2012 Connecticut Preview - Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Connecticut Husky Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The Huskies have looked everywhere for a capable starting quarterback in recent years. They just may have found one in Butler (Kans.) Community College transfer Chandler Whitmer. The 6-1, 191-pounder, who began his career at Illinois, has yet to get the official nod from head coach Paul Pasqualoni, but won the popular vote among fans in the spring. He’ll need to emerge from the sea of mediocrity behind center if Connecticut is going to reach the desired level of potency that has eluded it for years. Whoever gets the nod will spend a fair amount of time handing the ball to Lyle McCombs, the All-Big East back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his debut. The receivers figure to be a different story now that the Moores, Kashif and Isiah, have used up their eligibility. The Huskies could lean on transfers here as well. Former Boston College recruit Shakim Phillips took part in spring, impressing the staff with his size, speed and reliable hands. Clemson transfer Bryce McNeal arrives in the summer hoping to give the offense the big-play guy it’s currently missing. The rebuilt O-line was a mess in March and April, getting bullied all over the field. Connecticut has more questions than answers up front as it looks to replace to key all-stars, C Moe Petrus and LT Mike Ryan.
Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Lyle McCombs
Passing: Johnny McEntee
172-335, 2,110 yds, 12 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Lyle McCombs
275 carries, 1,151 yds, 7 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Griffin
33 catches, 499 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Chandler Whitmer
Unsung star on the rise:Sophomore WR Shakim Phillips
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Michael Smith
Top three all-star candidates:1) McCombs, 2) Senior TE Ryan Griffin, 3) Smith
Strength of the offense: Running back, tight end, potential at wide receiver
Weakness of the offense: Uncertainty at quarterback, passing game, big plays, the offensive line, converting on third downs, converting in the red zone
And then there were … five? The Huskies began spring drills with five contenders for the starting quarterback job, yet failed to get the separation that they sorely wanted. Five players will still be in the mix once practice resumes in August. The incumbent is 6-3, 208-pound senior Johnny McEntee, the former walk-on who started all 12 games in 2011. Like the rest of the offense, he lacked consistency, going 172-of-335 for 2,110 yards, a dozen touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s an accurate passer, with nice touch, but has just average arm strength, limited mobility and the overall skill set of a backup.
A couple of newcomers have entered the picture, eager to take advantage of an opportunity. No one has impressed more this offseason than 6-1, 191-pound sophomore Chandler Whitmer who comes by way of Butler Community (Kans.) College. Originally signed by Illinois, he moves well in the pocket, throws a catchable ball and appears to have a good feel for the offense.
True freshman Casey Cochranis a local three-star recruit and two-time state Player of the Year. While only 6-0 and 214 pounds, he gets enough zip on his passes, and can make things happen with his feet.
While 6-2, 224-pound sophomore Scott McCummings may not win the starting job, he’ll see the field more than the typical backup. Arguably the best athlete among the contending quarterbacks, he’ll continue to be used liberally in “wildcat” packages. Although he completed just 5-of-10 passes for 157 yards and two scores, he was most valuable running 74 times for 285 yards and five more touchdowns.
The longest of the longshots looks to be 6-1, 208-pound sophomore Michael Nebrich is . He did play some as a rookie, completing 5-of-14 attempts for 69 yards and a pick. However, he remains raw, especially compared to the competition, and is better served spending at least another year learning from the sidelines.
Watch Out For … Whitmer to pull away from McEntee in the summer. The transfer has a lot more learning to do in the summer, but already looks to be a more complete overall player than the incumbent. He was just beginning to heat up in April as spring drills ended, a harbinger of things to come.
Strength: Options. If nothing else, Connecticut is deeper and a year more experienced than it was a season ago. Whitmer and Cochran bring much-needed new blood to the equation, and McEntee, McCummings and Nebrich will benefit from last season’s snaps. Having McCummings as a secret weapon on the ground is the kind of wild card that this offense needs.
Weakness: Consistency through the air. The Huskies still aren’t sure if they’ve got a quality passer in the stable, especially after ranking among the feeblest passing attacks in the nation a year ago. Connecticut has a rough time stretching the field, and completed just 50% of its passes in 2011.
