Sunday, April 12, 2015

Youth is being served on UConn's offensive line

As Ryan Crozier and Tommy Hopkins walked off the field in early December following the completion of rather eventful freshmen season, the two promising offensive linemen had no idea what the future had in store for them.

It is a safe assumption that Crozier, who had never played a snap at center, did not envision himself as the starting center throughout spring camp. Perhaps almost as surprising was that Hopkins, who saw time mostly as a reserve offensive tackle during his redshirt freshman season, would end the final week of spring camp as the starting left guard.

When the final statistics were handed out in the Blue team's 13-3 win over the White in the annual spring fame, there were no grades listed for the offensive linemen but the progress reports for the two youngest members of the starting offensive line have been pretty good.

"The offensive line is doing well," junior quarterback Tim Boyle said. "They have come a long way in a year. Crozier moving from guard to center, he is doing a great job. both of our tackles (Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe) are juniors right now and they are going to add a lot of experience and then Tommy Hopkins, first year starter and Tommy is one of those kids who is quiet, he wont say a word to you but once he gets on the field he will get after it and he does everything the right way."

Crozier started the final three games at left guard. The feeling was that redshirt freshman Daniel Oak and junior Kyle Bockeloh would fight it out for the job of replacing graduated three-year starter Alex Mateas at center. However, when the team headed into winter workouts Crozier was given an additional assignment.

"All the practice I put in during winter workouts I got ready to (play center) and I just kept working during the spring and I gradually progressed," Crozier said. "I just studied the playbook, learned all the plays quicker than the other guys so I knew all the calls."

So what was the greatest challenge in moving from guard to center?

"Just the snaps, knowing that I have to get the ball back and they rely on that so just take care of that first and get to your blocking assignment," Crozier said. "Secondly, the calls knowing who the Mike (middle linebacker) is, what the front is."

While Crozier's first time at center came during spring camp, Hopkins spent time working at both guard and tackle in previous spring and preseason camps.

"Last year I played some guard for a couple of weeks and as a true freshman I actually played some guard at camp so I kind o of knew what to expect," Hopkins said. "Obviously I have to make some adjustments and have to work on my craft to keep getting better and it wasn't that bad of a switch over.

"I just focused on improving and watching film and said I was going to be better day by day, I tried to fix some things I need to fix. I was focused on myself and when they moved me over there, I knew I had an opportunity so I focused on doing the best I could."

Sophomore Trey Rutherford began spring camp as the starting left guard but late in camp Hopkins moved into a starting role.

"I will play wherever the team needs me but obviously guard/tackle are a little different," Hopkins said. "I have to pull more and there is not as much space but wherever you play, you just have to play tough and do the best you can."

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