Sunday, May 01, 2016

NFL dreans still alive for UConn stars

It's time to do a little catching up. I've been in Michigan since Friday to attend my nephew's graduation from the University of Michigan. My intention was to make it a completely computer-free weekend but that lasted until the news broke that former Duke women's basketball star Azura' Stevens would be transferring to UConn. Saying that is big news would be an incredible understatement. I would say that if the UConn coaching staff could pick a player off any other college team to add to its roster for the next couple of seasons, I would only like South Carolina's A'ja Wilson ahead of the 6-foot-6 Stevens.

Since this is a blog about UConn football, I'll stop there with the women's basketball talk.

Now that I am at the airport waiting to start my journey back to Connecticut, it's a good time to get caught up on draft/free agent news.

After nine years of having at least one player taken in the NFL draft, no Huskies were selected in the three-day draft.

However, at least five seniors on the 2015 team will be headed to NFL training camps.

It's already been reported that safety Andrew Adams was signed by the New York Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent. It is the second straight year that a UConn player received a call from the Giants as receiver Geremy Davis was taken by the Giants in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL draft.

There will be a couple of familiar faces in camp with Adams as Ray Brownell, agent for former UConn safety Junior Lee confirmed in an email to me that Lee would be headed to training camp with the Giants. Lee opened more than a few eyes with a sensational performance at UConn's pro day He also had a chance to take part in the Giants' local pro day and there were multiple reports that Lee had another strong showing. Just a few minutes ago, Breakout Athletes which trains a large number of Connecticut athletes sent me a tweet that former UConn defensive end Kenton Adeyemi would be going to camp with the Giants as well.

As often as the Giants have been pursuing UConn products in the last couple of seasons, they have a lot of work to do to catch the Indianapolis Colts in that department. Well, the Colts are at it again as former UConn defensive lineman Julian Campenni is heading to camp with the Colts.

Also, after I posted the blog about Adams, Lee and Campenni getting calls from NFL teams, I received a tweet about linebacker Graham Stewart going to camp with the Minnesota Vikings.

@NHRJimFuller my client Graham Stewart from UConn heading to Minnesota Vikings #boa
Campenni, who like Adams was a team captain on the 2015 UConn team, tweeted his appreciation to the Colts for giving him this opportunity.

 

Just want to thank the @Colts for giving me an opportunity to live out my dreams!! Trust me you wont regret the decision!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Anxious time for UConn's NFL prospects

Last year at this time it wasn't so much a question of if Byron Jones and Geremy Davis would be taken in the NFL draft but just when would the former UConn teammates hear their names called.

Jones joined Donald Brown as the only UConn player taken in the first round when the Dallas Cowboys took him with the 27th overall pick while Davis was selected by the New York Giants in the sixth round.

There's more of a wait and see approach with the current crop of UConn pro prospects.

At least one UConn player has been selected in each of the last nine NFL drafts and safety Andrew Adams seems like the most likely player capable of extending that streak.

While no former Huskies are listed on the ESPN draft database, Adams is the No. 13 free safety according to NFL Draft database maintained by www.cbsspports.com which I have found to be pretty accurate (or as accurate as these things get) in rating the under the radar prospects. Adams is rated as the 291st best player in the draft and lists him as either a seventh rounder or a free agent. Last year's No. 13 rated free safety was Ladarius Gunter out of Miami who went undrafted but was signed by the Green Bay Packers as a free agent.

At UConn's pro day Adams seemed to do what he needed to remain on the radar of NFL teams and considering the amount of tape that NFL teams must have watched on Jones a season ago, you would have to think Adams might have caught the eye of the film watchers.

I would not be surprised if Adams continues the trend of UConn players being drafted.

The player out of UConn seemingly creating the most pre-draft buzz is fellow safety Junior Lee who absolutely put on a show at UConn's pro day. I've also seen reports that he was impressive at the New York Giants local pro day. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle and National Football Post tweeted about a week and a half ago that Lee has worked out privately for the Giants, Jets and Colts.