Outlook: When you have five quarterbacks, there’s a good chance you have none. That’s a reality the Huskies will look to dispel this summer as they resume their competition to anoint a starter. McEntee has the edge in experience, but Whitmer is coming on strong, and is liable to win the job in the summer. Connecticut will remain a run-first team, but really needs more pop in the passing game.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Sophomore Lyle McCombs was a revelation for Connecticut in 2011. This fall, he’ll be the focal point of the attack. He filled in admirably for Jordan Todman, running 275 times for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns. The Second Team All-Big East selection was also a valuable outlet in the passing game, catching 19 balls for 172 yards and a touchdown. Despite being only 5-8 and 166 pounds, he runs extremely hard, often taking much bigger tacklers for a ride en route to extra yards.
The Huskies are in dire need of a quality backup in order to relieve some of the pressure from McCombs, who may have been overworked last year. The top candidate for now appears to be 6-0, 214-pound junior Martin Hyppolite. He has played sparingly since arriving from Massachusetts, but hopes to bring a certain physicality and tough running style that this attack needs.
Running third on the depth chart at the conclusion of spring was 5-11, 213-pound redshirt freshman Max DeLorenzo. Like Hyppolite, he can move a pile between the tackles, but also has enough wiggle to make people miss. He played well enough in the spring to earn a couple of touches a game in the fall.
After earning a letter as a backup in 2011, sophomore Reuben Frank is set to become the team’s regular fullback. He’s a solid 6-3, 239-pounder, who showed off good hands by catching eight balls for 30 yards.
Watch Out For … the Huskies to attempt to reduce McCombs’ workload. The sophomore can handle 25 carries a game, but why wear him down when he’s easily the offense’s best weapon? After using no one but No. 43 in 2011, Connecticut will try to give a few more blows to its signature offensive player.
Strength: McCombs. Just one season into his tenure, he’s already a 1,000-yard rusher, and one of the Big East’s better runners. He’s only going to get better as he adds a little cushion, and gets a better feel for the offense and his blockers.
Weakness: Big plays. The Huskies averaged only 3.1 yards per carry, and rarely popped off 50-yard runs, the result of poor blocking and methodical runners. The team would like a little more from its backs, but isn’t likely to get it unless true freshman Joseph Williamscan rise up the ranks.
Outlook: As long as McCombs remains healthy, the Connecticut running game ought to be fine. However, the Huskies can ill-afford to lose their top back for any length of time, because the drop-off on the depth chart is steep. Ideally, the sophomore puts up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but requires fewer carries to get there.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The Huskies have some work to do in the receiving corps after losing last year’s top two pass-catchers, Isiah Moore and Kashif Moore, to graduation. The hope around Storrs is that a pair of fresh faces can help fuel the rebuilt corps. From Boston College, Connecticut has landed sophomore Shakim Phillips, a former key recruit of the Eagles. Not only does he hope to upgrade the talent level, but he could do so at a position of perpetual need for the program. The former three-star recruit, with the 6-1, 200-pound frame to create mismatches, will give the quarterbacks a dangerous target with which to exploit Big East defensive backs.
The other outside receiver figures to be senior Michael Smith, who sat out all of last season for academic reasons. When last seen in action, the 6-0, 201-pounder was catching 46 passes for 615 yards and two touchdowns in 2010. A blue-collar pass-catcher, with enough speed to go deep, he has issues making the tough catch over the middle. Smith will also get downfield to block for one his running backs, a truly unselfish performer who continues to earn attaboys from the coaching staff.
When Connecticut goes three-wide, senior Nick Williamswill trot off the sidelines and into the slot. At 5-10 and 184 pounds, he’s one of the team’s quickest players, a big-play guy when he gets a timely block or two. Best known for his exploits in the return game, he caught a career-best 11 passes for 236 yards and two scores last season.
The Huskies boast two quality options at tight end, both of whom are battling for the starting nod in the opener. Senior Ryan Griffin was last year’s Second Team All-Big East tight end, catching 33 balls for 499 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-6, 247-pounder has terrific length, yet can also turn a short throw into a long gain by splitting the seam of a defense. He’ll garner plenty of attention from NFL scouts in the fall.
