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Offensive players shine in first preseason scrimmage
Notes from the Huskies' first live action of the season.
Photos by Ian Bethune
UConn football held a live scrimmage Saturday morning and the story of the day is that the offense might have the dudes to make the leap that Jim Mora and the Huskies need for this season to be a success.
Last year’s offense was hamstrung by injuries and the fact that it had a bit less talent to work with compared to the defense once Mora took over. Offensive coordinator Nick Charlton came to the UConn coaching staff highly recommended from Maine and even if his unit’s depth is tested by injuries again, this year’s roster should be better positioned to handle it.
At quarterback, all three of the players that Mora said are competing for the starting job demonstrated their strengths on Saturday. Maine transfer Joe Fagnano has impressive physical tools and is a sharp passer. Ta’Quan Roberson has a strong command of the offense and lots of playmaking ability. He led multiple touchdown drives in the scrimmage and had a nice long TD toss to WR Jacob Flynn.
Zion Turner has matured, according to safety Malik Dixon-Williams, who went up against him that day. Turner capped off a solid practice performance with a nice throw to the corner of the end zone to Kylish Hicks, a freshman receiver who could be a breakout player this year.
Hicks is one of many new names that are expected to contribute at receiver. I could see around three guys being the leading pass-catchers with similar stats, and another few popping up on occasion. Not sure if anyone has emerged as a true “No. 1” at this point.
Brett Buckman stood out in the last open practice Monday. In Saturday’s scrimmage, the Delaware transfer had a number of nice catches including a touchdown. Dixon-Williams praised Buckman’s abilities as a complete receiver and said that James Burns (from FCS Austin Peay) can do exactly what his last name suggests to opposing DBs. Look out for New Mexico transfer Geordon Porter as well.
“This is the same offense, same coaching staff…now that you see a little bit of help sprinkled in with some other guys, you’ll see the explosiveness that they can get,” assistant D-line coach Kenny McClendon said.
McClendon also noted increased talent levels at QB and running back.
“Devonte [Houston]. Victor [Rosa], Cam [Edwards], even [Jalen Mitchell], those guys can roll a little bit downfield and that's the biggest thing…They’re not afraid either. They’ve got the physicality to go in between the tackles.” Houston and Brian Brewton both had nice touchdown runs in the scrimmage while Edwards and Rosa have been involved as well.
One player did go down with an injury early. Tight end Alex Honig, a transfer from TCU by way of Germany, appeared to take a helmet to the knee and sat the rest of practice with ice on it.
That position group has seen a lot of different names taking first- and second-team reps. Michigan transfer Louis Hansen has been heavily involved along with junior Brandon Niemenski, and a bunch of others got reps while returning breakout player Justin Joly did not participate in the live scrimmage portion of the practice.
The defense has a lot of new faces who are expected to bring talent and depth at all three levels, but particularly at linebacker and defensive back. McClendon said he has high hopes for the defense’s returning players as well, particularly on his unit.
“It’s not just Eric [Watts],” he explained. “It’s Dal [Dal’Mont Gourdine], it’s Jelani [Stafford], it’s RJ [Wilkins], it’s Sokoya [McDuffie], Price [Yates], Carter [Hooper]...all those guys have taken great strides.”
Watts and linebacker Jackson Mitchell, who was recently named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list, are among the returning players expected to take on leadership roles. Watts said he intends to double his disruption this year, aiming for 14 sacks and 20 TFL after notching seven and 10 last year, respectively. The linebackers and defensive backs are also welcoming a number of experienced new additions to the roster, as detailed in our first camp update.
In last Monday’s open practice, a CFL guy appeared to be the only pro scout in attendance. On Saturday, representatives from the NFL’s Colts, Raiders, Dolphins, Cardinals, Broncos, and Cowboys were spotted in Storrs.