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2007 Connecticut Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 9, 2007


Preview 2007 Connecticut Husky Offense

Connecticut Huskies

Preview 2007
- Offense

- 2007 Connecticut Preview | 2007 UConn Defense Preview
-
2007 UConn Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Connecticut Preview 


What you need to know: For two years running, the Husky offense has been painfully inept, particularly in the passing game.  Tyler Lorenzen was recruited from the ranks of the junior colleges to specifically address that vertical shortcoming.  His arrival pushed D.J. Hernandez to slot receiver and set up a heated competition with sophomore Dennis Brown that’ll resume in August.  While quarterback is a question mark, running back is not.  Sophomore Donald Brown exploded on to the scene in 2006 with almost 700 yards and five scores in a torrid five-game stretch to finish the season.  With a bunch of linemen back, he’s poised for a monster season in an offense that still uses the run to set up the pass.

Returning Leaders
Passing: D.J. Hernandez
86-147, 849 yds, 9 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Donald Brown
161 carries, 895 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Larry Taylor
29 catches, 261 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Donald Brown
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Tyler Lorenzen
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Terrence Jeffers
Best pro prospect: Brown
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Brown  2) Lorenzen  3) Jeffers
Strength of the offense: Brown
Weakness of the offense: Pass blocking, depth at receiver

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Ever since current Detroit Lion Dan Orlovsky graduated in 2004, UConn has been searching unsuccessfully for his heir apparent at quarterback.  It may have found him in Junior College All-American Tyler Lorenzen, a 6-5 dart-thrower who threw for 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions at Palomar (Calif.) Community College, while running for another 836 yards and eight scores.  The battle for the starting job could go right through the summer, however, for a Husky offense facing a sense of urgency, Lorenzen and his dual-threat potential will eventually win out.  He’ll have to learn an entirely new system after running the Comets’ spread attack, but he’s got the pinpoint accuracy and athleticism to spark an offense that averaged just 141 yards a game through the air in 2006.      

Projected Top Reserves: Trying to keep Lorenzen from elevating to the top of the depth chart will be sophomore Dennis Brown, who is no stranger to leading the offense.  He redshirted in 2006, a year after being thrust into the starting role for two games as a true freshman.  He was gone last fall, yet shouldn’t be forgotten.  Brown is substantially thicker and stronger since arriving as a lanky 185-pound kid and still has the wheels to make positive yardage when he’s flushed from the pocket.

Watch Out For…Lorenzen.  It’s never easy wearing the savior label, but Lorenzen chose UConn over a bunch of other schools because he wants to play right away and get an opportunity to shine in a major conference.  Beyond the obvious physical attributes, he’s a very bright kid with the unique advantage of having a brother, former Kentucky star Jared Lorenzen, to call for advice on making plays at this level.
Strength: Athleticism.  All three quarterbacks vying for the start do the one thing Orlovsky couldn’t during his tenure, escape pressure or pick up first downs on designed runs.  That penchant for quick feet and good speed will serve the eventual starter real well, especially playing behind a suspect Husky line that allowed 31 sacks a year ago.
Weakness: Proven passers.  Lorenzen’s future is purely speculative and there’s no proof that either Hernandez or Brown can ignite a passing game that was 110th nationally in 2006 and is short on game-breaking receivers.  None of the three can stretch a defense with their arm strength or can be counted on to connect on passes beyond the short routes.  
Outlook: After D.J. Hernandez showed last year showed that he was never going to be a big-time quarterback, it’s incumbent upon Lorenzen or Brown to be a revelation in 2007, a possibility if he gets support from the offensive line and a couple of quality receivers with sticky hands.
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: The silver lining in last year’s dismal 4-8 season was the emergence of Donald Brown as the new feature back and a potential Big East star for the Huskies.  As a relatively unknown freshman reserve, he exploded for an average of 134 yards on the ground in five conference games, including 199 against a Rutgers run defense that was among the nation’s elite at the time.  At 5-11 and 215 pounds, Brown is a power-speed slasher that’s durable enough to endure the pounding of 30 or more carries a game which is what he’s likely to see as the focal point of the Husky offense. 

Anthony Davis is in the starting lineup for the sole purpose of opening holes for Brown.  A 5-10, 235-pound bulldozer, he spent last year learning the ropes as a redshirt freshman.            

