Coming off a 2-10 season, UConn football head coach Bob Diaco and the Huskies showed their fair share of offensive ineptitude. While the defense kept the team in games, the offense struggled to produce enough points to stay in games.
As Diaco enters his second season at the helm, he brings in yet another wave of his own recruits and new faces as he hopes to improve on last year’s unit, which ranked 123rd out of 125 teams in total offense.
After losing Chandler Whitmer to graduation, the Huskies are once again in the midst of a quarterback battle heading into the season. North Carolina State University transfer Bryant Shirreffs is the frontrunner for the Huskies this season, taking a majority of the first team reps at practice. Shirreffs started for the Blue team in this year’s spring game and went 13-24 for 168 yards with a touchdown.
Tim Boyle and Garrett Anderson figure to be the other contenders for the position. Since stepping on campus three years ago as one of UConn’s highest-profile recruits, Boyle has been unable to string together solid performances in his time under center. In nine games with the Huskies last season, Boyle completed 43 of 82 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown.
Despite his lackluster stats, Boyle displays the prototypical size of a premier quarterback and will likely give Shirreffs a run for his money as the No. 1 quarterback.
Anderson comes to UConn as a junior college transfer from Laney Junior College in California. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Anderson is a dual threat quarterback, using quality arm strength and a 4.6 40-yard dash time to move the chains. Although Anderson didn’t start in his sophomore season, he still managed to throw for 612 yards and 11 touchdowns with only one interception.
“This is a grown man,” Diaco said of Anderson. “Strong mind, strong heart, stronger purpose... he’s just a mature grown man.”
Freshmen Tyler Davis and Brandon Bisack are also possible options but will likely be redshirted.
Diaco said he will name the starting quarterback on Sunday.
Similar to last season, Diaco and the Huskies will likely use multiple running backs in their offense this year. Ron Johnson, Arkeel Newsome, and Max DeLorenzo figure to share carries in backfield, with Johnson likely getting the majority of the carries.
Johnson led the Huskies with 429 rushing yards and three touchdowns last season in his freshman year, including a 101-yard performance in UConn’s final game of the season against Southern Methodist.
Like Johnson, Newsome made an impact in his freshman campaign, becoming the first true freshman to rack up 1,000 all-purpose since Terry Caulley in 2002. Heading into this season, Newsome will need to focus on ball security, as his inability to hold onto the football hampered numerous offensive drives last season.
DeLorenzo returns for his senior season as a steady and stable option in the backfield. The Berlin native offers a solid downhill-running presence and also excels in pass protection. Look for DeLorenzo to relieve Johnson and Newsome and provide quality protection in the backfield.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
At the 2015 American Athletic Conference Media Day on August 4, Diaco set the bar high for junior Noel Thomas, the Huskies’ top returning receiver this year.
“If he’s not one of the most dominant wide receivers in the country then shame on him,” Diaco said. “This guy’s making an investment. I’ve been around great wide receivers, and he looks like one of them.”
Thomas caught 26 passes for 305 yards, including a team-high four touchdowns. After establishing himself as legitimate option in the passing game, Diaco believes Thomas has put in enough work to take his talent to the next level.
Thomas Lucas and Dhameer Bradley will also factor into UConn’s receiving corps this season as they look to replace one of the best receivers in program history, Geremy Davis.
Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom will both start as part of Diaco’s two-tight end offensive scheme. Both players garnered invaluable experience last season, and the two will look to use their size to help fill the void created by the departure of last year’s starter, Sean McQuillan.
“Tommy Myers now looks like a dude,” Diaco said. “He’s got soft hands, he’s got good body control, he can always get open. Now he’s turned the key himself through investment into a guy that can be a force at the point of attack.”
Last season, the offensive line was a glaring weakness for the Huskies and a significant contributor to their poor offensive performance. Opponents sacked UConn quarterbacks 30 times for 181 yards, which severely hampered the Huskies’ abilities to let plays develop due to a lack of pocket protection.
Heading into this season, the line still serves as a major issue for UConn, especially with center Ryan Crozier out for the season with a lower body injury. While the Huskies look for his replacement, junior captain Andreas Knappe has progressed tremendously in his transition to the offensive line from two years ago. The Denmark native has all the tools to be a successful offensive lineman, but will likely need more reps in order to gain the necessary experience to succeed at the Division I level.
“He possesses all the traits to be a great tackle, he just needs to now do it,” Diaco said. “His best football is so far out in front of him it’s incredible. His upside is off the charts.”
While the Huskies will be hard pressed to find a replacement for Crozier, Knappe’s potential talent could help stabilize the line tremendously this season.