2013 Connecticut Preview - Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Connecticut Husky Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The UConn offense needs a miracle worker. It'll settle for a new coordinator, T.J. Weist. Weist brings from Cincinnati a fast-paced offense that wants to dictate the tempo of a game. Sounds encouraging, does he have the right personnel to carry out his plans? The Huskies have had one of the country's most vanilla offenses for years, averaging less than 18 points a game in 2012. While just about everyone is back, it remains to be seen if that's good news or a harbinger of business as usual in East Hartford. RB Lyle McCombs is the unit's most dependable performer, though his ceiling gets capped by a poor supporting cast. QB Chandler Whitmer threw nearly twice as many picks as touchdowns last year, and the O-line is among the league's worst. Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips are underrated starting wide receivers, but they'll only go as far as Whitmer's right arm and questionable decision-making will allow them. Like his predecessors, Weist is taking a bike into drag race this fall.
Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Lyle McCombs
Passing: Chandler Whitmer
208-361, 2,664 yds, 9 TDs, 16 INTs
Rushing: Lyle McCombs
243 carries, 860 yds, 6 TDs
Receiving: Geremy Davis
44 catches, 613 yds, 1 TD
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
It's been a very long time—too long—since UConn felt good about its situation behind center. Junior Chandler Whitmer is out to change that sentiment in Year 2 as a Husky. The 6-1, 195-pound transfer from Butler Community (Kans.) College, who originally signed with Illinois, started all 12 games in 2012, going just 208-of-361 for 2,664 yards, nine touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Whitmer showed flashes in his debut, but also tried to do too much, forcing a bunch of throws. In the spring, he did show good command of the offense along with the leadership the staff needs at the position.
Moving into the No. 2 hole following spring was 6-1, 230-pound redshirt freshman Casey Cochran. The local three-star recruit and two-time state Player of the Year broke his wrist last preseason, preventing him from competing for snaps. Cochran gets good zip on his throws, and will catch defenses off guard with his feet.
Watch Out For … junior Scott McCummings to continue being used in "wildcat" formations. At 6-2 and 240 pounds, he provides the offense with an intriguing option, especially in short-yardage situations. McCummings won't threaten so much with his arm, but he has rushed for 417 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two years.
Strength: Experience. There's no underestimating the importance of having a veteran behind center, which is the case in Storrs. Whitmer has the luxury of a full season as the starter, learning everything from his own players and playbook to the opponents in the American Athletic Conference. McCummings, too, is no stranger to live action or pressure situations.
Weakness: Consistency through the air. This has been an ongoing problem with the Huskies ever since Dan Orlovsky graduated to the NFL. UConn ranked 98th in the country in passing efficiency in 2012, and threw more picks than any other team in the league. Against decent competition, the attack was essentially inept through the air.
Outlook: New year, same concerns in the Nutmeg State. The Huskies just aren't reliable in the passing game, a trend that's unlikely to turn around with any velocity this fall. The good news is that Whitmer has a full year of seasoning, and has looked pretty good running the new up-tempo. The concern? He won't unnerve opposing defenses with his skill set, and his supporting cast is pedestrian.
Unit Rating: 6
Junior Lyle McCombs is back for his third season as the starter for the Huskies, and he has hopefully rested during the offseason. He's taken a beating over the last two years, rarely getting adequate help from the offensive line or enough breathers from the coaching staff. In 2012, his production slipped to 860 yards and six touchdowns on 243 carries, a paltry average of only 3.5 yards per carry. He also caught 24 balls for 230 yards. McCombs plays bigger than his 5-8, 169-pound frame might indicate, running with determination and few wasted moves, but he needs more help from his supporting cast in order to regain the 1,000-yard form of two years ago.
Looking to take some of the pressure off McCombs will be sophomore Max DeLorenzo, who was elevated after senior Martin Hyppolite suffered serious injuries in a February car accident. DeLorenzo is a 6-0, 211-pound pile-driver, with just enough wiggle to make people miss in the open field. He bulled ahead for 119 yards on 36 carries in 2012.
Sophomore Joe Williams figures to enjoy an expanded role as well. Elusive and very fast for a 5-11, 202-pounder, he's capable of bringing a different dimension to the offense. After only carrying the ball three times all year, Williams is poised to get that many touches a game in 2013.
Taking the lead at fullback is 5-11, 239-pound redshirt freshman Jazzmar Clax. The game-changing linebacker in high school loves contact, and plays with the unselfish attitude needed to be the lead blocker for McCombs.
Watch Out For … the Huskies to finally succeed in reducing McCombs' workload. Sure, he can handle the rigors of 25-30 carries a game, but that one-note approach is reducing the back's effectiveness. Now that DeLorenzo and Williams are a year older, the staff has the confidence needed to spread the wealth a little.
Strength: McCombs. Two seasons into his tenure as the starting running back, he's already rushed for 13 scores and more than 2,000 yards. He's steady, doesn't make a lot of mistakes and could be much more productive if only he gets additional help from the blockers and the passing game.
Weakness: Explosive plays. The ground game in East Hartford tends to be a little methodical and even plodding, the result of McCombs' running style and the effectiveness of the blockers. The team averaged a paltry 2.5 yards a carry in 2012, producing just two runs of at least 30 yards all year.
Outlook: McCombs is a nice player, the kind of reliable back an AAC ground game can be built upon. But he needs some support in 2013. The junior needs more help from his blockers, his quarterback and his teammates in the backfield. In an ideal world, McCombs gets a few less touches and a few more breaks, yet still delivers his second 1,000-yard season as a Husky.
