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The QB competition is getting clearer
The field is starting to narrow under center in Storrs.
On Saturday, after a team scrimmage that was open to the media, UConn offensive coordinator Nick Charlton shared that the quarterback competition is making progress.
“There’s starting to be separation,” he said. “We’re not making any decisions today, but we do know who’s separating, so it’s gonna change the reps.”
The leader of the Husky offense is optimistic about seeing a large leap from his crew this season.
“Last year was a challenge with the personnel…now we’re moving forward, and we feel like we have the personnel to do it,” Charlton said.
He shared that he felt slightly better after Saturday as well.
“Second time we’ve moved the ball well in a scrimmage,” Charlton said, pointing to optimism around the offensive line’s continuity and an influx of talent at receiver, where he said he found their progress to be encouraging.
“Our speed is drastically increased,” he said.
He also mentioned that WR Cam Ross would likely start a game if there was one the next day, hypothetically, and echoed a similar sentiment for Kevens Clercius, even though we’re not seeing a lot of them. Mora previously said that he’s keeping Ross limited during the preseason in part because he’s a proven player but also to make sure he “gets to the starting line” after essentially losing two seasons to injury.
Charlton didn’t specify where he’s leaning at QB, but our guess is that the competition is down to Ta’Quan Roberson and Joseph Fagnano.
“At the end of the day, the best man will win,” Roberson said.
Roberson is technically the incumbent, having earned the starting job last year, but has his work cut out for him to re-claim the starter’s duties. Zion Turner won six games in his absence and Fagnano has a lot going for him despite being a new transfer. He played under Charlton at Maine for three seasons, starting games since he was a freshman in 2019, winning the Black Bears’ Offensive Rookie of the Year award as well.
“[Coming here] made that transition even easier, knowing the ins and outs of that offense, being able to run it for almost four or five years now…I know the offense,” Fagnano said. Last season, he threw for 2,231 yards and 15 touchdowns with a 57 percent completion rate and six interceptions in 11 starts and was a Second Team All-CAA selection in the Spring of 2021.
The Williamsport, Pa. native described his approach to the position: “I’m trying to get the ball to the skill [players] as fast as I can, reading defenses, taking what the defense is giving me, and after you chip so many away take a shot over the top,” Fagnano said.
Charlton stated that Roberson looked quite a bit ahead of where he was at this time last year, saying that “he sees the game a lot faster now,” and called the former Penn State transfer an “elite passer” who is accurate and on-time with his throws and dangerous enough as a runner. He also praised Roberson’s focus and passion as well as his effort as a student of the game. Mora has lauded Roberson’s attitude and work ethic as well.
In terms of the timetable for a decision, the coaching staff plans to make an announcement to the team internally on a specified time frame in advance of the season opener against NC State. Charlton appears to be ready to open the playbook up this year after being limited in large part due to injuries last season.
“[You] need to be able to run the whole operation,” Charlton said of what he’s looking for from the starter. “The more they can handle, typically those guys are gonna play.”
Fagnano offered his recollection of what a Nick Charlton offense looks like when the machine is humming.
“He’s able to do different things with different guys, spread the offense out, bring it in tight,” he explained. “It’s very versatile.”
On the offensive line, Charlton was fairly open about having four entrenched starters and an open competition for the fifth spot, saying that the five best guys will play. So far it appears Yakiri Walker and Chris Fortin are pushing for the center duties but Charlton also said that the five best guys will play.
Charlton mentioned that some guys are banged up at running back. Victor Rosa didn’t play but was in pads, while Brian Brewton visited the trainer as well.
Fagnano shared that UConn’s Storrs campus has a lot more going on than his previous school and that he enjoyed being there for the men’s basketball team’s national championship.
The offensive line is earning high praise. Roberson said the line will make sure UConn is in any game, and Charlton said it looks like one of the best O-lines he’s been around (he coached at Boston College as a graduate assistant before Maine), “I can’t imagine a lot of offensive lines like the one we have.” Running back Devontae Houston said the line could protect him from a pack of gorillas.