Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Phillips leaving UConn, may land back at BC

Last night there was a report that UConn senior receiver Shakim Phillips was on the Boston College campus and he could transfer back to the school where he began his collegiate career.

The latest twist came on Wednesday when a source confirmed that Phillips is no longer a part of the team (first reported by the Hartford Courant) although he is still enrolled at UConn. He is looking to complete the requirements for graduation and if he does so, he would be immediately eligible to play at another school in the fall.

Phillips' loss is a substantial one as he was one of the most dynamic offensive players for the Huskies. It's easy to wonder how the 2013 season would have played out had Phillips not injured his hamstring during a 75-yard touchdown reception late in a loss to Maryland.

Phillips had 15 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games of the season. Phillips and Geremy Davis formed a productive 1-2 punch at receiver. Phillips missed the next two games and managed just 13 catches during the remainder of the season before sitting out the final two games with an ankle injury.

He finished third on the team with 28 receptions during the 2013 season and had 60 receptions in two seasons with the Huskies. Injuries kept Phillips on the sideline for most of spring practice and he did not play in the spring game.

If there is a silver lining it is that receiver is position where the Huskies have the most experience. Not only is Davis back but Deshon Foxx came on strong late in the season. Brian Lemelle, Dhameer Bradley, Noel Thomas, John Green and Kamal Abrams are all returning receivers who had catches during the 2013 season. Also, if the spring game is any indication, UConn could utilize two running backs and a tight end more than in the past couple of seasons which would mean more two-receiver sets. However, other than redshirt freshman Thomas Lucas, whose 25-yard catch was the longest in the spring game, none of the players who could replace Phillips offer the size that the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Phillips brought to the table.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

UConn's Brown, Orlovsky find new homes during offseason

With players starting to report to voluntary workouts with their NFL teams, I thought it would be a good time to look at the offseason movement involving UConn pruducts.

The biggest news was made by Donald Brown who signed with the San Diego Chargers after spending the previous five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Also, Dan Orlovsky is headed back to Detroit, rejoining the team he played for from 2005-08 after stints in Houston, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.

However, not all the movement news involves changing teams. The departure of established stars could also pave the way for bigger roles this season for some former Huskies as Ryan Griffin could see more time at tight end in Houston with Owen Daniels now in Baltimore, Jordan Todman has a chance to compete for a starting running back spot in Jacksonville with Maurice Jones-Drew now a member of the Oakland Raiders and Blidi Wreh-Wilson could move into a starting cornerback role in Tennessee now that Alterraun Verner signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There was plenty of comings and goings involving UConn products in the Canadian Football League as well.

Larry Taylor, one of the most productive return specialists in CFL history, was traded from Calgary to Montreal, John Delahunt was taken in the expansion draft by Ottawa and most recently, Lindsay Witten was signed by Saskatchewan.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Huge game for former UConn DE

Former UConn defensive end Teddy Jennings continues his impressive work with the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul.

Jennings had 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble to lead Philadelphia to a 54-41 win over Jacksonville on Saturday night.

Jennings, who had four tackles in the game, has played in four games with Philadelphia and has sacks in three of them. His 4 1/2 sacks ranks fifth in the AFL.

Philadelphia's next game is on Apr. 27 at 4 p.m. against Iowa and it will air live on ESPN2.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Four UConn players in NFL rankings

The NFL Draft Bible site recently updated its positional rankings and the UConn quartet of Jimmy Bennett, Jesse Joseph, Yawin Smallwood and Shamar Stephen all made the cut.

Smallwood is the No. 3 rated inside linebacker, Stephen is No. 23 among defensive tackles, Bennett is the 27th rated offensive tackle and Joseph ranks 28th among the defensive ends.

Stephen and Smallwood are also among the players listed in the database. Stephen is tied for eighth among defensive tackles/nose tackles with a grade of  5.4 while Smallwood is tied for seventh among inside linebackers with a 5.2 grade.

There are others with Connecticut ties in the NFL Draft Bible player ratings.

Khairi Fortt of Stamford is the No. 15 outside linebacker and Silas Redd of Norwalk is the No. 27 running back while Kevin Pierre-Louis of Norwalk is the 20th rated outside linebacker. Mike Flacco (yes, he is the brother of Ravens QB Joe Flacco) of the University of New Haven is the 18th rated tight end former UConn defensive back Tevrin Brandon out of Monmouth is the No. 46 ranked cornerback.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

UConn NFL products supporting memorial for Jasper Howard

There's an online petition to create support for a permanent memorial for Jasper Howard at Rentschler Field.

The signatures are rolling in and many of the UConn players in the NFL are among those offering their support for the project by signing the petition and using their Twitter accounts to encourage others to do the same.

Scott Lutrus BROOKFIELD, CT about 3 hours ago    Liked 1
A reason why this is important to me? Try to give me one reason why it is not important to me. A fallen teammate and brother who is a huge part of our UConn family. Never forgotten.

Sio Moore @MrOakTown55
Jazz means a lot to our family and he meant a lot to me!!! If I know one thing the nation knows how to be a family. 

Blidi @BlidiWrehWil5on

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pretty good ending to Diaco's first spring camp at UConn

Bob Daco certainly knows how to talk the talk and talk and talk and talk.

Ask him how's everything going and you might not get a second question in if you have somewhere to go in 30 minutes time. He's said all the right things this spring about changing the culture but there's much more to having a winning team than painting some walls and checking the Vitamin D levels of the players.

So when the offense was forced to punt on six of the seven possessions in the first half of yesterday's spring game, it was impossible not to hear the grumblings of some of the estimated 6,500 fans who made their way into Rentschler Field.

But at game's end I think there were far more positives than negatives.

