Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maryland DB commits to UConn

According to his Twitter account, defensive back Justice Pettus-Dixon out of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore has committed to UConn.

Proud to say that i am officially committed to the university of Connecticut 🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾 #GoHuskiesskies
The recruiting database lists offers from Boston College, Cincinnati, Marshall and North Carolina State for Pettus-Dixon.

I haven't seen any stats from his junior season but here is a video of Pettus-Dixon recording a sack from the St. Frances Academy team site. He attended U.S. Army National Combine in January and was named to the first team all-star squad on defense.

It wasn't all good news coming out of Maryland as Nevonne McCrimmon, a running back out of Mount St. Joseph in Baltimore, tweeted a few minutes ago that he committed to Toledo over UConn.

Seniors Davis, Jones deliver for UConn on and off the field

When it came time for Bob Diaco to figure out which of his players would be accompanying him to Newport, R.I. for the American Athletic Conference media day, it didn't take him very long to pick senior receiver Geremy Davis and cornerback Byron Jones.

Diaco said it wasn't even their football exploits - as impressive as they are. Instead, it was their work as true student-athletes and positive role models that resulted in them joining Diaco as members of UConn's travel party.

Let's start with the football. Diaco did not hold back in raving about the two players who could very well be playing on Sundays a year from now.
"Geremy has an incredible catch radius, he is very physical. he can not only get open based on short space but he get open with body control and strength," Diaco said. "Those guys usually do well in games at college but also at the next level when they get a chance. He may not line up and run the very fastest time but he doesn't use that for separation and the ability to get open so he has some unique traits. He reminds me of Michael Floyd, a guy we were around (at Notre Dame), (Larry) Fitzgerald at Pitt, I am not saying he is at that level yet but that (frame) where he is hard to cover, he wins a lot of individual matchups because he is more physical than the defensive backs who are going to try to defend him and he is faster and quicker than the linebackers who try to cover him and he has great, great hands. If it is in his catch radius, it is a lock."

I followed up by mentioning that Davis said that during practices he would seek out Jones so he could test himself against the best.

"It is great because they are competing against each other constantly," Diaco said. "Byron, in terms of size, speed, athleticism you could put his numbers up against anybody in the country and anybody in the country who has achieved over the last 10 years. He is big, real fast, crazy explosive, excellent change of direction, he can bend and twist, these are all things you are going to see."

As I mentioned in the story which ran in today's paper, Davis and Jones have chosen to become roommates. As Diaco pointed out, they also happen to be two of the best students on the UConn football team. Davis has already graduated and is currently closing in on a second degree while Jones is a decorated student-athlete.

Going through graduation ceremonies was a very special moment for Davis.

"We are student-athletes, students first," Davis said. "I would feel like I let them down if I came here (and didn't graduate), I wanted them to see me get my degree. My mom, grandma, my girlfriend and (fellow receiver) John Green came to see me graduate and they saw me walk across that (stage) to get my degree."

A source with ties to the NFL told me recently that Davis and Jones are the only seniors considered to be draftable players. Of course players like Alex Mateas, Angelo Pruitt, B.J. McBryde could play their way onto the radar of NFL teams with strong senior seasons.

It is not something that Davis or Jones is fretting about these days.

"I haven't really thought about it," Davis said. "I don't want to be that guy who says 'I am going to this place.' I love these guys and I want to grow with them."

One thing I didn't get into the story that I wrote yesterday is that redshirt freshman receiver Thomas Lucas drew plenty of praise from Davis. Unfortunately, sometimes when I shift from my tape recorder application on my phone to shooting video, my tape recorder will shut off and that is what happened when Davis spoke about Lucas but Davis said that Lucas, who started preseason camp during his true freshman season as a defensive back, has incredible hands and big-play ability. Lucas, tailback Josh Marriner and tight ends Tommy Myers and Quinn Thompson are the redshirt freshmen who I think could add some big-play ability to the UConn offense this season. Unfortunately I am anticipating getting to see too much of the preseason practices but hopefully I will be able to see those players in action in the media access portion of the practices we will be able to witness.

Finally, I wrote a story on Stratford's Tyler Matakevich, a junior linebacker at Temple for today's paper. At media day I asked him if UConn freshman Steve Hashemi was at St. Joseph High School when Matakevich was and it turns out that he was. Matakevich said he has been in touch with Hashemi, offering any support he can.

"I have known him and his family for a while," Matakevich said. "I think staying in state and playing at UConn, I think that's awesome  I talk to him all the time and he calls me when he is struggling and I wish the best of luck to him."

