|Gus Cruz is back on field taking part in conditioning drills after|
missing last seven games of 2013 season with cardiac issues.
UConn football coach Bob Diaco was at his entertaining and energetic self as he was the guest speaker at tonight's Nutmeg State Games Directors Club Banquet as he addressed a variety of topics including trying to expand on the "Husky Walk" tradition in an attempt to create a better environment on game day.
Afterwards I was able to get some updates from Diaco on injured Huskies Gus Cruz and Ty-Meer Brown as well as a timeline for the naming of a new running backs coach.
Let's start with the good news as Diaco said Cruz, who started 10 games at right offensive guard in the last two seasons before he was shut down due to cardiac issues, is taking part in conditioning drills with the team.
"He is working hard and trying to stay engaged," Diaco said. "The medical staff here is so good led by (athletic trainer) Bob Howard."
Considering that four starters from the offensive line graduated and potential starting tackle Xavier Hemingway left school, UConn is incredibly thin on the offensive line heading into spring drills so if Cruz could return to the field it would be an incredible bonus for UConn.
"It is a problem," Diaco said of the small number of offensive linemen. "We will have to be creative with how we practice in the spring, there is some manpower coming (in the fall when the freshmen arrive).
As for Brown, "we will talk about Ty-Meer next week" was all Diaco would say on the subject.
Brown has a neck issue similar to the one that ended the playing career of UConn athletic director Warde Manuel. Manuel happened to be hanging around after women's basketball practice ended because he wanted to talk to Geno Auriemma about some things so I asked Warde if he has reached out to Brown to offer any advice.
"I talked to him briefly and made sure we knew I was available if he ever needed to talk," Manuel said. "I understand what he is going through and dealing with. He knows we are all here for him and we want the best for them.
"I do that for any of our student-athletes who want to talk, I have an open door for our student-athletes and coaches. I am always here to talk to them but he’s a great young man and I know what he is dealing with and thinking about. We’ll be here for him every step of the way."
I also asked Manuel is an announcement in naming an opponent or opponents to fill the slots on the 2015 and 2016 scheduled which resulted when the signed home and home series was suspended so the Volunteers could play a pair of neutral-site games.
"We're working on it, it's a work in progress," Manuel said.
As for the naming of the replacement for Ernest Jones as running backs coach, Diaco said "it is imminent, human resources they are working through it."
Diaco also said that the position will be exactly the same so the new assistant will also be the director of player engagement.
Diaco also said he would like to see his team going through football-related drills before contemplating position changes.
"We need to get the guys playing," Diaco said. "They are in gym shorts right now but they are busting their butts right now, they are really working. I can not wait to get on the field with the guys and do football (drills).
Diaco is excited by what he is seeing from his players in the conditioning drills they are currently taking part in.
"It was great and the players were feeling it," Diaco said. "It was a cumulative effect and the players are feeling it. This is a purposeful group with spirit and energy so when you have that, they are willing participants to get the information so we will give them information, they are going to try hard and they are going to change. They are physically changing right now and the culture is changing right now."
While he spoke to a nearly packed house at the Aqua Turf in Southington, Diaco took questions from the crowd.
First up was one about Arkeel Newsome, the record-breaking running back out of Ansonia High.
"He is a fantastic player and what we are going to have to do is get him the ball in space, let him do what he does well and that is run in space."
Then came a question about the quarterbacks.
"We are at the end of week six (in conditioning) and seeing results," Diaco said. "One of the players, you are at a big skill position and you weigh 243 pounds and now he is 218 pounds and your percent of body fat is 29 or 30 and 5 ½ weeks later you are at 21 and you lost 15 pounds and you are stronger and faster. How do you not buy in? It is not even about football anymore, it is about putting your pants on, putting your shirt on, engaging with people on campus. You just feel better. We have a couple of different guys there and Chandler (Whitmer), who had a tough go of it, came back, he rejoined and reengaged the team , he has a blue-collar workman’s attitude, he is trying to be a great teammate. (Casey Cochran) and Timmy (Boyle) are doing a fantastic job of minimizing their opportunities so we can work on their assets."
Finally he responded to a question of how to get the tailgaters from actually coming into Rentschler Field instead of staying in the parking lot during the game.
"I would like to change some of the formats," Diaco said. "Rather than Husky Walk, we’d like to drive down to (Lot) H, come over and have the walk down the lot and then I am going to have the team enter the field through the student section to create some energy there and interface, engage with the student body. I’d like to, I don’t even know the feasibility in it, but I’d like to get a cherry picker out to the lot where nobody comes in, blast some music, get the mike and invite them all to come in. Then take the field with some energy, give the fans something really exciting to watch. I was thinking of something between the third and fourth quarters, I’ll pick the song I will play my iPad and we will do a contest with three songs and what song am I going to play. We are going to do some things to engage the student body and engage the fans, we are going to have our team stay on campus the day before so we can interface with the student body because if the team leaves at 2 p.m. on Friday what’s the difference if we are going to Hartford or Houston? It is the same thing, we are packing up everything and we are going to a hotel. It is really nice to be on campus Friday nights and get a chance to interface with the student body and create some new traditions and try to create a lot of energy to the team."