First, let me start off by saying that reading too much into spring games is a risky proposition since every time the defense looks good that means that the offense helped that to occur or vice versa and the defense should be prepared since it had 14 practices working against the offense so they can recognize formations and know all the plays before they even happen.

Still, I will proceed.

Nothing was better than the weather. You just won't find a better day for football than what we had yesterday and just as importantly, I did not see any significant injuries suffered by any of the players.

As for the on the field stuff, one of the biggest questions surrounded the defensive line. With UConn shifting to a 3-4 scheme, Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni have already proven that they are effective and productive players but the performance of B.J. McBryde was an eye opener. At 6-foot-5 and 304 pounds he fits exactly what Diaco wants in a 3-4 defensive end. He knocked down two passes at the line and two of his four tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. Pruitt also had two TFLs and all four sacks were recorded from defensive linemen.

"You think about Angelo, he is one of the older players and he has reps under his belt and played the games, he is playing the whole time playing a different position, grinding it out and being animated, one of more animated down the stretch too that was nice," Diaco said.

Diaco was also happy with what he saw from McBryde.

."Another mature, older player, totally bought in and there are a lot of guys like him that they have been through so much, not necessarily unique to UConn but they have been through so much to be whole hearted, wide open and 'give it to me, teach me coach.' He has been a real stellar teammate."

Perhaps the best on the field aspect of the spring game is the unique scoring system resulted in the game's outcome not being decided until the final drive. The offense trailed by three points in the fourth quarter when Casey Cochran was unable to handle the snap on the potential game-tying field goal. With another chance to win the game, the defense came through with the game-clinching strip and fumble recovery after a short completion.

"It is always competitive and it is good to come out on top," safety Andrew Adams said. "There are definitely some bragging rights going into the summer."

Plenty of young receivers and tight ends got into the act. The leading receiver was redshirt freshman tight end Quinn Thompson (5 catches, 37 yards) and half of the 38 receptions went to receivers or tight ends who came into the program last year.

The three quarterbacks who got starts during the 2013 season had their moments. I thought it was interesting that it was primarily a two-quarterback deal as starter Cochran got five series and Chandler Whitmer four before Tim Boyle came into the game in the second quarter. Whitmer had the best stats and engineered the first scoring drive of the game but Boyle moved the team very well when he came in. Whitmer was pretty up front about how close he came to not returning to the team this season.

It wasn't all positive.

There were five straight 3-and-outs, too many bobbled passes and a couple of drops and the running game looked rather pedestrian with the exception of a couple of hard runs by Max DeLorenzo and some late bursts by Jazzmar Clax and Josh Marriner.

Now the team won't be on the field together for another few months but at least the players and coaches have gotten the chance to find out what makes the other group tick and that should help both the players and coaches moving forward. It hasn't been easy for the players, especially the older ones. The fifth-year seniors were recruited by Randy Edsall, coached by Paul Pasqualoni for two full seasons and the first four games of last year before T.J. Weist took over on an interim basis. Now it is Diaco calling the shots with a brand new staff with the exception of offensive line coach Mike Foley.

"He (Diaco) didn’t agree with the culture and he is doing what he wants to do and so far it is working out great for us," rising senior cornerback Byron Jones said.

"Five years (four) different head coaches, a lot of different position coaches but it is all part of the experience. In Division I football you have to understand that this type of stuff happens. The coaches are changing but your teammates are always the same and relationships are stronger now than ever before."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Some observations from UConn's Blue-White Game

Well, the 15 spring practices under the new regime at UConn are now in the books.

My duties covering the UConn women's basketball team's march to a record ninth national title prevented me from attending as many practices as I would have liked but my time away did make me even more curious about what I was going to see today.

The first thing I wanted to see who is came out as starters especially on the defensive front seven and on the offensive line. That interested me more than the final score (which was 46-37 in favor of the White over the Blue).

Well, there weren't a ton of shockers on either side of the ball.B.J. McBryde (the best defensive player on the field in my opinion) lined up with returning starters Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni on the defensive line. Jefferson Ashiru, Graham Stewart, Marquise Vann and Reuben Frank started at linebacker with the expected starting secondary of cornerbacks Jhavon Williams and Byron Jones and safeties Andrew Adams and Obi Melifonwu.

As far as the offensive line from right to left the first unit consisted of tackle Dalton Gifford, guard Tyler Samra, center Alex Mateas, guard Zach Rugg and tackle Richard Levy.

Graham Stewart was the most noticeable of the starting linebackers although the top tacklers were Jon Hicks and Cameron Stapleton, who could be pushing for starting spots at linebacker based on what I saw during the spring.

Offensively, the tight ends were featured early and often as tight ends Quinn Thompson, Tommy Myers, Jeremy Claflin and starter Sean McQuillan combined for 13 of the 38 receptions. Half of those 38 receptions were made by either receivers or tight ends in last year's recruiting class.

When wrapping up his first spring practice, Bob Diaco said that Andreas Knappe, who moved from defensive line to offensive line this spring, has probably made the biggest jump of any player from practice 1 to 15. Other players he mentioned as being impressed with were WR Geremy Davis, Vann, McBryde, WR Deshon Foxx, WR Thomas Lucas, WR Noel Thomas, CB Byron Jones, DL Foley Fatukasi, Frank and punter Justin Wain (who averaged 45.2 yards on 10 punts). Diaco also said that kicker Bobby Puyol was sick as could be and that likely impacted some of his less than pretty kicks.

I thought it was a nice touch that the team captains were not the star players like Davis, Jones, Pruitt or Mateas but under the radar players including former Hand star Nick Vitale.

Video look back at UConn Blue-White game

An estimated crowd of 6,500 turned out on a perfect aftenoon to watch the UConn spring game.

There will be some observations from the White team's 46-37 victory but first I thought I would put up the videos I shot before, during and after the game.