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Return of Cruz could provide much-needed help to UConn's OL

UConn football coach Bob Diaco has garnered a reputation for boundless enthusiasm and straight-shooting bluntness in his short time here in Connecticut.

He displayed plenty of both during Tuesday's American Athletic Conference football media day. He was never more to the point about the prospects in the upcoming season than when asked about the state of an offensive line which lost four seniors off a unit that has struggled mightily in the last couple of seasons.

"There are not a whole lot of dudes there that are going to be able to play competitive, winning football for 12 games this season so they are getting better," Diaco said. "I would say that is one position where I can't wait to see in their pads and see the growth that has been made over the last eight months physically and mentally and also see the interaction and how the newcomers fit into that role."

The line figures to get a boost from the return of senior guard Gus Cruz.

Cruz started the final four games of the 2012 season and first five contests last year at right guard before he was shut down due to a cardiac issue which left his football career very much in limbo.

Diaco said that Cruz has been cleared and he is expected to be on the field when UConn holds its first preseason practice on Saturday.

"My understanding , almost every single player is going to be a full go on day one," Diaco said. "We'll take anybody 6-3 plus, 300 pounds who can run well and bend and twist, absolutely."

Cruz, always considered to be popular with his teammates, only improved his place on the team and in the locker room with the way he dealt with his medical scare.

"Gus is probably one of the funniest guys I know," UConn senior receiver Geremy Davis said. "In spite of having that issue, you can still see that faith that he believes in. He was still joking around, laughing and showing everything he can in the weight room and in the training room. Thank God he gets to play his senior year. You never know who is going to play and to get that opportunity to play again, I am happy for him and I hope he takes advantage of it and becomes that leader that all of us know he can be.

"Gus is very vocal and the words that he uses and the offensive line, he would help them grow. I remember when we were redshirting as freshmen and we were having that slump at the end of the season he was the one who spoke up and his words really touched everybody and that was when we won five in a row.

Cruz enters preseason camp as the co-No. 1 guy at right guard on UConn's depth chart.


Marriner opening some eyes at UConn

If you want to engage UConn football coach Bob Diaco in a lengthy discussion about his team I would suggest just mentioning the name Josh Marriner.

There may not  be a player who has seen his stock rise more since the end of the 2013 season than the redshirt freshman from Chesapeake, Virginia.

With some high-profile freshmen including two-time New Haven Register State Football Most Valuable Player Arkeel Newsome and the return of Lyle McCombs, Max DeLorenzo and the potential of Joe Williams being thrown in the mix,Marriner's name was rarely mentioned when discussions of UConn tailbacks were starting up.

Well, McCombs (UConn's leading rusher in each of the last three seasons) and Williams are no longer a part of the program and Marriner's star is most certainly on the rise.

In UConn's preseason depth chart he is listed as a co-No. 1 guy at tailback along with DeLorenzo.

Diaco could not say enough good things about the 5-foot-9, 193-pound Marriner.

"Josh is pound for pound the strongest player on our team," Diaco said at Tuesday's American Athletic Conference football media day. "This guy is fast, he is strong, he is powerful. he is a tackle breaker with leg drive, he can push through tacklers and he can also make you miss, he's got some gas to otherwise extend runs that are needed. He is such a fantastic young guy, I can't say enough good things about him,selfless, a great teammate, works hard, one of the hardest workers on the team. He has been so fun to coach."

A couple other quick items from media day.

Diaco said he figures to play with a 4-3 defense about half the time and will be in a 3-4 the rest of the time. He also said he expects every player to be medically cleared to take part in the first practice on Saturday. That includes guard Gus Cruz, who started the first five games of the season before being shut down with a cardiac issue. Also, Diaco would not reveal when the team captains would be named but he said they will not be appointed by him but chosen after a vote by the members of the team.

There will be plenty more from the day's festivities to come.

UConn releases its depth chart

UConn posted a depth chart in its preseason prospectus being handed out at American Athletic Conference media day. Not a ton of surprises and plenty of co-starters being listed. Actually, all Casey Cochran, Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle all named as starters at quarterback.

On the offensive line Richard Levy is the No. 1 left tackle, Zach Rugg and Gus Cruz are the co-starters at LG, Alex Mateas and Tyler Samra are the starters at center and right guard while Andreas Knappe and Dalton Gifford are co-starters at right tackle.

There are no surprises at the offensive skill positions as Max DeLorenzo (tailback), Jazz Clax (fullback), Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx (receiver) and Sean McQuillan (tight end) are the starters although redshirt freshman Josh Marriner is the Co-No. 1 guy at tailback.

