STORRS - In its quest to replace all three of its starting defensive linemen from a season ago, the UConn football team has a number of interesting candidates. One is a transfer from a big-time college football program and one is just simply big.
Ryan Fines, who joined the Huskies in the offseason as a graduate transfer from the University of Miami, was thought to be a prime candidate to take one of the spots vacated by the likes of Luke Carrezola, Foley Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby along UConn defensive front. And he still might be.
Travis Jones, a true freshman from Wilbur Cross High in New Haven, was thought to need a season to develop before seeing any game action but his sheer size and strength - Jones is 6-foot-4, 350 pounds and according to head coach Randy Edsall has already impressed some teammates in the weight room - could force the Huskies to play him immediately.
Jones actually missed the Huskies’ first practice of the season Wednesday but his teammates and coaches have already taken notice of him.
“The first thing you see is that he’s a massive human being,” UConn defensive line coach Dennis Dottin-Carter said. “To be a freshman, we don’t see many human beings that look like him. And he’s not a big, out-of-shape person, either. He’s put together pretty well.”
Jones is actually one of four freshmen defensive linemen who have joined the program this summer. It’s a group that Edsall says is unique in the annals of UConn football.
“I’m as excited about the three freshmen, four freshmen we have coming in on the defensive line. We haven’t had four guys like this come here as defensive linemen,” Edsall said.
The quartet includes Jones; Lwal Uguak, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound standout from Edmonton, Alberta; Jonathan Pace, a 6-foot-5, 260-pounder from Boston; and Pierce DeVaughn, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound star from Plano, Texas.
Redshirt freshman Caleb Thomas, junior Philippe Okounam and senior James Atkins filled the starting roles on the UConn defensive line for the first practice of the preseason, though Edsall admits that his depth chart is free-flowing. And he largely dismissed Jones’ absence.
“He had a couple things he had to do (Wednesday) but he should be out here (Thursday),” Edsall said. “It was my decision to have him take care of a couple things.”
As for Fines, the coaches were not thrilled at the shape he was in upon arrival in Storrs.
“He’s got to be in great condition. He knows that. He did not come in in the greatest of shape so he was a little bit behind the 8-ball,” Dottin-Carter said. “He knows that he has to push himself. He was supposed to be a guy who would compete for that starting job, which he still is.”
Fines is a 6-foot-4, 304-pound native of Bradenton, Florida, who was a three-star recruit that chose the Hurricanes over offers from Arizona, Clemson, South Florida and Cincinnati.
His Miami career, however, did not turn out exactly as he planned. Fines played in just three games over the last two seasons, making a total of three tackles.
“I had a great time. Just different visions. I have no qualms or problems with the University of Miami,” Fines said. “It’s just a different opportunity (at UConn).”
The culture shock that often comes along when moving from south Florida to New England hasn’t hit Fines too hard, it seems.
“It definitely is different than Miami but as far as the basics, playing football, getting after it, and working, it’s all pretty much the same. It’s all college football,” Fines said. “It’s just different going from a big city like Miami to Storrs, which is pretty empty in the summer.”
Fines is switching from playing in a 4-3 defense to the Huskies’ 3-4 alignment but said he could fit in well at UConn.
“I saw a great opportunity here. And when I came here (on a visit) I had a really good feeling with the coaches and the other players,” Fines said. “There’s a lot of great camaraderie here. Everyone talks to everybody. There’s no cliques or anything like that.”
Fines earned his undergraduate degree in three years at Miami, though since he redshirted in his first season with the Hurricanes he has two years of eligibility to play at UConn.
“He’s worked. He’s going to have an opportunity,” Edsall said of Fines. “He’s a big guy who has got some quickness and power to him.”
The Huskies’ first practice of training camp produced plenty of sweaty bodies. It was a two-hour-plus long workout in an intentionally un-climate controlled Shenkman Center Wednesday afternoon that ended with nearly a dozen sprints,
“It was a little steamy in here to start, which was good,” Edsall said with a smile.
The coach was relatively pleased with the first half of the practice but felt his players wilted a bit as the evening progressed. “It’s a start. You have to have a starting point,” Edsall said. “It wasn’t exactly what we wanted but we had to start somewhere.”
RB Kevin Mensah, the Huskies’ leading returning rusher, did not spend much time with the first team offense as practice began. Mensah was suspended for much of the spring for academic reasons apparently has some work to do if he wants to retake the starting job. … WRs Kyle Buss, Quayvon Skanes and Heron Maurisseau all spent time returning punts during Wednesday’s practice. Maurisseau is a true freshman from Bellport, New York. ... Luke Magliozzi, the Huskies’ redshirt freshman from Australia, boomed a number of punts during the workout.