Projected Top Reserves: Giving Brown breathers this fall will be junior Lou Allen, the only upperclassman in a group of very young backs.  A reliable veteran of 22 career games, he’s a 6-1, 238-pound load that can wear out tired defenses and pick up the tough yards.  While not a game-breaker or a feature back, Allen’s experience and leadership are luxuries for a UConn backfield that’s long on potential and real short on returning lettermen. 

Sophomores Andre Dixon and redshirt freshman Robert McClain will battle it out for the third tailback spot on the depth chart and a chance to pick up some mop-up carries late in blowouts.  A terrific all-around athlete at 6-2 and 200 pounds, Dixon saw action on special teams in four games a year ago.  The speedy McClain led the Huskies in kickoff returns in 2006 and was named Offensive Scout Team Player of the Week three times. 

Watch Out For… McClain.  The pecking order is pretty much set here, but McClain is the one player with a unique skill set who can challenge for more playing.  Unlike the players around him, the 5-9 jitterbug can explode for long runs and has soft hands out of the backfield that might warrant opportunities as a third-down option.
Strength: Brown.  With Brown, the Huskies have the potential for a balanced offense and a young player they can ride for the next three years.  Without him, the already feeble UConn offense would be completely punchless in 2007.  Now that a star was born late last fall, Husky fans can’t wait to see what their prodigy will do in his first full season of action.
Weakness: Veteran depth.  After Allen, the Husky backfield consists of three sophomores and three redshirt freshmen, only one of which has ever had a carry at this level.  If Brown gets injured or suffers through a sophomore slump, this unit will struggle to plug in a back that can slide in and support a passing game that was among the worst in the country in 2006.
Outlook: Not since the days before Terry Caulley tore up his knees almost five years ago has there been so much excitement about a young back in Storrs.  It’s warranted.  Brown has the ability to be the next best thing to Steve Slaton and Ray Rice in the Big East, particularly with the offensive line returning so many contributors from last year’s squad.
Rating: 8
 
Receivers

Projected Starters: Terrence Jeffers and Brad Kanuch suffered through some growing in 2006, but starting the final eight games as freshmen will really start paying dividends in 2007.  Despite being somewhat raw and undersized as a receiver, Kanuch used sprinter speed in his first year to average more than 22 yards on his 13 catches, making him far and away the Huskies’ best deep threat.  Fundamentally, he grew as the season progressed, a trend that must continue into this fall. 

Jeffers made strides as well last year, catching 17 balls for 200 yards and two scores, while limiting his mistakes toward the end of the year.  Although he doesn’t have Kanuch’s separation speed, he’s much stronger physically at 6-2 and 210 pounds and can make catches above defensive backs. 

When UConn goes three-wide, senior Larry Taylor will be the man in the slot, taking short hitches or bubble screens and looking to slither for big yardage.  Only 5-6 and 173 pounds, Taylor is a fleet-footed gnat in the open field and one of the most dangerous return men in the country. 

Injuries to starting tight end Dan Murray in 2006 opened the door for junior Steve Brouse to enjoy a breakthrough season one year earlier than expected.  A sure-handed receiver who’s improving as a blocker, he developed faster than any other Husky receiver last year, finishing second on the team with 19 catches for 216 yards.            

Projected Top Reserves: Brandon McLean lost his starting job last October and then was suspended following two arrests within the course of a week.  His absence creates an opportunity for converted quarterback D.J. Hernandez to have an immediate impact in the slot.  A terrific all-around athlete at 6-1 and 210 pounds, he looked comfortable at his new position in the spring game.    

UConn’s biggest pass-catcher is junior Robert Theoudele, a 6-4, 210-pound former linebacker who’ll be looking to pilfer some playing time away from McLean.  His redshirt season now in the rear view mirror, Kevin Poles is set to back up Taylor in the slot.  A 6-2 target with good wheels, he’ll get an early chance to contribute at one of UConn neediest positions. 

Brouse’s caddy at tight end will be Canadian import Martin Bedard, a junior who was the team’s long-snapper for the first seven games of 2006 before dislocating his elbow.          

