We caught our first glimpse of the 2023 squad on Saturday in the Bowl on an overcast windy day in New Haven. Attendance seemed to be higher than in previous years likely due to senior parents in attendance to watch the ring ceremony.
Reno aired on the side of caution sitting or limiting many of the familiar names on the roster. Those who did not suit up included Mendoza, Patterson, Egodogbare, Pantelis, Nenad, Shipp, Hawes, and Sullivan. Benn, Guyton and Peterson were suited up but did not see action. Grooms and Alston played only the first series, while Pitsenberger was only seen on a handful of special teams plays. Spring games under Siedlecki and Williams were far more entertaining, but we prefer Reno’s approach to keep the team healthy heading into the summer offseason.
With Mendoza out of the lineup, the starters along the offensive line were Amegadijie, Anderson, Durand, Karhu and Session from left to right. Yates started at tight end with Hawes out and the starting wide receiver corps featured Tipton (in red non-contact jersey), Lindley, and Brunelle. Grooms and Alston started at QB and RB respectively. The starting offense marched effortlessly down the field for a score led by two big runs from Alston (including the TD scamper) and a nice completion on a crossing pattern to Lindley.
The starting defense was very young with only a handful of major contributors from 2022 appearing in the exhibition. McDonough and Ezekiel Larry started at defensive end with Gulley and #98 (Yang or Ugbaja?) at defensive tackle. The starting linebackers were #7 (Biggs?), #40 (Shaffer or Warncke?), and Melik Williams. Gonzales and Barnes were at the cornerback positions and #32 and #35 (Haaland?) were at the safety positions.
Pass coverage was poor early on but improved as the day went on. McDonough and Yang both had sacks yet the defensive play of the day came on a big hit from #37 (Joseph Gonzales?) who dislodged a completion to Thompson. #30 (Michalik?) also had a terrific play stripping Eboboko on a running play.
The stars on offense were WR CJ Thompson and RB Wilhelm Dahl. Thompson was by far the most active member of the receiving corps and held onto a ball in the first half despite a crushing hit. Thompson had a long reception called back in the 2nd half and later beat Gonzales on a deep route but the pass from Grant Jordan was off the mark. Dahl showed great vision and cutting abilities and could factor into the kickoff return game alongside Felton.
Bosman still appears to be ahead of the competition in the kicking and punting schemes. Bosman nearly connected on a 50-yard field goal in the wind that hit the goalpost.
The defensive end and safety positions are still the largest uncertainties heading into the fall. If McDonough and Larry are to be the primary contributors at the defensive end slot, they will both need to continue to bulk up to square off against much larger offensive tackles. Beyond Benn, there is no safety with ample experience, so Reno could opt to shift an experienced corner to safety or let the youngsters such as Haaland, #32, Di Ienno and Joseph Gonzales battle it out for the top spot.