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2008 Connecticut Preview - Offense
Connecticut RB Andre Dixon
Connecticut RB Andre Dixon
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 21, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Connecticut Husky Offense

Connecticut Huskies

Preview 2008
- Offense

- 2008 CFN Connecticut Preview | 2008 UConn Offense
- 2008 UConn Defense | 2008 UConn Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Connecticut Preview | 2006 CFN Connecticut Preview 

What you need to know: The Huskies would like to take some of the restrictions off QB Tyler Lorenzen, a capable downfield passer, but his wide receivers are among the least scary in the Big East. Instead, the program will strive for modest gains in the passing attack while continuing to lean heavily on the running tandem of Andre Dixon and Donald Brown. One of the keys to the ground game will be to find a replacement for all-star G Donald Thomas. A terrific drive blocker from the right side, he leaves a big void at the position that coaches hope can be filled by massive converted tackle Zach Hurd.      

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tyler Lorenzen
197-347, 2,367 yds, 13 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Andre Dixon
167 carries, 828 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: D.J. Hernandez
30 catches, 404 yds, 2 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Andre Dixon
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore OG Zach Hurd
Unsung star on the rise: Senior QB Tyler Lorenzen
Best pro prospect: Dixon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dixon  2) Junior RB Donald Brown  3) Senior TE Steve Brouse
Strength of the offense: The running backs
Weakness of the offense: The passing game, difference-making receivers

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: For the first time in a few years, the Huskies begin a season with an incumbent behind center. And a pretty capable one at that. Senior Tyler Lorenzen had a solid debut in his first season out of Palomar (Calif.) Community College, going 197-of-347 for 2,367 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions, adding 328 yards and a score on the ground. An outstanding all-around athlete at 6-5 and 222 pounds, he’s a better passer than the numbers indicate and a dangerous runner when he leaves the pocket. After finishing 97th nationally in passing, Connecticut would like to open things up a bit this fall, believing Lorenzen is capable of doing much more in his final year in Storrs.     

Projected Top Reserves: The defection of Dennis Brown to Norfolk State means sophomore Zach Frazer and redshirt freshman Cody Endres will duke it out to determine Lorenzen’s backup. Frazer is a 6-4, 233-pound transfer from Notre Dame who’s expected to be the future at the position once Lorenzen graduates. While a crash course in mechanics may be needed before the opener, he has a powerful arm and the most natural ability of any Husky passer since Dan Orlovsky.

Although Endres is the likely No. 3 on the depth chart and missed much of spring, the staff is still excited about his long-term potential. Another sizable quarterback at 6-4 and 231 pounds, he’s raw, but possesses the toughness and velocity to eventually contend for more playing time.        

Watch Out For… an expanded role for Lorenzen. With a full season under his belt, the senior is far more comfortable than when he first arrived at Connecticut. The Huskies would like to see more downfield passing from Lorenzen, who’s been hamstrung by a shortage of quality receivers.
Strength: Big arms. At an average of 6-4 and 230 pounds, the Huskies’ three quarterbacks make quite a presence in the pocket and can really sling the ball downfield. Now all they need is a few receivers with the jets to stretch a defense and make good use of all those cannons.
Weakness: Durability. A disturbing trend of nagging injuries has begun to develop with Lorenzen.  Last spring, there was a knee problem. At the end of the season, he was hampered by the knee and a thumb injury. In April, he was forced to skip the spring game with an ankle injury. Lorenzen is a big target who takes a lot of hits, so Frazer had better be ready to don his helmet at a moment’s notice.
Outlook: Compared to this time last year, Connecticut is on solid ground at quarterback, with Lorenzen back for a final season and Frazer being groomed as the heir apparent. The passing game should be much improved from last year, but only if some of the young receivers quickly develop into consistent targets.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Connecticut doesn’t have a starting running back. It has two. Juniors Andre Dixon and Donald Brown are interchangeable parts out of the backfield, both capable of rushing for 1,000 yards.

Dixon was a huge surprise a year ago, stealing the spotlight from his more heralded teammate and earning a spot on the All-Big East Second Team. Despite entering the season buried on the depth chart, the 6-1, 202-pounder slashed his way to 828 yards and three scores on 167 carries, adding 24 catches for 280 yards and another score.

Although Brown entered the season as the Huskies most valuable offensive player, he got off to a slow start and was upstaged by Dixon. He eventually got on track, rushing for 455 yards of his 821 yards over the final four games, flashing the power and speed through the hole that made him a freshman sensation. The 5-10, 208-pound Brown comes into this season a little leaner and a lot more focused on recapturing some of the carries that Dixon stole in 2007. 