What's interesting is that on defense they list starters in a 4-3 formation even though the Huskies are expected to play a 3-4.

No real surprises here as Angelo Pruitt and Reuben Frank are the defensive ends, B.J. McBryde and Julian Campenni are at defensive tackle and nose guard while Graham Stewart, Marquise Vann and Jefferson Ashiru are the linebackers. The secondary features starting corners Byron Jones and Jhavon Williams with returning starters Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams the No. 1 guys at safety.

Freshmen Thomas Hopkins (left offensive tackle), Tommy Myers (tight end), Josh Marriner (tailback), Thomas Lucas (receiver), Foley Fatukasi (defensive tackle), Cole Ormsby (defensive end), Cameron Stapleton (linebacker) and Jamar Summers (cornerback and only true freshman on two-deep chart).

Marriner is listed as one of the two kickoff returners along with Foxx. Foxx, Dhameer Bradley and Nick Vitale are in in the mix as punt returners while Justin Wain and Bobby Puyol are the starters at punter and kicker.

UConn picked ninth in American Athletic Conference

The Bob Diaco era at UConn is going to begin with less than lofty expectations

UConn was picked to finish in a tie for ninth in the 11-team American Athletic Conference in a vote of media members.

Cincinnati, whivh received 17 of the 35 first-place votes, was picked to win the title followed by defending champion Central Florida and Houston. East Carolina came in at No. 4, the highest of the new additions to the league.

UConn is coming off a 3-9 season but ended the year with three straight wins including victories over Temple and Memphis, teams picked to finish ahead of the Huskies.

The Huskies return five players on offense who started at least six games last season  in receivers Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx, center Alex Mateas, tight end Sean McQuillan and tackle Dalton Gifford.

On defense the Huskies lose its top two players as linebacker Yawin Smallwood and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen are now vying for spots with the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings respectively. Defensive linemen Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni, linebackers Marquise Vann, Graham Stewart and Jefferson Ashiru, cornerbacks Byron Jones and Jhavon Williams and safeties Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams are the experienced returnees on defense.

1. Cincinnati (17 first-place votes)   311
2. Central Florida (7)                      298
3. Houston (8)                               286
4. East Carolina                              262
5. SMU                                          158
6. South Florida                              157
7. Memphis                                    133
8. Temple                                       105
9. UConn and Tulane                       98
11. Tulsa                                         94

Saturday, July 26, 2014

UConn roster is up

It has been quite the eventful offseason in terms of player departures at UConn with top rusher Lyle McCombs, dynamic receiver Shakim Phillips and opening game starting offensive tackle Xavier Hemingway among those no longer part of the UConn program.

However, taking a quick look through the recently posted 2014 roster, it looks as if everybody expected back is on the roster with the exception of reserve defensive lineman Brendan Battles-Santos.

The best news is that every player who signed with UConn in February is also on the roster although it was a little surprising to see Steve Hashemi listed as a tight end and not as an offensive lineman. There have also been some number changes, mostly involving the young wide receivers as Noel Thomas is now No. 5, Thomas Lucas is No. 8, Brian Lemelle will wear No. 18 and Blake Feagles is No. 82.

There's also plenty of new walk-ons on the roster including Tim Adanti, a tight end out of Derby, former Bunnell defensive back Joseph Bivona, Dan Carbonaro, an offensive lineman from Oxford, former Barlow linebacker Alex Gallaer, Nyrell Moore, who is a cornerback out of West Haven High, former RHAM quarterback Will Rishell, receiver James Sullivan (who played at Xavier) and a pair of Shelton High products - running back Jason Thompson and linebacker Kyle Zielinski. There are also a pair of new kickers on the roster as Chase Briley out of Capital Prep and Rocky Hill's Andrew Paluch, who booted a 42-yard field goal during the Moe's "Clutch Kick" promo at Rentschler in November.

As for the departures, here is a list of the players with remaining eligibility who were on the team roster for the 2013 finale against Memphis (including walk-ons).
Brendan Battles-Santos, DL
Ty-Meer Brown, DB\
Rick Harrison, K/P
Xavier Hemingway, OT
Lyle McCombs, RB
Scott McCummings, QB/WR
E.J. Norris, TE
Shakim Phillips WR
Liam Sallquist, TE
Donald Slater, LB
Kivon Taylor QB
Zach Taylor, LB
Joe Williams, RB

Players report to camp on Aug. 1 with the first practice being held the following day.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A look at 22 UConn products in NFL camps

