STORRS — Wide receivers should be a position of strength for UConn next season, and it sounds as if initial conversations between receivers and new receivers coach Wayne Lineburg went well.
"They're a great group of kids," Lineburg said of a group led by 1,000-yard receiver Geremy Davis. "I've only talked to them on the phone [UConn students have been on break] but everything you do in coaching and recruiting all comes back to relationships. I talked to all of them and I told them, 'Hey, look, you guys don't know me yet and I don't know you yet. We're all going to work together and earn each other's trust and bottom line get us all get better.' If each guy can get better, then the whole team will get better but so far in talking to these guys they all appear to be very hungry to come to work, get after it and get started."
Lineburg also is special teams' coordinator.
"Wayne is a very hard worker, has a great work ethic," coach Bob Diaco said. "He's got an expertise in the passing game, which is fantastic, and he's got the right DNA to lead the special teams, to take that group to the next level."
With national signing day Feb. 5 recruiting is on the front burner for the coaching staff. After that, focus will turn toward the season, but coaches won't have an opportunity to work with players until spring practice in March.
Lineburg comes to UConn from Richmond, where he was the associate head coach, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator last season. He coached wide receivers at his alma mater, Virginia, in 2007.
"We want [receivers] to be dependable guys, do what's expected of them, that they're mentally tough guys, that they find ways to get open and make plays and also be physical blockers," Lineburg said. "Those are huge pieces of receiver play. You can't just be good at one thing and not the other. You've got to be able to do all of those things that I mentioned.
"The thing about receivers is they come in all shapes and sizes, and you have to figure out what their strengths are. ... You have to be smart about what you're doing but we'll do our best to figure out what our guys can do and put them in the best position to win."
UConn's receiving numbers (2,810) were about on par with opponents (2,990), but the receivers could have been more productive making more big plays, especially yards after the catch. With a running game (84.4 yards a game) that struggled, the passing game became even more important.
Davis had 71 catches for 1,045 yards and three touchdowns. Slotback Deshon Foxx came on strong to finish with 43 catches, 534 yards, two TDs. Shakim Phillips (28 catches 406 yards, 3 TDs), in an abbreviated season because of injury, showed flashes as an emerging player. All three will be seniors.
Then there are developing players Brian Lemelle (16, 177, 2 TDs) and Dhameer Bradley (13, 119, 1). Add Kamal Abrams (4, 34, 1 TD), John Green (5, 40) and Noel Thomas (3, 32) and the unit has talent, size, speed and experience. At 234.4 yards a game, UConn had the nation's 63rd best passing offense.
On special teams, the Huskies have to improve and become more dynamic, which hasn't happened since return specialist Nick Williams left after the 2011 season.
The Huskies struggled last year in the return game, 106th in the nation at 18.6 yards a return. The kickoff return defense was 110th, allowing 24.4 a return. On punts returns, the Huskies were 120th (3.1 yards a return) out of 123 schools; the return defensive unit was better, 53rd (7.04 yards allowed). The Huskies no longer have punter Cole Wagner and kicker Chad Christen, both of whom have exhausted their eligibility.
Diaco coached special teams at Western Illinois, Western Michigan and Virginia, the latter from 2006-08 while Lineburg was there. Lineburg gets an assist here from Josh Reardon, the cornerbacks coach who also is co-special teams coordinator.
"Offense, defense and special teams, each one is vitally important, and we'll use every means possible to stress the importance or show the importance whether it's through stats, various things," Lineburg said. "We'll try to obviously make sure they know the value of it. I know Coach Diaco is a former special teams' coordinator and it's important to him. If it's important to the head coach, it's important to everybody."