One issue with Lee is that he was not a starter but consider that Jones was a first-round pick, Adams could very well get drafted and I would expect Obi Melifonwu and Jhavon Williams to be very much on the radar of NFL scouts next year with Jamar Summers most definitely being a draftable prospect in the next class so it is not like Lee was playing behind mediocre talents.


A lack of experience is not an issue for defensive lineman Julian Campenni or linebackers Marquise Vann or Graham Stewart. It will be interesting to see what happens with the trio but certainly would not be surprised to see them land in a training camp.

I received this question and answer blog with Campenni emailed to me. I think the key for Campenni could be how NFL teams view the Missouri tape since Campenni was normally lining up across from Evan Boehm, who is rated as the fourth best center in the draft according to cbssports.com. Other than getting invited to the major all-star games, which was an opportunity not afforded any of the UConn players, the best way to catch the eyes of scouts is to have strong tape in head to head matchups with fellow NFL prospects.

Stewart saw his work at UConn's pro day ended prematurely due to a hamstring issue but he had healed up well enough to take part in the Yale pro day held earlier this month. I was covering the women's Final Four at the time but talked to one person who was at the event and was told that Stewart did a nice job there. He is also the only other UConn player listed on the CBS Sports database. Stewart also started his collegiate career at Florida. The Gators have nine players listed in ESPN's draft database and 12 listed by CBS Sports so perhaps NFL scouts' familiarity with Florida players could aid Stewart in his quest to continue his collegiate career.

I haven't been hearing too much about Vann but he's played a ton of football for the Huskies and took part in the Tropic Bowl along with defensive end Kenton Adeyemi and guard Tyler Samra.

I really thought that Adeyemi's stock could take a similar jump to what happened a year ago with B.J. McBryde. While he did not have the eye-popping numbers at UConn's pro day that McBryde did, the 300 pounder showed more than enough to make me think that he could land in a camp.

Running back Max DeLorenzo is a player that David Schuman from NUC Sports believes NFL teams should be looking at.

Normally my late April/early May schedule includes watching the NFL draft waiting for UConn players to be drafted. However, my nephew is graduating from the University of Michigan this weekend so I will be out of the loop and my colleagues at the Register will be called upon to provide NFL draft coverage. Staying on that subject, I am not a pro scout but from what I am hearing the top prospects with Connecticut ties are former high school rivals Tyler Matakevich, a Stratford native who played at St. Joseph High in Trumbull, Milford Academy and Temple, and fellow linebacker Don Cherry, a former Trumbull High star who starred at Villanova. It will also be interesting to see if Yale quarterback Morgan Roberts, Branford's Kyle Nolan out of Georgetown and former Notre Dame of West Haven and University of New Hampshire star Sean Goldrich get signed by NFL teams.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

UConn football program records highest APR score

Not only did Bob Diaco get the UConn football program back into a bowl game for the first time since the 2010 season but the Huskies set a program mark with an Academic Progress Rate score of 990 for the 2014-15 academic year.

UConn also has a multi-year APR of 969, the best number since 2005. Central Florida and Navy top the AAC teams with multi-year scores of 983 and 982 followed by Temple (971), Tulane (970), UConn, Memphis (968) and Cincinnati (967). Just using the 2014-15 numbers, Navy (997) leads the way followed by UCF (993), UConn, Memphis (984) and Temple (980).

Here are some other highlights courtesy of the release sent out by UConn

The UConn women’s basketball team, which has won four NCAA national championships in row, posted a 983 score multi-year APR.

The Husky men’s basketball team had an outstanding 978 multi-year APR score, which included the NCAA national championship season of 2013-14. 

