Previewing the 2023 UConn Football team ahead of spring ball
The birds are chirping, the grass is getting greener, and the days are getting longer, which can only mean one thing. It is time for spring football.
UConn Football is coming off it’s first bowl appearance since 2015 and they are returning most of the players from 2022, but yet there are many questions going into spring practice.
The first question on everyone’s mind is, who will be quarterback? Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson won the job last year, but tore his ACL on the second drive of the opening game at Utah State. He has been seen in conditioning videos posted by UConn, but the question remains how ready is he? Will he be comfortable running? What’s his eligibility situation, can he use a medical redshirt for last year?
True freshman Zion Turner led the Huskies to six wins, and although he had some freshman struggles, he was a competent game manager who made the occasional big pass when needed. He had a limited receiving corps that suffered injuries to Cam Ross, Nigel Fitzgerald, and Keelan Marion, as well as losing Matt Drayton to a season long suspension. If Roberson or other wins the job, does Turner stick around?
Offensive Coordinator Nick Charlton has brought in his former QB at Maine, Joseph Fagnano to the QB room. He threw for 2,231 yards, 15 TDs, and perhaps more importantly, only six INTs. He knows Charlton’s offense, has three years of game experience, and stands tall in the pocket at 6-3 225. It’d be hard to imagine he left a starting position in one of the best FCS conferences to be third or fourth on the depth chart, so the expectation is Fagnano makes a push to start.
Tyler Phommachanh who started three games in 2021 before tearing his ACL against Vanderbilt is still around, and although he didn’t see any action in 2022, Husky fans still clamored to see him when Turner was struggling. Phommachanh is athletic, and has shown he can lead the team in a close loss to Wyoming, and played well before his injury at Vanderbilt. Does he make a push this spring, change positions, or transfer?
One of the strongest positions on the team last year was bolstered by the addition of Louisville transfer Jalen Mitchell. He is a bigger back at 5-foot-10, 221lbs and he had 722 yards and five TDs in 2021 before struggling with injury in 2022. He joins a rotation of Victor Rosa, Devontae Houston, and Brian Brewton, all of whom stepped up after Nate Carter went down with a season ending injury. Carter has since transferred to Michigan State. Who starts? Does it make a difference is probably the better question, as each back more than held their own. New RB coach Curtis Wilcox comes from Furman and replaces EJ Barthel who has since left for Nebraska. He has talent and experience in his group, can he capitalize?
The main question for this group will surround injuries. Cam Ross came back at the end of the year after a broken foot in summer practice, but wasn’t 100%. Same with Keelan Marion, who came back from a broken collarbone to catch a big two point conversion on his only rep against Liberty, but like Ross was not 100%. Nigel Fitzgerald tore his ACL in September. Where are each of them at in their recovery?
TE was largely a blocking position last season until the emergence of Justin Joly mid season. Joly is sort of a hybrid TE/WR, so what about the “true” TEs? UConn brought in Michigan transfer Louis Hansen, who would be expected to start. Brandon Niemenski, who started last year will be expected to compete for the job and has shown flashes. Where does former DL Rayonte Brown fit, along with Bo Estes and another former DL Nick Harris?
We can’t talk about the running game without the offensive line, and the big boys up front, and this group was very solid in 2022. One of the few groups that hadn’t suffered injuries, only one, Jake Guidone, has exited the program. 3rd team All-American Christian Haynes returns, even though he most likely could have gone pro. The question is who replaces Guidone. Yakiri Walker is the most likely candidate. Does anyone else move around?
Like their counterparts on the offensive line, the defensive line is returning most of its production from last season. Sokoya McDuffie, Eric Watts, Jelani Stafford, and Dal’mont Gourdine all return to anchor the line. Backup Kayode Oladele departs, but Collin McCarthy and Pryce Yates, both of whom started at points last year return. Carter Hooper, Matt Hoffman, Jori Benson, and Timothy Passmore, all true freshmen or redshirt freshmen also return. The unit is bolstered by the addition of Richmond transfer Ray Eldridge. Eldridge played in 37 games for Spiders accounting for 71 tackles and six sacks. Where does he fit?
Linebacker was another strength, however the unit loses Brandon Bouyer-Randle and his 98 tackles, Ian Swenson and his 88 tackles, and backups Hunter Webb and Marquez Bembry.
However Jackson Mitchell returns and his 140 tackles returns and will anchor the unit, while UConn has brought in UCF/Kansas transfer Eric Gilyard and Noah Plack, a Delaware transfer who had 269 tackles in 43 games with the Blue Hens.
Can anyone else step up, including Jordan Morrison, Tui Faumuina-Brown, Desmond Fogle, Donovan Branch, and Nate Voorhis?
Much of the secondary returns, including Durante Jones, Malcolm Bell, Chris Shearin, Malik Dixon-Williams, and Kaleb Anthony returns from injury. The lone departure was Tre Wortham, who exhausted eligibility. Who steps up and replaces his productivity? Shearing had his moments last season and will be expected to do more this year. Can Myles Bell find the promise he had in 2019 before suffering a season ending injury in 2021? Does highly touted freshman Cam Chadwick find his way into the lineup? Where does West Virginia transfer Mumu Bin-Wahad fit? Similarly, where does Washington transfer Zakhari Spears fit as the safety position is seemingly locked down by Jones and Dixon-Williams.
Kicker Joe McFadden suffered a season ending knee injury before the season, forcing Noe Ruelas into action. Ruelas did well, making 12-16 field goals including a long of 54. He will compete with McFadden for the starting job. Arkansas transfer George Caratan returns to the starting punting job after averaging 39.7 yards per punt including a long of 55. UConn will be looking for him to boost those numbers.
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