Watch Out For…junior Ellis Gaulden.  Those UConn fans that have waited to see Gaulden in action may finally get their wish later this year.  Arguably the best all-around athlete at receiver, the junior with the good speed and great ups has been hampered by injuries in each of the last two seasons.  Finally healthy, Gaulden is itching to infuse the corps with a much-needed jolt of athleticism and highlight-reel potential.
Strength: Upside potential.  The Husky receivers won’t be confused with any of the better groups in the country, but their best days surely lie ahead.  Jeffers and Kanuch only scratched their potential as surprise freshman starters in 2006 and Brouse performed surprisingly well when Murray was injured last fall.  With that season behind them, this unit should make strides on the extra experience alone. 
Weakness: Big-play receivers.  Kanuch has the speed to occasionally get behind a secondary, but the Huskies are a collection of unproven targets without that one big-play threat that attracts all kinds of defensive attention.  Consistency, a problem that plagued them in 2006, won’t disappear in 2007. 
Outlook: For the passing game to get out of the Stone Age, it’ll take contributions from the quarterback, the pass blockers and the receivers.  The pass-catchers should be better in 2007, but they’ll still be a collective liability that drops too many passes, runs so-so routes and fails to stretch the field enough to open things up for the running game. 
Rating: 5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Although the offensive line was literally a sore spot in 2006, UConn is hoping that injuries, which forced so many kids into the lineup, will begin reaping benefits this season.  Seven Husky linemen that started games and earned letters a year ago are back this year, creating a fiercely competitive environment in Storrs.  The bookends at tackle will be junior William Beatty and sophomore Mike Hicks, a pair of hulking, 6-6 linemen that were in the lineup last year, but missed time with injuries.  An athletic left tackle with really good feet, Beatty was off to a good start before breaking his leg in the Oct. 7 loss to South Florida.  A work-in-progress that needs better upper body strength, he has considerable upside. 

The 335-pound Hicks was saddled with a nagging ankle injury and an MCL strain late in the year, but a new season has him back on track to becoming the Huskies most devastating run blocker.  To be a complete tackle, however, he needs to improve his footwork in order to handle the Big East’s faster edge rushers. 

After missing most of 2006 with a separated shoulder, junior Keith Gray is expected to return to man the pivot for the Huskies.  Now in his third season at center, the former defensive lineman is quick off the snap and was the line’s leader, but still needs to get much stronger. 

A couple of sophomores, Lawrence Green and Alex LaMagdelaine, will form the guard tandem after lettering last year at different positions.  Green was a reserve defensive tackle, but at 6-3 and 332 pounds, he has the frame to be a mauler once he gets comfortable in his new position. 

After filling in admirably for Gray at center over the final ten games of 2006, LaMagdelaine is ready to shift back to guard on the right side of the line.  Although he got schooled at times last fall, those dozen games of experience will prove invaluable in his sophomore year.                      

Projected Top Reserves: When Beatty was lost for the year last October, Dan Ryan stepped into the lineup and did a solid job as a seven-game starter at left tackle.  Another candidate for Jim Calhoun’s frontline, the 6-9 sophomore will be in Beatty’s rear view mirror all year and be no worse than a reliable reserve in the Husky line rotation. 

Junior Trey Tonsing has returned from a year-long suspension to give the Huskies more depth at center.  He started nine games in 2005 and will get all of the reps until Gray is able to return from his shoulder problems. 

A former walk-on, senior guard Donald Thomas played well in a reserve role last year and will provide depth and a veteran presence at a position that lost 2006 starter, Immanuel Hutcherson, to academic suspension before spring began.              

Watch Out For…Hicks.  If he can hone his technique and transform some of the baby fat to muscle, the mammoth sophomore has the size and potential to be playing for a spot in the NFL two years from now.  Hicks’ continued development will go a long way to determining just how effective this offensive line becomes in 2007.
Strength: Size and depth.  Against many opponents this fall, UConn should be able to line up and move the chains with some old-school, smash-mouth football.  The front wall is massive and far more experienced than this time last year which bodes real well for a running game that’s been the staple of this offense the last few seasons.
Weakness: Pass protection: Yeah, the line was shuffled like a deck of cards in 2006, but it’s been almost three years since the Huskies have been able to pass protect with any regularity.  Even with a nimble quarterback playing most of the season, UConn was still 96th nationally in sacks allowed, a sobering stat that must be reversed if the offense is going to have any success through the air in 2007.
Outlook: Provided the line can stay healthy for the first time since 2004, the Huskies have more depth and experienced returners than they’ve had in years.  While the unit will excel in opening holes for Donald Brown and Lou Allen, especially on the right side, pass protection, which was an Achilles heel in 2006, will dog the quarterbacks again in 2007.
Rating: 5.5

  

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