of those drives began in UConn territory. One of the most frightening statistics associated with the 2013 Huskies is that opponents started 25 drives in UConn territory including seven in the red zone while UConn was given that glorious field position just 12 times inside the 50 and three times inside the 25. Those numbers do not even take into account the six non-offensive touchdowns scored by UConn opponents last season.

"If they don't take care of the ball they are not going to play," Diaco said. "(If they turn it over) in practice, you are not going to see them in the games. If they do it in the game, they are coming out, they are not going back in. You can't turn the football over. I'll hand it to the back 55 times, I am serious and then we will have a chance. If you turn the football over, you have no chance."

Cochran had the highest passing rating (141.7), completion percentage (63.4) and touchdown/interception ratio (11/4) of the trio so heading into camp I would consider him the favorite to earn the starting nod but as Diaco said, nothing is predetermined. In my opinion, however, I would think the odds are stacked against Whitmer. Considering that Boyle and Cochran both have three seasons of eligibility and Whitmer is a senior, I would think that Whitmer would have to be head and shoulders ahead of his competition to earn the starting gig since it would make more sense for the staff to work on developing Boyle and Cochran and there is no better way of doing that than seeing what they can do in game situations. Also, if Cochran is the No. 1 guy, I would be in favor of trying to use this season to redshirt Boyle. UConn burned Boyle's redshirt a season ago somewhat foolishly. When they made the switch from Whitmer to Boyle heading into South Florida game it was known that games against the best three teams in the league (Central Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville) were coming up in rabid succession. They pretty much threw Boyle into the deep end with a month of preseason camp experience and another month of practice work in the regular season under his belt. If they were going to make a move, they could have gone to Cochran then and protected Boyle's redshirt status.

Finally, since we will only be privy to the first 20 minutes of the practices that the media is allowed to attend, we likely will see little if any of the progress the three quarterbacks are making when they lead to first-team offense against the No. 1 defense in 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 situations. What I do know is that Diaco plans on naming a starting quarterback in two weeks when the Huskies break camp.

Stay tuned.

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