Saturday, August 23, 2014

Video look at UConn preseason camp

Bob Diaco's first preseason camp has been wrapped up and now the preparations for Friday's season opener against BYU are underway. I figured there would be no better way to wrap up camp than by a collection of videos that I posted during the practices I was able to attend.

Scary moment for former UConn LB

It sounds as if former UConn linebacker Sio Moore avoided serious injury after he was taken off the field in a stretcher in the Oakland Raiders loss to Green Bay in the third preseason game of the season.

Moore, a second-year linebacker in line to be a starter, was motionless on the ground after a collision with Packers fullback John Kuhn. His neck was mobilized and he gave the thumbs up signal as he was taken off the field.

Here's what Raiders coach Dennis Allen said after the game (courtesy of the interview transcript on the team's official site)

"X-rays came back negative, so that’s obviously positive sign," Allen said. "The initial word is really mostly a neck strain. I don’t know what kind of timeline that means, but obviously, the most encouraging thing is that Sio is fine."

After the game the Raiders said it was a neck strain but there was no timetable for Moore's return to the field. He was seem waling through the locker room after the game with a neck brace on but he was not made available to the media.

Moore had two tackles including a tackle for loss in the game while former Husky Tyvon Branch finished with five tackles in the 31-21 loss.

There were three more UConn products on the field in the preseason game between Detroit and Jacksonville. Dan Orlovsky was 9 of 11 passing for 74 yards for Detroit in the 13-12 win while Dwayne Gratz had two tackles and Jordan Todman caught three passes for 32 yards for the Jaguars.

In the CFL, Larry Taylor was activated from the injured list in time to return three kickoffs for 55 yards and six punts for 17 yards in Montreal's 24-16 loss to Winnipeg.


Friday, August 22, 2014

No lack of home-grown talent at UConn

Former St. Luke's star Noel Thomas is one of 11 Connecticut natives
on UConn football team's two-deep chart which was released on Thursday
A quick look at UConn's two-deep chart and there are no lack of local boy makes good stories out there.

The emergence of Casey Cochran as the No. 1 quarterback, Max DeLorenzo as potentially being the top running option, Sean McQuillan the top guy at tight end, Graham Stewart primed for a big season at linebacker and Byron Jones being named as a team captain and emerging as an NFL prospect at cornerback have been reported on in the past and they will continue to dominate the headlines. However, there are some other state natives flying a bit under the radar.

Defensively, Windsor's Cole Ormsby is pushing for quality playing time at the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position. Ormsby learned his lessons well a season ago when he knew he was going to be redshirted.

"I worked as hard as I could and tried to be ready," Ormsby said. "I am ready for anything and whatever the team needs me to do.

"I am excited because I want to prove to everybody that I can do it. I am way more prepared with the new coaching staff,"

Well, he is ready to go now. While UConn coach Bob Diaco said Ormsby has the flexibility to be an asset either on the outside or inside, Ormsby said he has worked almost exclusively on the outside.

Moving over to the offense, tight end Tommy Myers has been a fixture at UConn sporting events as long as he can remember since his father Norman played for the UConn football team in the early 1980s and his mother Peggy was one of the stars of Hall of Fame Geno Auriemma's first women's basketball teams at UConn.

Like Ormsby, Myers was redshirted a season ago but is now No. 2 at tight end.

If there is such a thing as a player born to play football at UConn, Myers could certainly fit the bill.

"I remember coming to these games when they were at Memorial Stadium and just always wanted to play UConn football and it feels natural," Myers said. "I kind of fell into the position of tight end because growing up I always wanted to play quarterback or receiver like everybody does but I think I fell into the tight end spot just by size and ability."

He displayed some of that ability in the spring game when he one of four players to catch at least four passes. Noel Thomas was also on the list of prolific pass catches in the game. As a freshman he was best known as a gunner on the punt coverage teams as he displayed a knack for downing Cole Wagner punts inside the 5.

Diaco said Thomas has made tremendous growth as a player and a person in the last several months and he has put himself into the rotation at receiver.

"I just want to help the team win and anything I can do in a positive way," Thomas said.

So what has Thomas been doing to get ready for his sophomore season?

"I've been running a lot, working out with Coach (Matt) Balis (UConn's strength and conditioning coach, he is an amazing guy, and I just want to make sure I catch everything that is thrown to me."

There are 11 state natives on UConn's two deep chart while others like Tim Boyle, Arkeel Newsome, Steve Hashemi aren't on the two-deep but could see action this season. Here is the list of Nutmeg State natives on the depth chart

Kenton Adeyemi (Wethersfield), No. 2 defensive tackle
Chase Briley (Hartford), No. 2 kicker and No. 2 punter
Casey Cochran (Monroe), starting quarterback
Max DeLorenzo (Berlin), starting tailback
Byron Jones (New Britain), starting cornerback
Cole Ormsby (Windsor), No. 2 defensive end
Sean McQuillan (Glastonbury), starting tight end
Tommy Myers (Coventry), No. 2 tight end
Graham Stewart (Durham), starting linebacker
Noel Thomas (Norwalk), Co-No. 2 receiver
Matt Walsh (Madison), No. 2 fullback

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

UConn QB coach dishes on Cochran, Whitmer

There's been plenty written about the quarterback position at UConn since Casey Cochran was named the Huskies' starter in a Monday press conference.