Former UConn stars Yawin Smallwood and Shamar Stephen trying
 to make it onto the active rosters of Atlanta and Minnesota
With NFL training camps upon us I thought it would be a good time to take a look at where the 22 former UConn products stand in their quest to be on the active rosters. In the for what it is worth department, ESPN had each of its NFL team bloggers predict the opening game rosters and of the 21 former Huskies on rosters at that point (Lawrence Wilson had yet to signed by St. Louis) 16 of them made the cut. For those wondering, Kashif Moore, Yawin Smallwood, Shamar Stephen, Nick Williams and Trevardo Williams were the players who did not make the projected rosters of their respective teams.
Will Beatty is back on field for the New York Giants

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Was cleared to practice earlier this week as he has returned sooner than expected from broken leg suffered in 2013 regular-season finale.
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland : Another former Husky looking to rebound after seeing 2013 season ended due to broken leg
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Although he is in a crowded backfield, expectations are high for the former first-round pick in his first season with the Chargers
Darius Butler, DB Indianapolis: Has found a home with the Colts, his third NFL team. Posted a career-high 54 tackles and four interceptions last season.
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Had his first two career regular-season catches last year but it was his work as the Bills' leader in special-teams tackle that has him in position to return for a fourth season
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Expectations are extremely high for the second-year cornerback who had 32 tackles and two interceptions in 10 games as a rookie
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston With Owen Daniels now with the Ravens, opportunity could be knocking for Griffin who had 14 catches in final three games of 2013 season.
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: His appearance in 2013 regular-season finale against New Orleans was his first since 2008. He will likely need to contribute on special teams to make the team this season.
Robert McClain, DB Atlanta: One of the true success stories, McClain has 126 tackles and has 15 pass breakups over the last two seasons and he's found a home in Atlanta.
Kashif Moore, WR Pittsburgh: Moore faces an uphill climb to make the team after the Steelers signed Lance Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey and drafted Martavis Bryant.
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: After registering 50 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a rookie, Moore moves to the weakside outside linebacking spot and is being pushed by Miles Burris for the starting spot.

Dan Orlovsky, QB Detroit: After playing in three games over the last two seasons in Tampa Bay, he was signed to be Matt Stafford's backup in Detroit. He'll likely have to beat out Kellen Moore, who has been with the Lions for two seasons without appearing in a game, to be the No. 2 QB.
Kendall Reyes, DL San Diego: Reyes, heading into his third season, was second on the Chargers with five sacks last season.
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: For the second year in a row Sherman will be asked to lead the way for Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles.
Yawin Smallwood, LB Atlanta: Like most seventh-round picks, it will not be easy for Smallwood to land on the opening day roster especially after the Falcons signed Tim Dobbins and Pat Angerer to help fill the void left by the injured Sean Weatherspoon.
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: There has been nothing but positive reviews for Stephen, also taken in the seventh round in this year's draft. As is the case with Smallwood, Stephen is going to have to impress during training camp to put himself in position to make the squad.
Donald Thomas, OG Indianapolis: Thomas suffered a season-ending torn quad in the second game of the 2013 season but he was recently cleared to practice.
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: With Maurice Jones-Drew now in Oakland Todman will be pushing Toby Gerhart for carries for the Jaguars.
Nick Williams, WR Washington: Williams made the Redskins as an undrafted rookie free agent but with Washington signing Desean Jackson and Andre Roberts and drafting Ryan Grant, he has his work cut out for him.
Trevardo Williams, LB Houston: The fourth-round pick in last year's draft hasn't had the chance to show what he can do. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve and is currently on the physically unable to perform list due to the knee injury. The fact that he wasn't cut seems to be an indication that new coach Bill O'Brien is willing to wait to see what Williams is capable of.
Lawrence Wilson, LB St. Louis: Signed earlier this week by the Rams, the much traveled Wilson will need to open eyes during training camp. Wilson has been with Carolina, Tennessee, New Orleans and Chicago but has yet to appear in a regular season game although he has recorded 21 tackles in 11 career preseason games.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: With Alterraun Verner headed off to Tampa Bay Wreh-Wilson is competing for a starting cornerback spot in his second season.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Former UConn OT Beatty returns to field

There have been plenty of questions concerning former UConn offensive lineman Will Beatty's timetable for a return to the football field following the horrific injury he suffered in the 2013 season finale for the New York Giants.

Well, the speculation came to an end yesterday as Beatty took part in drills, on a limited basis.

Beatty was cleared to practice on Monday which was a major landmark in his return from a fractured tibia he suffered in the third quarter in the December game against the Washington Redskins.

