This could be a big year for Connecticut.
The Huskies were playing as well as anybody in the Big East down the stretch and finished the 2009 season with a victory over South Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl. They bring back a wealth of starters and plenty of depth. I caught up with UConn coach Randy Edsall last week to talk about the beginning of spring practice, which starts March 16. This is part I of my interview. Check back later for part II.
First of all, you have to be feeling pretty good about where the program is given all the players you bring back from last year, right?
Randy Edsall: We do. We have a lot of guys back and we only have 12 seniors on the roster, so that bodes well for us. We're going to have more depth than we've ever had. The thing about this spring that's going to be a little different is, we're going to have a lot of guys who won't be doing things because of injuries. So we'll be able to get a lot of work in, but some of the kids won't be out there with us because of injury. But the thing I'm excited about is that we're going to give some of these young guys a lot of work to even develop more depth in the program.
Do the injuries cause a little less of a concern this spring just because you have so much experience coming back?
RE: Yeah, it really does. Just looking at our depth chart and our board ... even though Jesse Joseph is not going to go through the spring, Greg Lloyd is not going to go through the spring, Blidi Wreh-Wilson is not going to go through the spring on defense, with those guys out we still have so many guys and we know what those guys can do because they played for us. And now get some other kids more repetitions and kids we know are going to be available to play next year. For me, it's a plus for us. And we had six kids who came in at midyear, so it's another plus that those kids are going to get a lot of reps.
We're not going to be the finished product coming out of spring, because like with Jimmy Bennett and Mike Ryan on offense, they're not going to be practicing due to the injuries that they had in the fall and Robbie Frey will be limited and won't be full go. That's where in terms of the offensive line, it's going to give us a chance to work with some of our young guys and really get them a lot of reps to develop them so if they've got to get into a game, they're going to have some experience there.
Let's talk about the quarterbacks. Zach Frazer played well for you at the end of the year, but Cody Endres also played well before his injury. Is Frazer the No. 1 guy right now or is it more of a competition?
RE: As we came out of the season, we won four straight there with Zach and I thought he did some good things. Cody did, too, I think, so we're in a good situation. But as we go into the spring, Zach's the No. 1 guy and it would be his job to lose. He knows there's always competition, but he's the No. 1 guy as we start practice on the 16th.
What did you like about the way Frazer played at the end of the year?
RE: I thought he really just played within himself. I thought he was relaxed, he was poised and I thought he made a lot of good decisions He wasn't forcing the ball; he was taking what the defense was giving and throwing the ball where it should have been thrown. And when it wasn't there, he threw the ball away as opposed to trying to make a great play, squeeze a ball into somewhere you shouldn't. I really thought he did a good job of what we asked him to do in the game plans we had for those games.
People may forget that you put in a new offense last year, and there must have been some adjustments along the way.
RE: You could see the improvement as the season went on with what we did offensively, and I think one of the keys this spring is now the kids are going to be more comfortable in the offense. There are going to be some things that we're able to do to add or to tweak where we think it will make us better. But I was pleased with the development of the offense as the season went along. Our point production and passing yardage was up from a year ago, and we maintained what we wanted to do in the running game.
It took two guys to replace Donald Brown, but that's fine. And we want to keep building on the positives we had last year and keep moving forward, and the good thing is we only lost Andre [Dixon], and we still have Jordan Todman coming back. We lost Brad [Kanuch] and Marcus Easley, but we feel we have receivers to step in and do the job. And up front the only guy we lost was Mike Hicks. We really feel good about the guys we have coming back and what we can do to improve upon the production and the output we had a year ago.
Last year you had such a good 1-2 punch at tailback with Todman and Dixon. Is that something you'd like to repeat this year, and do you have someone who can replace Dixon to pair with Todman?
RE: We feel pretty good about some of the tailbacks that we have. Robbie Frey, when he's had his opportunities to get in there, has a done a good job. Now, we won't see [Frey] this spring, but with Meme Wylie, we think he kind of gives you the same things and is faster than what Andre was. Martin Hyppolite was a young guy that we redshirted, and then we moved Jonathan Jean-Louis over there, so we kind of like what we have there.
If we can have two guys, I'd like to have two guys because I think it kind of keeps them fresh. I think Donald was a little bit of a rarity when it comes to what he was able to do for us. I mean, hey, if we feel like Jordan was a guy who was able to tote it that many times, that's great, but I really believe we'll utilize more than just one. Jordan will probably be the featured guy, but we've got guys there who can spell him, and that's why we have spring ball to see what other contributions guys can give us in certain situations.
Marcus Easley had a terrific year for you at receiver. Who are the guys you're looking for this spring to take a step forward and replace some of that production?
RE: Kashif Moore made a lot of big plays so I think looking for him to be even more dynamic for us this year, and Isiah Moore had some catches last year. When you look at certain individuals, Mike Lang who played a little bit last year, Gerrard Sheppard, Dwayne Difton, Malik Generett who we redshirted and then Mike Smith. Between those guys, they have ability, it's just a matter of who's going to step in and be counted on. I think that's always the neat part about the spring -- there's always a guy who comes along and there's plenty of opportunity.
But there are guys who are talented. It's just a matter of who's going to go out there and be consistent and be able to make those plays day in and day out.
Is finding consistent receivers one of the key questions for you this spring?
RE: It is from the standpoint that there are guys -- Mike Smith played for us and Kashif and Isiah have played quite a bit for us -- but other than that you really don't have anybody and the other guys were all freshmen last year. Nick Williams and Dwayne and Mike Lang played but mostly on special teams and Malik was redshirted. So now you're going to see what those guys can do.
Offensively it's just a position where we don't have guys who've been on the field so much. That's the position on offense we'll have to take a look at, and also offensive line where the depth is going to come from, the backups. Tight end same: We have the same three guys who played for us last year. For me it's not a question mark, it's just determining which guys are going to be the contributors at receiver.
Right tackle is the only spot you need to replace on the offensive line. What are you looking at there this spring?
RE: Jimmy Bennett is a guy there once he gets back from his injury. But then again we've got Adam Masters, who will be there this spring, we've got Kevin Friend on the other side because Mike Ryan isn't going to go through the spring because of an injury. So what we're going to try to do is find the third- or fourth-best tackle there and then we've got a couple young guys there that are at tackle. Then what you look at is Matt Olivier is the starting left guard backed up by Eric Kuraczea, who started some last year.
It's one of those things where you're looking at always trying to get the five best guys up there. So if we have the three guys at guard who we think are starters, maybe we take a look at maybe like a Matt Olivier at left tackle. But I don't think we're going to do that; we're just going to get through the spring because we know Mike Ryan and Jimmy will be there for us in the fall, and we'll just try to develop those younger guys and see if they can go out and be a starter for us.
How is Jimmy Bennett doing? He's had a couple of knee problems now.
RE: He'll probably do some running this spring, maybe some drills, but he will not be out there doing any contact or intensity. He's ahead of schedule right now, and the doctors are really pleased with where he's at in rehab.