A day after UConn football head coach Randy Edsall announced his 16-player incoming recruiting class, he talked at length about the current state of his program.
In one word, UConn football heading into 2021 could be described as promising. The program is coming off a bye year in which it decided to avoid the nightmare trying to play games in a coronavirus-plagued season and instead focused on preparing for the 2021 season by lifting and practicing. Edsall is happy with the way that decision played out.
“I thought all that time was very significant for our overall development as players,” Edsall said in a Zoom call on Thursday. “We were able to get a lot of really good work in … that you really got a chance to teach it, go over it, rep it, correct it and coach it without the process of a game plan … All in all, I thought it was very good for us.”
Even without playing any games, the team had its own COVID-19 troubles. Edsall reported that there were 23 positive cases in the program over the course of the semester, and through contact tracing, 70 players had to be quarantined at some point. So even if they had decided to try and play a few games, that likely would have gotten in the way.
Edsall said having this semester completely committed to getting better for the future helped the entire team, but it really helped specific groups and specific players even more. He said the freshmen really benefited in getting a lot more individual work done before ever getting on the field. In addition, he said players like Eric Watts and Jackson Mitchell who had to play as true freshmen got to take this fall as a late redshirt season to put on muscle and get a lot better.
Edsall name-dropped basically the whole roster to say how proud he is of the progress they’ve made, but he said two players really stood out: offensive tackle and captain Ryan Van Demark and linebacker Ian Swenson.
“Ryan Van Demark is a guy who’s really stepped up, and you saw him just take more of a leadership role on offense in totality,” Edsall said. “Also, he’s just gotten so much better from a fundamental and technique standpoint, and then also physically, he’s just a much bigger guy than what he was.”
“One of the guys that made the biggest impact on defense in terms of his development was Ian Swenson,” Edsall continued. “He was very, very impressive. He’s gotten a lot better.”
Edsall said overall, the team has made big improvements this fall, and it will be noticeable when the players take the field.
“When you see our guys in the spring, you’re gonna see a different-looking team physically,” Edsall said. “There’s a lot of guys that really made some great strides in the weight room.”
Now the question is will all the hard work done during this off year translate into success for UConn football? It’s no secret that the team hasn’t done well recently, winning just six games in the last three seasons since Edsall returned. But now moving forward into their new role as a college football independent, Edsall is very optimistic about the Huskies’ future.
He said his vision for the future is to have a “wide open” offense that utilizes all different weapons and a “physical, tough, swarming” defense that dictates the game and puts the offense in a position to succeed.
That sounds like a good recipe if all goes well.
Edsall said the place where the team is in the best shape moving forward is their depth at multiple positions, namely the defensive line, the running backs and most of all, the wide receivers.
“I think our receiver group is probably as deep as any receiver group that I’ve ever been around here at UConn,” Edsall said. “I like the development of these guys and the competition there.”
“I think our receiver group is probably as deep as any receiver group that I’ve ever been around here at UConn.”head coach Randy Edsall
Edsall said there’s still a lot of work to be done in every area, but he feels they really addressed their biggest need this fall, which was needing to get bigger, stronger and better fundamentally.
We’ll have to see how everything plays out, but it could be the first time in a while for UConn fans to be cautiously optimistic about their football team. Despite not playing any games this season, it sounds like the program took steps in the right direction and will be ready to compete in 2021.
“It wasn’t a year off for us,” Edsall said. “We worked just as hard in the fall and put the time in in terms of football and recruiting and player development … When you get an opportunity to do that and make the most of that opportunity, I think it enhances your program and I think that’s what this will do for us.”