Sophomores Anthony Davis and Anthony Sherman are a couple of blue-collar fullbacks that split time last year, and might do so again. At 5-11 and 242 pounds, Davis is a one-dimensional blocker who didn’t carry the ball in his first season. His sole objective is to be the lead blocker for Dixon and Brown.

Sherman was one of a handful of true freshmen to play in every game, starting twice and making a dozen tackles on special teams. At 5-11 and 239 pounds, he’s a little more athletic and versatile than Davis, carrying the ball six times, catching two passes, and occasionally lining up as an H-back.   

Projected Top Reserves: Out of Robbie Frey and Kelmetrus Wylie, one of the two redshirt freshmen backs are going to secure the No. 3 spot and earn some carries late in lopsided games. Like Dixon, the 6-0, 195-pound Frey has good speed and doesn’t waste any motion when getting to the hole.

Wylie, on the hand, is a 5-10, 207-pound thumper who likes contact and refuses to be arm tackled. With a ton of confidence and good all-around skills, he has the make-up to be the Husky feature back once there’s more clearance atop the depth chart.  

Watch Out For… Dixon and Brown to both get at least 150 carries for a second straight year.  The Huskies favor the ground game, and as long as there’s minimal separation between the two juniors, both are going to get their 10-15 touches a game.
Strength: Two quality backs. With the emergence of Dixon to go along with Brown, Connecticut boasts two runners who’ve proven they can carry the load when needed. Each ran for at least 800 yards last year, giving both a chance to stay fresh and the program a much-needed insurance policy.
Weakness: A home-run hitter. As good as Dixon and Brown are, neither is the type of back who’ll frighten opposing defenses with his speed or long ball potential.  While both are very effective, north-south runners, it would be nice to occasionally insert a jackrabbit capable of burning a gassed defense in the second half.
Outlook: Although Brown wasn’t supposed to have company in the Connecticut spotlight, Dixon’s emergence has been a huge plus. The two will continue to be the workhorses of a conservative offense that prefers to control the clock and set up the pass with a steady diet of runs.
Rating: 8.5
 
Receivers

Projected Starters: The hunt for quality receivers was exacerbated by the transfer of leading receiver Terence Jeffers to a school that’ll better use his talents. That leaves as the starters senior D.J. Hernandez and junior Brad Kanuch, a couple of productive veterans who won’t frighten any Big East secondaries. Hernandez is a grinder, a 6-1, 211-pound former quarterback who’ll make the tough grabs and drag tacklers like a tight end. In his first season at the position, he caught 30 passes for 404 yards and two touchdowns.

Among the veterans, the 6-0, 190-pound Kanuch is the closest thing the Huskies have to a deep threat.  He’s averaged at least 16 yards per catch in each of the last two seasons, catching 27 passes for 433 yards and a touchdown in 2007.  In order to improve on those numbers, Kanuch must do a better job of getting separation from the defender and finding a soft spot in the defense.

Connecticut’s most dependable receiver is going to be 6-4, 252-pound senior TE Steve Brouse, a third-year starter with soft hands and a penchant for getting open in the middle of the field. In his best season in Storrs, he caught 26 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns, generating some interest from the NFL as a tight end, or possibly an H-back.     

Projected Top Reserves: Throughout the spring, redshirt freshman Kashif Moore displayed some of the flash and elusiveness that this group has been missing. While only 5-9 and 177 pounds, he has the quickness and change-of-direction skills to take a short slant from Lorenzen and through the opposing secondary.

Senior Marcus Easley is one of the hardest workers on the team, a former walk-on who’s previously gotten on the field as special teamer. At 6-3 and 212 pounds, he has outstanding size, but needs to improve in all facets of his game to earn the confidence of the quarterbacks.

Like Easley, Robert Theoudele is another huge target looking to make an impact on offense in his final season. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, he’s a former linebacker whose biggest attribute might be as a downfield blocker on running plays.

The biggest upside of the reserves belongs to senior Ellis Gaulden, but he’s recovering from a foot injury, another in a long line of setbacks. Although he’s 6-2 and 192 pounds with ideal speed and leaping ability, until he’s physically able to compete, Husky fans won’t know if he’s a giant tease or an untapped weapon.

Behind Brouse is senior Martin Bedard, the program’s long-snapper and a viable option off the bench at tight end. The 6-3, 233-pounder played in all 13 games a year ago, starting three and catching three passes for 42 yards.   