Beatty started all 16 games for the first time in his career but had a disappointing season. The return to football drills is the first step for Beatty, a second-round pick by the New York Giants in the 2009 NFL Draft, as he looks to return to the form that earned him a five-year contract worth nearly $40 million.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Some catching up to do

Senior cornerback Byron Jones is one of two UConn players expected to be
in attendance at next week's American Athletic Conference media day
After taking the last two weeks off, I figured I would attempt to recap what I missed.

Let's start with the hiring of Darrell Perkins at Old Dominion.

Perkins spent the last four seasons at UConn coaching the safeties last season after spending the previous three seasons coaching all the defensive backs.Perkins will coach the cornerbacks at Old Dominion while former UConn assistant Kermit Buggs will coach the safeties. Also, former graduate assistant Jordan Orlovsky has been named as a grad assistant at Old Dominion.

It looks like every coach from last year's team except offensive coordinator T.J. Weist, the interim coach for the final eight games has found a landing spot.

Paul Pasqualoni: Defensive Line coach Chicago Bears
George DeLeone: Assistant Offensive Line coach Cleveland Browns
Shane Day: Assistant Offensive Line coach/offensive quality control Washington Redskins
Mike Foley: Offensive Line coach UConn
Hank Hughes: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers coach Cincinnati
Kermit Buggs: Safeties coach Old Dominion
Shane Fogarty: Offensive Coordinator Colby
Darrell Perkins: Cornerbacks coach Old Dominion
Jonathan Wholley: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers coach Fordham

Also, former UConn grad assistant Michael Digman has been hired as the quarterbacks coach at Central Connecticut and Doug Shearer is a grad assistant at North Carolina State.

UConn received a commitment from Chris Lee, a tight end out of Severna Park. The 6-foot-7 Lee is also a member of the basketball team which reached the Maryland 4A quarterfinals. Lee's best game as a junior might have come against South River when he had four catches for 50 yards including a 15-yard touchdown. He finished with 18 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns. His 14.5 yard per catch average was second on the 5-5 Severna Park team among players with at least 10 receptions. He also averaged 8.8 points per game for the basketball team.

The American Athletic Conference recently released the list of players expected to take part in next week's AAC media day and receiver Geremy Davis and cornerback Byron Jones were the UConn players on the list. Media day is set for July 29 and will be held in Newport, R.I.

Boston College posted its 2014 roster and as expected some familiar names are on the list as former UConn safety Ty-Meer Brown and receiver Shakim Phillips will play for the Eagles. Brown will wear No. 5 and Phillips No. 11. Former Norwich Free Academy star Marcus Outlow, a freshman running back, was given No. 7.

Former UConn tight end John Delahunt had a 23-yard catch leading to a field goal as the expansion Ottawa Redblacks won their first Canadian Football League game on Friday.

Ottawa, playing its first home game in franchise history, defeated Toronto 18-17 on Friday. Delahunt, who plays fullback, has four catches for 55 yards in three games this season.

Larry Taylor's 145 kickoff return yards was one of the few bright spots in Montreal's 41-5 loss to the BC Lions on Saturday. Taylor went over the 5,000 yard mark in career kickoff returns. He is fourth on the CFL career list with 236 career kickoff returns and needs 283 yards to move into the No.. 5 spot in career kickoff return yards.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

UConn's Cochran nominated for Allstate Good Works team

UConn sophomore quarterback Casey Cochran is a candidate for the Allstate Good Works team.

Cochran, who quarterbacked UConn to a three-game winning streak to end the 2013 season, is recognized for representing the football team on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, volunteering as a coach in the Monroe Lions Youth Football program and regularly visiting local elementary schools as part of the Goal Line Project. Cochran has also been recognized for his work in the classroom.

The former Masuk High star also worked as a counselor at the camp during the 19th annual Manning Passing Academy run by the family of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning.


UConn's Davis on Biletnikoff Award watch list

UConn senior receiver Geremy Davis was named to the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award which is presented annually to the nation's top receiver.

As a junior Davis had a team-leading 71 catches including a program single-game record 15 in the regular-season finale against Memphis. He had four 100-yard games and finished with 1,085 receiving yards during the 2013 season which is the sixth highest total in UConn history and most since the Huskies began playing at the FBS level in 2002.

Davis has led UConn in receptions in each of the last two seasons and if he accomplishes the feat again as a senior, he will join Mark Didio as the only Huskies to lead UConn in catches for three seasons in a row. His 1,771 career receiving yards is the most at UConn during the FBS era and ranks ninth all time.

Davis was also named to the College Football Performance Awards WR watch list.