2014 UConn Preview: What You Need To Know
Connecticut WR Geremy Davis
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Connecticut (Getty Images)
What You Need To Know
2014 Connecticut Preview
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What you need to know about the offense: The good news for new offensive coordinator Mike Cummings is that UConn might at long last have a decent enough quarterback to build around, Casey Cochran. The concern? The supporting cast is among the thinnest in the American. The Huskies have been necrotic on offense for years, largely because the general talent pool has performed at an FCS level. Cochran figures to be a step in the right direction based on last year's finish, but only if the line can avoid imitating a revolving door. Sure, Lyle McCombs and Max DeLorenzo are serviceable backs, as Cummings tries to achieve a desired level of balance. And the Geremy Davis-led receiving corps figures to be an asset, even after rangy senior Shakim Phillips exited the program in April. But Connecticut is not going to make noticeable gains unless the front wall can block with significantly more authority than it has in recent years.
What you need to know about the defense: Head coach Bob Diaco is reuniting with new coordinator Anthony Poindexter, who he first met when the two were assistants at Virginia. Diaco, from his days in South Bend, favors a 3-4 base, though Connecticut will liberally use four down linemen depending on the circumstances. The 2013 unit was uncharacteristically vulnerable in all phases, resulting in some uneven results late in the year. The two best players from that team, DT Shamar Stephen and LB Yawin Smallwood, are no longer in Storrs. The 2014 Huskies will have to coach up the inherited kids, an average collection of talent that must find a way to collapse the pocket, while digesting a very different system. The team produced just 16 sacks last season, five of which came from players with remaining eligibility. UConn is pining for more of a push at the line of scrimmage from the veterans, such as Angelo Pruitt, Reuben Frank and Mikal Myers, to name just three.
Players You Need To Know
1. WR Geremy Davis, Sr.
In two seasons as a starter, Davis has emerged as one of the most decorated receivers in UConn history. A year after debuting in the starting lineup with 44 grabs for 613 yards and a score, he erupted with a team-high 71 receptions for 1,085 yards and three touchdowns. It marked the first time since 1998 that a Husky reached 1,000 yards receiving in a season. At 6-3 and 216 pounds, Davis gets position on defenders like a tight end, yet he's quick enough to extend plays with his feet.
2. CB Byron Jones, Sr.
Jones has done a little bit of everything for the Huskies. This season, he plans to prove he's an NFL-caliber defensive back. The three-year starter has played multiple positions in the defensive backfield, settling down at cornerback in 2013. Jones finished third on the team with 60 tackles, adding eight pass breakups and a team-high three interceptions. He's added seven pounds of muscle in the offseason, bulking up to a well-sized 6-1 and 196 pounds.
3 . RB Lyle McCombs, Sr.
McCombs has been the workhorse of the Connecticut ground game for three years, starting 32 career games over that time. He'll begin his senior season No. 2 all-time in carries at the school, and No. 4 with 2,681 rushing yards. Too often, though, he's put more into the offense than he's gotten in return, especially from the blockers. The blue-collar 5-8, 171-pound McCombs plays bigger than his size and has soft hands out of the backfield. He wants to finish strong after his production dropped to a career-low 159 carries for 670 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.
4. S Obi Melifonwu, Soph.
In an otherwise awful campaign for the program, Melifonwu emerged as a beacon of hope for the future. He seized control of the free safety opening after veteran Andrew Adams was lost to a shoulder injury and started all 12 games of 2013. And Melifonwu wasn't just a warm body in the lineup. He performed like a building block defender by making 70 tackles, three stops for loss, two picks, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he has the length to see everything develop from centerfield.
5. LB Jefferson Ashiru, Jr.
The bad news at linebacker is that Yawin Smallwood left school early for the NFL Draft. The silver lining is that Ashiru is ready to start picking up more of the slack. He started the final 10 games at weakside, finishing the year with 58 tackles, eight stops behind the line and four quarterback hurries. Ashiru is not only an athletic and physical 6-2, 230-pounder, but he's learned from some terrific linebackers since arriving in 2011 from Powder Springs, Ga.
6. QB Casey Cochran, Soph.
There's a sense of optimism around campus that UConn has finally found a quarterback it can build around. Cochran started the final four games of 2013, stoking an offense that had been dormant throughout the year. The Huskies won three of the final four games, and Cochran finished the season 111-of-175 for 1,293 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He really teed off on an underrated Memphis D in the finale for a school-record 461 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. While Cochran is only 6-1 and 224 pounds, he plays with the toughness, smarts and accuracy of a coach's kid.
7. C Alex Mateas, Sr.
More than just the team's center, Mateas is the new leader of a makeshift line trying to replacing four seniors. The Penn State transfer has 16 career starts with the Huskies, including all 12 games in 2013. At 6-4 and 309 pounds, he has good size and strength to go along with the smarts needed to excel at the pivot. Mateas will need to perform at an entirely new level to elevate a unit that'll be the weak link of the offense.
8. WR Deshon Foxx, Sr.
Foxx is the smaller, quicker complement in the passing game to the size and stature of top target Geremy Davis. Foxx came into his own as a junior, finishing second on the team with 42 receptions for 534 yards and two touchdowns. He'll take a head of steam into 2014 after finishing on a team with 20 catches for 254 yards and two scores in the last two games alone. The shifty 5-10, 173-pounder had early problems with drops, but earned the trust of QB Casey Cochran by November.
9. DE Angelo Pruitt, Sr.
Pruitt is the Huskies' most experienced D-lineman entering 2014. He'll have to perform like it to help offset the graduations of standouts Shamar Stephen and Jesse Joseph. The 6-2, 287-pound Pruitt possesses the versatility to play inside or outside, though he's better suited to line up at end for Bob Diaco. It's time for Pruitt to start delivering on his potential, as UConn hunts for a pass rush. Although he's started 19 games over the last two seasons, he has just two career sacks.
10. DT Julian Campenni, Jr.
The Huskies have been pleased with the development of Campenni, a young interior lineman with a shot to be one of the anchors of the defensive line. In his third year on campus, the Pennsylvania native started 11-of-12 games to finish with 29 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and a sack. Campenni is not very big at 6-0 and 299 pounds, but he anchors the line well, and he possesses just enough quickness to shoot the gap and disrupt running plays from time to time.
2014 Connecticut Preview