The UConn field hockey team, which won a pair of NCAA Championships (2013 and ’14) during this four-year period, had a perfect 1000 score.
The field hockey, the men’s and women’s tennis and golf teams all had perfect 1000 multiyear APR scores while baseball, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, golf, men’s ice hockey, men’s swimming and diving, softball and women’s tennis had perfect scores during the 2014-15 academic year.
A 994 four-year score for the women's lacrosse team, which made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2013.
A multi-year score of 990 for men's ice hockey with a second-consecutive perfect 1000 in 2014-15 as the team made the transition to Hockey East.

A 974 four-year mark by men's soccer as the team made three-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.
A 996 four-year mark by women’s soccer and 989 single-year mark during a time in which the team made an appearance in the NCAA Championship.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

North Carolina State announces home and home series with UConn

North Carolina State announced three home and home football series including one with UConn which kicks off with a NC State home game in 2022 with the return game at Rentschler Field in 2023.

The teams have met twice with the Wolfpack winning 31-24 on Oct. 11, 2003 and 10-7 on Sept. 8, 2012. UConn previously announced that it would be playing fellow ACC team Boston College as part of its non-conference schedules in the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

WOMEN'S 101 CLINIC SET FOR JUNE 8
UConn announced that the third annual UConn Football 101 Clinic will be held on June 8 at the Burton Football Family Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center in Storrs. on campus.

The event, open to women aged 21 and over, includes a cocktail hour at 5:30 p.m. featuring a silent auction. The clinic will run from 6:30-9 p.m. and will feature attendees going through football drills conducted by UConn's players and coaches.

The registration cost is $45 ($35 for early registration) and includes a jersey, food, souvenir item and two tickets to a home game this season.

Proceeds of the event will benefit programs for women's cancer prevention and research at UConn Health.

For more information, visit UConnHuskies.com/101clinic

Sunday, April 17, 2016

UConn's Levy finds a home at guard

The situation had the potential for disaster.

Rich Levy, the only returning offensive player to start every game in the last two seasons, was going to be replaced at left tackle by redshirt freshman Matt Peart. The decision was made before the team hit the field for the first spring practice and it is the kind of move that could cause an implosion.

Levy, however, was determined not to put his personal goals over the good of the team. Nobody has been more in Peart's corner than Levy but that still left a question about what was going to happen with Levy.

At one point in spring camp he saw some snaps at left guard both with the first and second teams before giving it the old college try to right guard. It wasn't going to be easy as Trey Rutherford began spring ball as the starting right guard and former starting center Brendan Vechery, whose natural position is guard, was also in the mix. Yet, in Saturday's Blue-White Game it was Levy who got the call as the starting right guard.

"It has been an ongoing battle between left and right for me, I finally transitioned to right and I am getting it down," Levy said.

The 6-foot-6, 319-pound Levy is now lining up next to the 6-foot-8, 319-pound Andreas Knappe to form an imposing right side of the offensive line. Peart (6-7, 291 pounds) and Tommy Hopkins (6-6, 316 pounds) seem entrenched on the left side with the return of Ryan Crozier at center giving UConn the potential of having its best line in recent memory.

Levy is not only attempting to make an impact at guard but he is also trying to be a sounding board for Peart.

"In reality, I feel like Matt has a good grip on that position so me moving to what I feel like is my natural position at right guard, it wasn't that much of a big deal, we all just do what we had to do to win," Levy said.

"We felt like he could make plays, he is a great tackle and if I am at guard, if that is going to help us win, let's do it."

Left tackle is the only offensive line position Levy played in high school and college before the start of spring practice. He admits that things tend to happen much quicker at guard and there are more times when he needs to engage defensive players in space which is something that wasn't the case at left tackle.

"You should be a lot more versatile and be able to play more offensive line (positions) in general," Levy said. "I am coaching them as much as I can, coach myself as much as I can, take coaching as much as I can and keep going."

Earlier in spring practice Peart spoke about his ascension to being the No. 1 left tackle and how much Levy has aided in his learning curve.

