We all pretty much agreed that any success the UConn football team may have in 2011 will be dependent on the defense. The unit will be expected to keep games close early in the year while the offense finds its footing. And although there are plenty of issues to sort out offensively, not every position comes with question marks up and down the depth chart.
For instance, the offensive line is a particular strength, which is great news for whichever quarterback ends up with the starting job, not to mention the running backs who will be relied upon to take pressure off the aforementioned inexperienced QB.
We bring this up because ESPN.com Big East blogger Andrea Adelson rolled out a new feature this week: positional rankings for each Big East team. First, the silver lining: the Huskies' o-line ranks third in the conference behind Syracuse and West Virginia. Adelson writes:
The strength of this unit is at tackle and center, where the Huskies return first-team All-Big East selection Mike Ryan (20 career starts) and Adam Masters (18 career starts). Moe Petrus, a second-team all-conference pick, has 39 career starts. Their experience should help along the guards -- nobody on the roster has started a game at the position. The good news is that Gary Bardzak does have starting experience, but it came at center.
Now the dark cloud. Adelson's wide receiver rankings don't offer any surprises, but it's sobering nonetheless. Yep, the Huskies' wideouts are dead last in the conference.
A playmaker has got to emerge from this group to help out whoever is going to be playing quarterback. The Huskies lost leading receiver Mike Smith because of academics. Kashif Moore, Ryan Griffin and Isiah Moore return but UConn is going to need some of its redshirt freshmen like Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones, Jr. to step up. The Huskies are not preparing to run the spread, so the potential for a 1,000-yard receiver in this group is low.
So while UConn's QB to be named later will benefit from a talented offensive line, the passing game still suffers from a lack of big-play talent. Mike Smith being ruled academically ineligible obviously doesn't help, although it may provide opportunities for young players like Jones Jr. and Davis.
But we've heard all this before, and thankfully, the coaching staff isn't pretending that the offense isn't a problem. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni has stated previously that he'll have to fit the scheme to his current players. And offensive coordinator George DeLeone has plans to diversify the Huskies' attack next season.
Even without a legitimate deep threat, UConn will have to be able to throw the ball, if for no other reason than to keep defenses from focusing solely on the running game. Of course, that's the goal of every scouting report. Usually the difference comes down to preparation. And that's where DeLeone thinks the Huskies have the advantage.
"What I've always believed in — and what Coach P has always believed — is we want each member of our staff to have a very specific role, responsibility in the film breakdown of the opponent, the game-planning [for that] opponent," DeLeone said, according to the Hartford Courant. Their job is to be the experts on our staff in that area.
"What does that mean? . . . . The coach that's responsible . . . . better be ready with his stuff; he's going to know the [opponent's] defense in that phase better than anybody; he's going to have thoughts on our game plan, he's going to present it to our offensive staff. We watch together, he'll be the lead dog on that. We'll make suggestions, deletions, additions and we go. Once that's done we go on to the next phase."