Unit Rating: 7
Besides TE Ryan Griffin, who has graduated, the bright spot of the passing attack in 2012 was WR Geremy Davis, who's entering his junior year. A season after coming off the bench, he earned top billing by catching a team-high 44 passes for 613 yards and a touchdown. At 6-1 and 217 pounds, Davis provides a clear target for a collection of Connecticut quarterbacks that needs as many internal edges as they can get. The receiver is also skilled at gaining position on defensive backs, and leaping above them to snare balls out of the air. With a full season in the vault, Davis hopes to be even more productive as a second-year starter.
On the other side, the Huskies are counting on a big year out of junior Shakim Phillips, the former high-profiled recruit of Boston College. The 6-1, 204-pounder kicked off his UConn career by ranking second on the team with 32 receptions for 399 yards and a touchdown. He's a physical receiver who adjusts well to throws and is capable of outmuscling defensive backs for the ball.
This offense has long liked using the tight end as more than just blockers, and it'll continue to do so in 2013. But who succeeds Griffin? The coaching staff is still undecided between 6-4, 237-pound sophomore Sean McQuillan and 6-4, 223-pound senior Spencer Parker. A former high school quarterback, McQuillan has adjusted well to being on the other side of the passing game. Parker is a former walk-on transfer from Lasell (Mass.) College, where he was an all-star volleyball player.
The backup wide receivers entering fall camp are juniors Deshon Foxx and Kamal Abrams. The 5-10, 170-pound Foxx is coming off a particularly impressive spring, solidifying his spot behind Phillips in the pecking order. While he's yet to catch a ball with the program, he possesses the explosive tendencies that'll entice the coaches to use him in myriad ways this fall. The 5-10, 183-pound Abrams, too, has limited experience at this level, which increases the importance of his growth in the summer.
Watch Out For … Foxx to quickly develop into a breakout star on offense. The Huskies love No. 4 in the slot, and have already tinkered with him on reverses and various other ways that get him in space. Foxx is the kind of playmaker that this offense has been missing for a very long time.
Strength: Physicality. In Davis and Phillips, UConn features a pair of big, H-back-sized wide receivers with a chance to create mismatches on opposing defensive backs. Both of the Huskies receivers excel at boxing out defenders, getting good position and giving the quarterback a visible target with which to locate.
Weakness: Tight end. The position often plays an integral role in this offense, but can that be the case again in 2013? The Huskies are lacking experience and proven players at the position, which will impact the passing game. McQuillan has upside, but neither he nor Parker has even caught a pass at this level.
Outlook: How well the receivers perform will hinge heavily on the play of the quarterback and the offensive line, neither of whom excelled in 2012. With a little more help from behind center, the trio of Davis, Phillips and Foxx has the tools to be pretty good this year. If QB Chandler Whitmer fails to take the next step, though, the receivers aren't dynamic enough to put the passing attack on their shoulders.
Unit Rating: 6
After laboring badly in 2012, hope up front comes from the returns of all but one of last year's starters. The line received good news when it learned that starting LT Jimmy Bennett was granted a sixth year of eligibility. The 6-9, 306-pound senior has struggled with health issues throughout his career, but did start all 12 games a year ago. Bennett has the long arms needed to ward off defenders, but needs to improve his footwork.
Forming a bookend with Bennett from right tackle will be 6-6, 304-pound senior Kevin Friend, one of the most experienced and versatile blockers for the Huskies. He's started 29 career games at UConn, including all 12 last season. Friend is a hard-worker, but has struggled to neutralize quality pass rushers.
Returning to the pivot will be 6-4, 313-pound senior Tyler Bullock, the starter for the final eight games of the 2012 campaign. A steady blocker who doesn't make a lot of mistakes, he's remained ahead of 6-4, 305-pound junior Alex Mateas, the Penn State transfer who started the first four games of the 2012 season.
The veteran on the interior will be senior LG Steve Greene, a starter since Oct. 1 of the 2011 campaign. Although the 6-5, 308-pounder has had his moments, and knows the offense, he has also struggled at times to move his man off the ball. Greene is being counted on to be one of the leaders up front for the Huskies.
Starting RG Adam Masters was lost for the year to an injury last fall. The silver lining is that it allowed 6-2, 303-pound junior Gus Cruz to get a head start on filling Masters' shoes. Cruz started five games last year, including the final four, gradually getting more comfortable in his role as a regular.
The only other Husky to play at least five games during his college career is 6-2, 289-pound sophomore Tyler Samra. He'll serve as the backup this year to Cruz at right guard.
Watch Out For … Bennett's health. The veteran made it through last year without a hitch. But can he remain off the injury report for a second straight year? The Huskies really need Bennett from start to finish, or else an already sketchy bench is going to be tested at the line's most important overall position.
Strength: Maturity. Barring an upset or an injury, UConn is going to start four seniors and a junior for the opener. The unit is smart, experienced and open to mentoring the next generation of Huskies blockers. The fact that the same group started the final four games of 2012 is a bonus in the area of chemistry and continuity.
Weakness: Blocking. Over the past two seasons, the Huskies have had glaring problems with the basics, such as opening holes and giving the quarterback time to check down his receivers. The program didn't rank higher than 97th nationally in rushing or sacks allowed in 2011 or 2012, which was directly attributable to what was happening at the line of scrimmage.
Outlook: While improvement is certainly possible, the exact increment is the key concern. The Huskies are a year older, and the same ensemble that started the final four games of 2012 is expected to start the 2013 opener. That's the good news. The problem is that the holdovers aren't very good, featuring no sure-fire all-stars or next-level performers.
Unit Rating: 6
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