However, 6-3, 243-pound senior John Delahunthas not backed down from the competition. The native of Canada, with the H-back physique, is the better blocker of the pair. Sure, he caught six passes for 43 yards and a touchdown, but he’ll be at his best when opening holes for the running backs.
Watch Out For … Smith to become the go-to guy that the Huskies are after. He used his year away from the field very wisely, working on his routes, improving his hands and getting a little stronger in the weight room. With improving support on the opposite side of the field, it could be a prosperous season for the senior.
Strength: Tight end. The Huskies are in the enviable position of having not one, but a pair of tight ends with starting experience and skills. Griffin will have a chance to play at the next level, while Delahunt is an underrated cog in the offensive wheel. Together, they give Connecticut an ideal situation at the position.
Weakness: Consistency. In Phillips, Smith and Williams, the program harbors plenty of physical ability, but it needs those skills to translate on the field, week-in and week-out. Considering the dicey situation at quarterback, the wide receivers must elevate their overall play in order to bolster a mealy passing attack.
Outlook: While this unit is not a completed product, there’s enough returning talent to overcome the graduation of last season’s two starters. Phillips is coming off a solid offseason, Smith is poised for a breakout year and the tight ends are very solid. If the quarterbacks can finally cooperate, the receiving corps is capable of catching a few teams off guard this fall.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Connecticut is hoping to rebuild along an O-line missing last year’s two all-stars, LT Mike Ryan and C Moe Petrus. Expected to take over for Ryan will be 6-4, 298-pound senior Adam Masters, who’ll be shifting outside after starting all 12 games at right guard in 2011. The most versatile of the Huskies blockers, he has also started at left and right tackle at times during his career. The staff is counting on him being one of the anchors of the unit.
Backing up Bennett at left tackle will be a seasoned veteran, senior Jimmy Bennett. The 6-9, 309-pound brick wall has the potential to earn more reps, but has been saddled with injuries for much of his career.
Petrus’ old job looks as if it’ll go to Penn State transfer Alex Mateas. The Canadian product was a tackle or guard by trade, but looked sharp in the spring at center. He’s very strong at the point of attack, now needing to master his snaps in order to leave no doubts about where he belongs on the line.
Forming a bookend with Masters over at right tackle will be 6-6, 295-pound junior Kevin Friend, one of the ensemble’s returning starters. He bounced around a bit, but spent most of his time at right tackle. Like much of the line, Friend struggled to contain the Big East’s better pass rushers throughout 2011.
The veteran among the guards, junior Steve Greene, is projected to be starting on the left side. He picked up his first letter in 2011, moving into the starting lineup on Oct. 1, and remaining there for the final eight games. At 6-5 and 309 pounds, he has tackle size to go along with the upper body strength of an interior lineman.
Taking the lead at right guard is 6-2, 306-pound sophomore Gus Cruz. Light on experience, yet long on potential, he performed well enough in the spring to hold off the challenge of classmate Joseph Danielson.
Watch Out For … Mateas to get up to speed in a hurry. If the spring is any indication, the former Nittany Lion is poised to become an anchor in the middle for the Huskies for the next three seasons. He was rugged as a run blocker, and generally clean with his snaps. Connecticut needs the newcomer to quickly grow up and evolve into a line leader.
Strength: The tackles. Relatively speaking, the Huskies are strongest at tackle, where Masters and Friend currently reside. Both players are upperclassmen, with starting experience and a little more room left on their ceilings.
Weakness: Blocking. Ugh, this could be a major problem in Storrs. The Huskies ranked 97th in the country in rushing, while allowing more sacks per game than all but three of the 120 FBS teams. Oh, and from that group, last year’s two best blockers, Ryan and Petrus, have exhausted their amateur eligibility.
Outlook: Connecticut simply doesn’t have a very good O-line at this time, a situation that could get a little worse before it gets better. The closest thing to a sure-thing is Masters, who is changing positions, and being asked to protect the quarterback’s backside. The center is a newcomer, and the balance of the line, including backups, is comprised of marginal blockers prone to getting schooled by quality defensive linemen.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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