"Rich, he has been probably my biggest mentor because he has played the position before and has a ton of experience," Peart said. "Every single time I go 'hey, was my foot work good? Was my second step faster? How about my kick step? Was my base too wide?' I am always asking him tiny little minor details because I am trying to get better because he knows so I always go to him for help."

So what advice does Levy give to UConn's new starting left tackle? 

"I told him to just keep calm, you are going to get it, don't get stressed, don't crack just keep level headed," Levy said. "Whenever he has a question, I help him out."

The way Levy has dealt with losing his starting left tackle spot has not been lost on his teammates.

"It is a testament to him," UConn starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. "I think this is his third position this spring so it just shows  he is as an overall linemen to be able to play three different positions and how everybody can accept playing different positions. Our linemen as so diverse that they aren't just stuck to one (position)."

The biggest offensive play in the spring game was a 63-yard touchdown run by Ron Johnson and the play began with Johnson running right, turning the corner, breaking a tackle and breaking free. The video below shows Levy making a block to help spring Johnson.

"He is willing to help the team in any way he can and he is such an amazing leader, vocally and leading by example and to see him to be able to take on different positions and different obstacles throughout his life is amazing," Johnson said. "He is an amazing guy on and off the field.

"Rich being an older guy, he takes guys under his wing, he understands the playbook and makes sure he (shares) that knowledge. He is passing it down, just to listen to him, understand where he is coming from, makes you (realize) everything he is doing is amazing."

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Some thoughts from UConn's spring game

There will be more to write about today's Blue-White Game as well as the interviews after the 28-3 win by the Blue but figured I would pass on some of my observations.

I'll start with the position battles I highlighted in my preview capsule.

What I wrote is in bold with my impressions underneath

The battle for backup quarterback between Garrett Anderson and Tyler Davis
Anderson seems to be the guy here, He did throw a couple of early interceptions while Davis had one of his own but as the game wore on Anderson seemed to get more comfortable. Three of the four touchdown-scoring drives were engineered by Anderson.

The push for the starting safety spot alongside Obi Melifonwu continues to be too close to call with Anthony Watkins, Brice McAllister and Marshe' Terry among the top candidates.
Watkins got the start but with so much underneath stuff utilized in the passing game, there wasn't much of a chance for the safeties to shine. Watkins had one tackle, McAllister had four and Terry three. Third-string safeties led the way as Aaron Garland and Chris Jean-Pierre finished with six tackles each

It will also be a chance to see transfers E.J. Levenberry, a former Florida State linebacker, and Billy Williams, a tight end who played for offensive coordinator Frank Verducci at Northern Iowa on action.
Levenberry had three tackles while Williams finished with three catches for 63 yards

The right offensive guard position also bears watching. Trey Rutherford was the starter at the beginning of spring practice but more recently, Brendan Vechery and Richard Levy have seen time at right guard with the first-team offensive line.
Levy got the start and I will have more on his move to guard likely at some point tomorrow. Levy has seen time at both guard positions during spring practice and seems to have found a home at right guard.

Starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and top receiver Noel Thomas didn't play long since they were dealing with the flu. Center Ryan Crozier was also not in there as much as the starting offensive linemen.

I mentioned on Wednesday how much quicker tailback Ron Johnson looked in the final spring practice I watched before the spring game. He followed that up with an impressive performance highlighted by a 63-yard run. Johnson finished with 91 yards on nine carries and added four catches for 24 yards. It would aid the offense if both Johnson and Arkeel Newsome are featured in the offensive game plan.

I believe that Cam Stapleton was vastly underutilized a season ago and he was an absolute monster today. His three tackles for loss and two sacks don't even begin to illustrate how dominant he was. If this is a sign of how Stapleton has to be, he needs to get on the field more.

Alec Bloom was the long snapper, Tyler Davis the holder and McAllister joined Newsome on kickoff returns. Brian Lemelle handled the punt returns but had kind of a tough day.

