Three things to watch as UConn football practice begins Monday

Jim Mora set the foundation for a revamped, or “revolutionized,” to use his word, UConn football program with a 6-6 regular season record and a bowl appearance last year.
Despite it being the program’s most successful season in seven years, Mora, the former NFL head coach and defensive coordinator, has his sights set much higher in the future. Entering his second season with the Huskies, Mora hasn’t been shy about his want to join a Power Five conference. And with the possibility of a Big 12 invite continuing to be floated, he has emphasized a need for greater investment into the program in order for it to compete at the level he ultimately envisions it reaching.
This season, with new freshmen and several transfer portal additionscoming to a roster that returns 10 offensive starters and eight on defense, it will be critical for the program to maintain its positive momentum. After last year’s “Husky Revolution,” Mora has dubbed this season “The Reload.”
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“You’ll notice it, a bigger, more physical football team, a better looking football team just ‘on the hoof,’ as we say,” Mora told The Courant in June, speaking of the 2023 team. “From a scheme standpoint, offensively, people will be excited about our tight ends and our wideouts and the way we’re able to throw the ball, which was tough for us last year. A more diverse offense is what people will be excited to see.”
Here are three things UConn fans can look out for as the team reports for practice Monday, with its first measuring stick (at Rentschler Field against NC State on Aug. 31) exactly a month away:
Will QB Zion Turner, RB Victor Rosa keep their starting roles?
Quarterback Zion Turner had to grow up fast after he was called on in relief of Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson, who tore his ACL in the first quarter of the Huskies’ 31-20 season-opening loss to Utah State last season. Turner, then a true freshman, led the offense the rest of the season and passed for 1,407 yards (57.8% completion rate), nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Turner will have to earn the job this summer with another quarterback competition set to take place during camp that includes Roberson, University of Maine transfer Joe Fagnano (who played for UConn offensive coordinator Nick Charlton when he was head coach of the Black Bears), freshman Tucker McDonald and Arizona transfer Brayden Zermeno, who joined the Huskies during the 2022 season.
Luckily for whoever wins the job, almost every piece of the offensive line that ranked 29th of 131 FBS teams in sacks allowed last season is set to return.
At running back, the Huskies had to rely heavily on Bristol’s Victor Rosa, the team’s touchdown leader with 11, after a shoulder injury ended starter Nate Carter’s season and Devontae Houston and Brian Brewton dealt with hindrances of their own. Carter since transferred to Michigan State and the Huskies added Jalen Mitchell, from Louisville, out of the portal. Mitchell will likely play a significant role despite Rosa, Houston and Brewton returning.
Robert Burns, the power-running fullback who signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in May, will be difficult to replace.
New-look receiving corps?
UConn had the fifth-worst passing offense in the FBS last season, averaging just 112.2 passing yards per game. Much of that was due to injury: Cam Ross, who was expected to be the team’s top receiver, broke his left foot in camp and Keelan Marion, the receiving leader in 2021 after Ross broke his right foot that year, broke his collarbone while catching the first touchdown of the season at Utah State and was never able to make a full return. Marion transferred to BYU in May, though Ross is still in Storrs looking to make up for lost time.
Aaron Turner, who transferred to Cincinnati in the offseason, led the way in their absence with a team-leading 527 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
As far as the “more diverse offense” that Mora hinted at, UConn hopes to get the ball in the air more often with Kevens Clercius, who caught 24 passes for 288 yards last year, the key returner. He is joined by freshmen Zack Drawdy, Teddy Williams, Jackson Harper, Jarvis Jones and others. UConn also added a number of veteran transfers including Geordon Porter (New Mexico, Arizona State), Brett Buckman (Delaware), James Burns (Austin Peay) and Larue Graham (Endicott). Kylish Hicks and Dajon Harrison, who each showed promise in last year’s camp, also return.
Emerging as one of Turner’s favorite targets last season, Justin Joly is back for his sophomore year and is notably joined by Michigan transfer Louis Hansen and TCU transfer Alexander Honig.
Who will fill the holes on defense?
UConn’s defensive line was one of its greatest strengths last season and, led by 6-foot-5, 277-pound defensive end Eric Watts, the whole group (Jelani Stafford, Dal’Mont Gourdine, Pryce Yates, Sokoya McDuffie, Collin McCarthy) will be back.
The question mark lies with who plays linebacker next to Mr. Connecticut, Ridgefield native Jackson Mitchell, after the graduation of Ian Swenson, Marquez Bembry and Brandon Bouyer-Randle. Before the program’s Spring Showcase, Mora noted a need to “continue to really develop linebacker depth” and the program added five transfers: Eriq Gilyard (Kansas), Amir Renwick (Coffeyville CC), Maurice Wilmer (Nevada), Kevon Glenn (Georgia Southern) and Noah Plack (Delaware).
Third-year Husky Durante Jones and redshirt junior Malik Dixon-Williams, entering his fourth season in Storrs, will likely be the leaders in the defensive secondary along with returners Chris Shearin, Malcolm Bell and Kaleb Anthony. Zakhari Spears, a transfer from Washington, Armauni Archer (Washington State) and Mumu Bin-Wahad (West Virginia) are also names to keep an eye on.
Mora will serve double-duty as head coach and defensive coordinator for the second straight season after the official departure of Lou Spanos, though defensive play-calling will likely continue to be a collective effort.

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