UConn coach Jim Mora pleased with progression of offense during camp

UConn running back Nathan Carter carries against Middle Tennessee in October in East Hartford.

UConn running back Nathan Carter carries against Middle Tennessee in October in East Hartford.

UConn Athletics / Contributed Photo

STORRS — Days ago in the midst of UConn football’s first full week of practice, coach Jim Mora noted that his defense collectively was off to a stronger start than his offense.

Despite the initial disadvantage of having to nail down the timing of the running and passing games, when the first week of practice came to an end Friday, the disparity had disappeared.

“Since we talked about that the other day, the gap has closed,” Mora said. “It is a little more even right now.”

Friday marked the first day of situational practice, pinning the offense against the defense in varying circumstances.

“As we move further into camp we start getting into situational football,” said Mora, whose Huskies open the season Aug. 27 at Utah State (4 p.m./FS1). “More red zone, two-minute, short yardage, goal line, backed up, coming out and things like that. We were able to get some of that work today.”

Between the quarterback competition, offensive line and running back depth, there is underlying optimism as to what the final product will look like a year after finishing 128th in the 130-team Football Bowl Division for total offense with 285 yards per game.

While each of the five quarterbacks are still getting regular reps, Ta’Quan Roberson and true freshman Zion Turner have stolen the show. Roberson, a 5-11 redshirt sophomore transfer out of Penn State, has improved on his accuracy in the first week as he has focused on finesse.

“Every day (Roberson) has become more accurate and has learned how to take something off his throws,” Mora said. “In spring, everything was a fastball and his accuracy suffered because of it. Now he is learning how to touch pass a little bit more, when does he need to fire and when does he need to make the layup, and he is throwing a more catchable ball.”

The 5-11 Turner, out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has impressed as well, developing quickly as the youngest in the quarterback group.

“I am not going to lie to you, the guy jumps out at you,” Mora said. “He makes plays. That is what we saw in high school and after seven days to see it here that immediate…we will see where it goes.”

Turner, a three-star recruit, was a three-year starter in high school, leading St. Thomas Aquinas to a 37-2 record and three straight state titles with 4,951 pass yards and 59 touchdowns.

While he has made a strong impression, the freshman still has a learning curve to adapt to.

“He is still making mistakes,” Mora said. “He will make a really good throw and I’ll tell him ‘Alright, we are in the red zone here in a field goal situation, we can’t take a sac or throw a pick. He will say ‘I got you’, he rolls out and throws a pick. He has to overcome those things, but he is progressing very rapidly. He is an impressive young man.”

Stratford’s Tyler Phommachanh, who experienced some fatigue this week coming back from a season ending ACL tear last year, has been familiarizing himself with game speed again.

“I think he just needed to get through a few days,” Mora said of Phommachanh, a 5-10 redshirt freshman out of Avon Old Farms. “I think more than anything it is probably a little psychology. I have blown out both knees… so I can see what he is feeling, there is that little hesitancy. The more practices he has where he feels good and gains confidence, the less hesitancy you will see in his play.”

Mora spoke highly of the the running back group, noting the depth of the position beyond returning starter Nathan Carter.

While Carter, a 5-9 sophomore who led the Huskies with 578 rushing yards on 125 carries a year ago, is the presumed favorite for the starting job, the competition is deep.

“I like the toughness and I think there is speed,” Mora said. “They are understanding our scheme and where the holes are going to be. And they all have the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.”

Carter had 19 receptions for 127 yards last season.

Mora commended the speed and versatility of graduate student Robert Burns, while also taking notice of true freshman Victor Rosa of Bristol Central.

“I like the way Victor Rosa is coming on as a true freshman seven days in,” Mora said of the Gatorade State Player of the Year and GameTimeCT All-State selection. “We had a live short yardage and goal line period, and he spent a couple plays feeling it out. As that practice went on, he understood it was different at this level and upped his game.”

While the quarterback and running back positions have shown improvement, they can only go as far as their offensive line will allow.

“You can go one through 19, we have 19 offensive linemen right now, and I would say every day that all just get a little bit better,” Mora said. “The whole group gets better.”

Will.Aldam@hearstmediact.com; @AldamWill