There were some drops by the receivers but it seemed to be a good day for the young wide receivers and tight ends.

Cornerback Javon Hadley had a strong afternoon with nine tackles and an interception while Vanderbilt transfer Tre Bell (who will need to sit out this season due to transfer regulations) and Jalen Stevens also had interceptions.

The crowd was announced at 5,500 which is 2,000 more than last year but considering what a gorgeous day it was, I thought there might be more there today.

It was an interesting mix with former players and some recruits also in attendance.

Not long after the game, UConn received its second commitment in the Class of 2017 when defensive end Rob Saulin committed. Saulin had 10 sacks as a junior at Pennsville (N.J.) Memorial.

Very excited to announce my commitment to play football at the University of Connecticut🏈 @UConnFootball pic.twitter.com/SRDO1clXIF
Media preview

Video look at UConn's spring football game

There will be more content coming later on today and in the coming days after the Blue team defeated the White 28-3 in the annual spring game.

Ron Johnson was the leading rusher with 91 yards on nine carries including 63-yard touchdown and added 24 yards on four receptions while Jason Thompson finished with 40 yards on 11 carries and added 27 yards on a pair of catches.

The workload for starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs (9 of 12 for 95 yards passing, three carries for 38 yards) and top receiver Noel Thomas was a bit limited because they both are dealing with the flu.

Tyraiq Beals had a team-high six catches, Billy Williams had a team-high 63 receiving yards while Hergy Mayala's 48-yard catch was the longest of the day.

Garrett Anderson had a couple of early interceptions but finished 12 of 21 for 191 yards and had a 6-yard scoring run.

Jalen Stevens and Vanderbilt transfer Tre Bell had interceptions as did Javon Hadley to go with his game-high nine tackles while Cam Stapleton and Dallas Parker had two sacks each. The special teams highlight was Bobby Puyol's 47-yard field goal into the wind.

Here are the videos I shot from the event.














Thursday, April 14, 2016

UConn's Myers no stranger to pain

The season-ending ankle injury and subsequent rehabilitation process has not been the best of times for UConn tight end Tommy Myers. However, it is not the first time he has dealt with serious injury or incredible pain.

After Wednesday's spring practice Myers took a trip down memory lane to that time when he broke his jaw and caused plenty of damage to his teeth and mouth during an AAU game in between his sophomore and junior high school seasons.

"Two days after I got my braces off, I went to block a shot and a guy's elbow came down on my face and popped it out,' Myers said. "This one (tooth) right here is dead but it is not fake. It was dangling on my tongue and my dad told me to just push it back up. It actually turned out to be a good thing and they said 'you are going to need stitches too.' I said 'thank you.'

:You play sports and you have to expect injuries to happen, you have to be able to put it behind you."

Myers actually found a silver lining when he suffered the jaw injury.

"That was a process," Myers said. "Thankfully I didn't have to get my jaw wired shut because it was my top jaw."

Myers is back practicing without restriction. In Wednesday's practice his most memorable moment might have come when he teamed with redshirt freshman left tackle Matt Peart to seal the edge so tailback Ron Johnson could scamper untouched down the sideline.

Myers' true value to the UConn offense might have been best illustrated by the number of players pressed into duty to try to replace him following his injury. The UConn coaches used tailbacks (Max DeLorenzo and Josh Marriner), a quarterback (Garrett Anderson), offensive linemen (Steve Hashemi and Trey Rutherford) to try to make up for Myers' loss.

The toughest time for Myers might have come during preparations for the St. Petersburg Bowl. While he was thrilled that the Huskies were able to not only make it to a bowl game but have the additional practices but there was also times when his inability to play made for some frustrating moments.

"It is nice to watch but it sucks to be watching because you just want to be in there and it is how it was," Myers said. "I just wanted to play."

I also spoke to fellow tight end Alec Bloom and will have more on the tight ends leading into Saturday's spring game.

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