Monday, March 07, 2016

Look ahead to start of UConn's spring practice

Spring practice kicks off on Wednesday morning and I thought it was the perfect time to throw out there some of the storylines that I am most interested in

Replacing Adams: UConn played six safeties a season ago and four of them are gone including former captain Andrew Adams and his top backup Junior Lee. Obi Melifonwu should be one of the best safeties in the American Athletic Conference but who will be playing beside him? Anthony Watkins is the only returning player other than Melifonwu to see snaps at safety, Brice McAllister was moved from cornerback to safety as has redshirt freshman Aaron Garland while Marshe' Terry also figures to compete for time. It also bears watching to see if former Valley Regional star Chris Jean-Pierre can work his way into the equation.

Transfers become eligible: Last year linebacker E.J. Levenberry and tight end Billy Williams were limited to playing on UConn's "look" team after transferring in from Florida State and Northern Iowa respectively. Levenberry played 26 games at Florida State and recorded 60 tackles, two tackles for loss and returned an interception 78 yards for a touchdown. He certainly looks the part and with the graduation of starting linebackers Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann, there is an opportunity for him to step in and make an impact. Williams was named the team's Look Team Player of the Year and he was coached by UConn offensive coordinator Frank Verducci at Northern Iowa so there is already a sense of familiarity there.

Return of Crozier: It is not a reach to suggest that in the final few games of the 2014 season that true freshman Ryan Crozier was the Huskies' most effective offensive lineman. An injury caused Crozier to miss the entire 2015 season but he is back and should add some punch to the interior of the offensive line. It will be interesting to see where Crozier fits in. He had moved from guard to center but in his place Brendan Vechery played pretty well and Tommy Hopkins had a solid year as a first-year starter at guard. With Trey Rutherford coming hard and Crozier returning, there will be some decisions to be made.

Redshirts ready to roll: Other than the one drill when the players not on UConn's two-deep chart had a spirited scrimmage during one of the final practices before the Huskies left to play in the St. Petersburg Bowl, it was hard to get a read on how good the players who were redshirting were going to be. That will no longer be the case. Terry and Garland have already been mentioned as a potential starting safety candidates. I am also anxious to see how offensive lineman Matt Peart and defensive lineman David Ryslik fare. It was hard not to notice how quickly the two true freshmen moved up as both spent a good part of fall camp working with the second team. Ryslik is not the only redshirt freshman with a chance to become a part of the two-deep chart on the defensive line as Philippe Okounam, Kevin Murphy and Trey Blackwell are weight at least 285 pounds and will have the chance to show what they can do. Linebackers William Richardson, Nazir Williams and Connor Freeborn came into UConn with a certain amount of hype and after spending a year getting used to the speed of the college game as well as bulking up in UConn's sports performance program, I'd say at least one of them will end up in the two-deep chart for the season opener. Tyler Davis can use spring practice to make a push for the No. 2 quarterback spot, cornerback John Robinson, receivers Frank Battle and Bryan Coney and offensive linemen Bryan Cespedes and Ian Campbell as well as h-back/tight end Zordan Holman are players keeping an eye on although Holman was a bit hobbled the last time I saw him so we'll see if he is limited during spring drills.

F position set to make the grade: A year ago the Huskies seemed to be a bit handicapped offensively because of the lack of the player they were looking for to play the hybrid h-back/fullback position. They tried tailbacks, offensive linemen and even quarterback Garrett Anderson there. However, with Williams and Holman listed as "F" position players and listed at 245 and 250 pounds, they have a chance to play the position the way it was designed by the offensive staff. My hunch is that Williams will be good enough to enable Tommy Myers (another player who could be slowed physically at the beginning of spring camp) to focus more on his tight end position rather than be asked to fill multiple roles. More options at the F position will be arriving in the summer and fall so spring practice is a perfect time for Williams and Holman to showcase their talents.


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