By Erica Brancato
As UConn football spring practice is in its midpoint for 2015, head coach Bob Diaco looks to establish players in strong positions. With a fresh start to the season and a few position changes, each player has been practicing to see where they best fit on the team.
UConn held its seventh spring practice on Friday and eighth on Saturday, which was also its annual Coaches Clinic. UConn wraps up its 15 dates of Spring Practice on April 11 with the playing of the Blue-White Game at Rentschler Field. For information on that free event, please CLICK HERE.
"What we would like to do is to have the best players play and the most physically gifted player play," Diaco said.
With such a young team for the 2015 season, Diaco and the coaching staff have been able to play with the chemistry on the field and develop players in different positions.
As with most position groups, the offensive line development has been a big focus. Sophomore Ryan Crozier (Plantation Fla.) has been experimenting with the center position, and Diaco said he believes that experiment was a success. Through his hard work and skill, Diaco believes Crozier will be a big help for the Huskies. Crozier started ten games on the offensive line in 2014 -- the final three at left guard.
Along with Crozier, the Huskies look to rely on sophomore Trey Rutherford (Markham, Ont.), senior Tyler Samra (Wycoff, N.J.), redshirt junior Andreas Knappe (Silkeborg, Denmark) and redshirt junior Richard Levy's (Trenton, N.J.) experience on the line to help drive the offense. Levy started all 12 games at left tackle in 2015, while Samra was the started all season at right guard and Knappe started the final seven games of '15 at right tackle. Rutherford gained great experience as a true freshman last year in ten games. Redshirt sophomore Tommy Hopkins (Hawthorne, N.Y.) is also in the mix after playing in all 12 games last year on special teams.
"They are growing and doing a nice job. There is that battle for who that fifth player (on the offensive line) is, Diaco said. "That's been a good battle. Rutherford, Hopkins are two guys in particular who have really done a nice job and are really in an intense battle for that fifth spot. So we have been looking at different combinations to see who at this point are the best five right now."
Though the Huskies have big shoes to fill with the loss of Byron Jones in the defensive secondary and Geremy Davis at the wide receiver spot, Diaco and the Huskies remain hopeful and confident that there will be players to successfully do their jobs. Each player is improving on and off the field throughout the spring training; they remain confident and ready to work, Diaco said.
Diaco noted after a recent spring practice that the confidence and continued determination from the team is also due in part to the group of walk-ons for the Huskies. He said that they are "the heart and soul of the team."
As an example, he pointed out redshirt junior defensive tackle Sean Marinan (Higganum, Conn.) and redshirt junior Nick Vitale (Madison, Conn.), who add skill and confidence to the team. Diaco said he believes these two bring the necessary spirit and determination to the team that adds assurance.
"Sean Marinan is a great teammate," Diaco said. "He busts his butt--he's a son of a coach-and he's a great teammate. He's got the right answers. He knows what to do in the locker room. There's a lot of things he adds before you even get on the field. On the field he's a battler: very scrappy and demonstrative. He plays actually one of the greatest roles that we have. He's the middle shield on our punt team, which as the middle shield of the punt team you run the punt team."