Watch Out For… senior CB Darius Butler to get his wish of playing some wide receiver. One of the Huskies top overall athletes at 5-11 and 181 pounds, he should get 10-12 snaps a game to inject some athleticism and big-play potential into the Husky passing attack.
Strength: The tight ends. Brouse has really come on as a pass-catcher since replacing Dan Murray in 2006, and Bedard is a senior who won’t hurt the team when he’s on the field. In an offense predicated on the mid-range passes, Brouse is a safe bet to set a career-high in receptions, while contending for all-league honors.
Weakness: A lack of playmakers. There’s a good reason why Randy Edsall finally relented, and allowed his best cover corner to play some offense—he has no other choice. It’s tough mining game-breaking receivers out of the Northeast, a hurdle Boston College has been staring at for decades.
Outlook: The hope is that Moore contributes right away and Gaulden is healthy enough to finally take his track speed and high jumping ability to the field.  Without a lot of help, Hernandez and Kanuch will be eminently ordinary, preventing Lorenzen and the passing game from making any forward progress this season.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Even though the Huskies lose just one player, current Miami Dolphin Donald Thomas, the line is going to have a different and more than one new face. In an attempt to get his five most physical blockers on the field, Randy Edsall opened up the competition in the spring and quickly began shuffling the deck. The two biggest surprises are the new front-runners at guard, redshirt freshman Moe Petrus on the left side and sophomore Zach Hurd on the right.  The 6-2, 283-pound Petrus soared up the depth chart in April, flashing the physicality and footwork that Edsall and his staff have been craving. A mature 22-year old, he’s not the typical first-year player who’s going to be shaken by his new role.

Like Petrus, Hurd seized an opposing in March and April, moving inside from tackle and routinely dominating at the point of attack.  At 6-7 and 305 pounds, he’s already one of the biggest Huskies, adding about 10 pounds of muscle through an intense offseason conditioning program.  Still a little rusty learning the new position, Hurd will spend much of the few months trying to absorb every page of the playbook.

Senior Keith Gray is the returning starter at center and one of the leaders of the offensive line.  At 6-2 and 276 pounds, he won’t overpower anyone, but he’s quick off the snap and as fundamentally sound as any other Husky lineman.

The favorite at right tackle, junior Mike Hicks, also spent time at left guard last season. Edsall permanently moved him to tackle in the spring, feeling his long arms and 6-6, 329-pound frame was a better fit for walling off edge rushers.  Hicks could stand to lose a few pounds and improve his technique if he’s going to remain atop the depth chart through the summer. 

Senior William Beatty is back for his second year as a full-timer at left tackle and his final audition for pro scouts.  Still somewhat of an unfinished product, he’s an outstanding athlete with the ideal 6-6, 300-pound frame for a tackle. Thomas was flying well below the NFL radar this time last year, so there’s hope for Beatty if he can put it all together.

Projected Top Reserves: Applying heat to Hicks at right tackle is junior Dan Ryan, a five-game starter from a year ago. At 6-8 and 290 pounds, he’s an imposing specimen with plenty of experience and the long arms to jolt rushers of their stance. Ryan is, at worst, a quality backup who’ll be even better when he adds more upper body strength.

The Huskies’ top reserve guard is junior Alex LaMagdelaine, a versatile lineman who can also fill in at center if necessary. Although the 6-3, 307-pounder hasn’t exactly flourished over the last two seasons, getting passed on the depth chart by younger players, he does provide experience and leadership to the second unit.

Backup center Trey Tonsing has eight starts at the pivot, but that was way back in 2005, before he was suspended for a year and supplanted by Gray. Even if the 6-3, 301-pound former walk-on is no threat to the top spot, he brings much-needed senior know-how to the B team.   

Watch Out For… the new guards. The coaching staff has been very impressed by the tenacity and maturity of Hurd and Petrus, who are being given a chance to help transform a Husky line that’s seeking an infusion of new energy.
Strength: Depth. While it’s taken a few years to get to this point, Edsall finally has a two-deep at the offensive line that has a good mix of talent and experience. Five linemen have started games at some point in their career, and the second team has players that’ll compete for playing time and won’t freeze up if pressed into action.
Weakness: Pass protection. While there were modest improvements, mainly due to Tyler Lorenzen’s elusiveness, the Huskies were still one of the Big East’s worst pass protectors for a second straight year. They yielded 30 sacks and too many pressures for a team that doesn’t pass often, creating an open competition when the program convened for practice in the spring.
Outlook: Connecticut believes its getting better in the trenches, but by how much will depend on the development of the new guards, Petrus and Hurd. If they’re as ready as they appeared to be in April, the line will be a plus.
Rating: 6.5