Huskies keep eye to the future; coach discusses changes

Joe Perez

Coming off the heels of his team’s 24-10 loss to Wake Forest in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday, UConn football Coach Randy Edsall doesn’t want to take away from what his team accomplished this season.

However, after having the chance to review the game footage, he believes there is much to be taken from the defeat heading into the offseason.

“We had a tremendous year, we really did,” he said in his year-end teleconference Monday afternoon. “I’m not sounding down. It’s like anything else, when you play, you want to win and we didn’t win. I think when our kids watch the tape, they’re going to see we had a lot of opportunities. Defensively, what happened on third down, 8-of-16, and we had them in third-and-long a lot of times.”

The problems went beyond the defense, and as a result, the coach is looking to make changes. He said the poor play of the team’s wide receivers has opened up the competition at the position to include incoming freshmen and those who were redshirted this season.

One person who is in a favorable position heading into the offseason is 5-foot-10 Kashif Moore, who’s impressed Edsall. According to Edsall, the new freshman wideouts are being told they have the opportunity to take the field next season.

“We’ve got to develop a vertical game and we’ve got to be able to take the shots down the field and throw it,” he said. “Not that you have to run by everybody all the time, but there are things that you can do to do that.”

But by establishing a passing attack, the Huskies will need more consistent play at quarterback from Tyler Lorenzen and more physical play from the offensive line.

For Lorenzen, the challenge is to improve upon his decision-making. With Dennis Brown and Notre Dame transfer Zach Fraser waiting in the wings, Edsall’s patience with Lorenzen may not be as long as it was this season.

“If he doesn’t perform at a level that he should, I’m not going to hesitate (to replace him),” Edsall said.

Part of Lorenzen’s woes, especially in three of the team’s four losses, was that the offensive line was manhandled and the pressure on him made the quarterback’s life far more stressful than necessary. With a slew of young linemen returning, the goal is to toughen up the position with more physical play.

“We weren’t as physical as I wanted us to be this year,” Edsall said. “That’s going to be a big emphasis for me this offseason. ... You can list all the weights you want to list, but you’ve got to go out there and come off the ball and be more physical than what we are.”

And now that the season is behind them, some of the graduating Huskies are preparing for the potential of professional football careers.

Edsall said cornerback Tyvon Branch, guard Donald Thomas and linebacker Danny Lansanah have been invited to the National Football League’s draft combine in Indianapolis in March.

Branch is the one player who Edsall believes will be drafted. Thanks to his combination of size (6-feet, 199 pounds), speed (New York State track champion) and ability to excel on special teams, Branch is someone the coach “would be surprised if he wasn’t drafted.”

Edsall mentioned that there is speculation Branch would have to move to safety in the NFL.

Thomas didn’t play football until he came to UConn, but there is definite interest in him. While Edsall doesn’t expect him to be drafted, he calls the Thomas a “priority free agent,” someone teams are going to want to sign immediately following April’s draft.

“I didn’t know I could play football the way I could,” Thomas said. “I knew I was strong enough to compete with the competition out there. I just didn’t know if I had the ability to or not. I think I realized quickly into the season I was able to do it and I was able to do it pretty good. It’s just a shocker to me when I watch film. I kind of impress myself because I didn’t think I was actually doing what I was doing. I guess football was my calling.”

As for Lansanah, the concern over his lack of speed may prove prohibitive to a career in the NFL, but Edsall hopes that one of his favorite players “gets a shot at the next level.”

Receiver Larry Taylor, who returned punts for touchdowns in both the Meineke Car Care Bowl and in 2004’s Motor City Bowl, is someone who Edsall thinks may have a future playing in Canada because of his speed. As for defensive tackle Dan Davis, Edsall is concerned that injuries sustained earlier in the lineman’s career might scare away potential suitors.

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