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UConn Running to the NFL

by Tim Rohan on Mar. 11, 2010
The University of Connecticut may be developing into a legitimate place for NFL teams to look for talent. And the Huskies just might be the next running back-U if they keep their recent trends up.

Running back Andre Dixon is the most recent product of the run-hungry offense under coach Randy Edsall.

During Dixon’s redshirt-sophomore season, he split carries with Donald Brown, and started eight games on his way to an 828-yard campaign, which led the team. Dixon also averaged five yards per carry that season and caught 24 passes for 280 yards. Yet he was only able to tally four touchdowns.

In Brown’s senior season, Dixon only carried the ball nine times on the season, which was more than 150 carries less than the previous year. Donald Brown rushed for over 2,000 yards that season. When Brown graduated however, Dixon got his carries back, yet he had to split them once again.

In Connecticut’s run dominated offense, Dixon showed that when he got the ball, he could be an effective runner. Dixon had 239 rushes for 1,093 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground this season. He wasn’t the only Huskie to top the 1,000 yard mark though. Sophomore running back Jordan Todman got nearly the same amount of carries as Dixon — and Todman led the team in yards and matched Dixon’s 14 rushing scores.

The recent success of Connecticut tailbacks could be due to sheer talent, but they are certainly pounding the rock on the ground as much as anyone else in the country. In Dixon’s four years as a Huskie, they finished 25th, 36th, 14th, and 23rd in team rushing attempts in division I-A. Brown, Dixon and now Todman have had their chances to shine — and they certainly have taken advantage of those chances.

Donald Brown ended up being a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2009 NFL Draft and provided capable running relief in his rookie year, helping the Indianapolis Colts get to their second Super Bowl in the last 5 years.

Listed at six-foot-one inch and just over 200 pounds, Dixon is around average build for a running back. One thing that Dixon wants to improve upon going to the NFL is his catching the ball out of the backfield. Currently projected in the 5th round though, DraftSite NFL analyst Mark Olsen described Dixon as a “strong runner with quick feet.”

But there has been an infusion of Huskies in the top part of the draft in recent years too — not just at running back.

In 2009, cornerback Darius Butler was drafted 41st overall, and offensive tackle William Beatty and defensive end Cody Brown were also picked in the second round to join Brown. In 2008, Connecticut had two players drafted on the second day of the draft. But the perception is changing in Hartford — the Huskies are producing NFL caliber players.

“I don’t think people really (knew) about UCONN going to the NFL until last year,” Dixon said. “Uconn football is definitely making an upcoming appearance in the NFL.”
Dixon might have gained the most from being Brown’s teammate though.

“I felt we picked up a lot from each other,” Dixon said. “One thing I learned from him was preparation. Don, he’s always over prepared for every situation. He always knows what’s going on.”

Brown prepped Dixon for what he should expect at the NFL Scouting Combine. Brown even texted Dixon right before he spoke to the media in Indianapolis, simply saying good luck and that Dixon deserved it.

It has yet to be seen whether the talented tailbacks Edsall had at UConn made the plays, or the system made them great. One thing is for sure, they grew with each other and Dixon is trying to follow Brown’s footsteps while Todman takes over the Huskies’ load.

One possible happy ending for Dixon might have him end up with his childhood team, the Buffalo Bills. Dixon adored Thurman Thomas growing up, and he may share similar attributes with his idol.

As Dixon takes the leap to the next level, Edsall and the Huskies will open the 2010 season in the Big House against the Michigan Wolverines. Edsall has been churning out the talent and scheduling tougher teams too outside of the Big East.

“I think it’s going to be big,” Dixon said of the 2010 opener. “That says something about UConn football, with us starting to schedule bigger teams, and bigger football schools we’re starting to play.”