UConn coach Bob Diaco, Cochran, No. 2 quarterback Chandler Whitmer (who is expected to see time in games as well), Tim Boyle and Bryant Shirreffs answered questions from the media and obviously the state of the UConn QBs was the story line in every article the following day. One perspective that was missing was that of quarterbacks coach Don Patterson. Well, that changed on Thursday as the UConn assistant coaches were made available to the media. There's some good souls on this UConn coaching staff but Patterson is easily my favorite to chat with. I could have easily spent all the allotted time we had with the assistants talking to him but I did manage to make it around to a few of the other assistants as well.

When we met the coaches shortly after the staff was announced, most of my time was spent documenting Patterson's incredible story.

Patterson did not let me down in the 10 or so minutes I spoke with him on Thursday.

Here we go.

"The players will tell you that they have great confidence in both of those guys," Patterson said. "I think Chandler and Casey,  it has been a very good competition, it has been a very smooth competition. I think they understand, because we talk about it, but we as a group of quarterbacks we are a team within a team and our job to make sure that this team has great quarterback play regardless of injury which means they all have to be able to play and all have to fulfill their role. If you happen to be third team then your mentality has to be that you are two plays away and stranger things have happened. You have to get ready for the game, that is the hard thing to do if you are a second or third team quarterback, because there is a lot of preparation and yet you may not get on the field.

"I think it is not secret because I know Bob mentioned that Chandler is going to play against BYU so thee is no doubt about it. How much, we don't know, it depends on game situations. We obviously had a lot of confidence in him and even more important than what we think, I think the players have a lot of confidence in him. I know there are fans who wonder if he deserves (to play) but he has to be able to take snaps to be able to play better than he played for us in the past and I am confident in saying 'yes, I am confident that he will play better than he played in the past.'"

With the decision to use both Cochran and Whitmer in games I was curious what Patterson felt were the biggest differences between the two.

"They are similar in a lot of ways," Patterson said. "To be able to play effectively in our offense you have to be a really smart guy and they both have really high football intelligence. They understand the game really well. Their decision making is right on most of the time, their goal is to be right on most of the time. It is impossible to play a perfect game at quarterback but that is what they are trying to do and if they approach that they will be playing as well or better than anybody in the country because it is such a difficult job. They are both really into football, they are the basketball equivalent of a gym rat, they really like the game, they like the strategy of the game, they are both in so many ways extroverted. They are good leaders, they are decisive decision makers, they embrace the expectations that they can handle all the stuff at once It is like being an air traffic controller, you have all these things at one time and you have to make snap decisions."

Diaco has made it clear that last year's UConn season is not something he or his staff is focusing on as they wanted to make their own evaluations. As a result Patterson wasn't fully aware of just how bad things got a season ago. He was a little stunned when I informed him that UConn opponents scored 39 offensive touchdowns in 12 games and 13 of those drives started in UConn territory and absolutely incredulous that the Huskies gave up five defensive touchdowns.

"You have to make them play on a long field," Patterson said. "Statistically it has been proven that the closer you are to the goal line when you take the field the better your chances are to score. Opponents scored five defensive touchdowns last year? That is something I didn't want to know about. They shot themselves in the foot too many times. The first thing you have to do is prevent losing and that all starts with not beating yourselves, having a high football IQ, not having unforced errors.

"The first thing you have to do is not beat yourself. It sounds simple but the University of Alabama always has a quarterback that doesn't get Alabama beat and that is the first thing we have to do is not beat ourselves. Every ball we ever throw in practice is charted, they can tell you but they have thrown 15 picks out of 852 passes here in camp, that is pretty good. One interception every 60 snaps."

Speaking of stats, Patterson posed a trivia question to a couple of us and that was how many wins did the top 11 teams at the FBS level in turnover margin average. The answer was 11. 

"If you protect the ball and you have an edge in turnovers when the game is winding down, you have a chance to win. If you are plus 2 or plus 3, you have a significantly better chance to win but it all starts with not beating yourself. We have room for improvement, we are not quite ready to tee it up and that is OK because the game doesn't start until on the 29th."

Most of the recent news regarding the roster has involved players leaving the program but today UConn announced that current students at the school can attempt to make the team as walk-ons. The deadline to apply is Aug. 28 with the tryout set for Sept. 1.

The unfortunate situation when Linval Joseph was shot in the leg while standing inside a Minneapolis night club has forced the defensive tackle to the sidelines during training camp. In his place former UConn star Shamar Stephen has received plenty of work with the first and second team defense. Stephen is tied for second on the Vikings with eight total tackles in the first two preseason games. Minnesota defensive coordinator George Edwards was asked about Stephen's work in training camp in a question and answer session posted on the team's official site.

Q: How valuable has the time Linval Joseph has missed for Shamar Stephen?

A: Again, we want competition at every position for that reason. That when somebody is down, the next guy is up and he’s got to come in, we don’t want a drop off in performance. From that aspect of it, there’s a young guy, a prime example, that has come in here and worked his butt off all through the offseason, all through training camp and now it’s starting to show in his play. Each week we go out and perform, from that aspect of it, that’s what we’re trying to create at each position.

Q: Do you see Shamar Stephen as a guy that will definitely make the roster?

A: We still have got two more weeks of evaluations, so, everybody is still competing, from that aspect of it. We haven’t said, “Okay, here is our 53-man roster.” We still want that competition going all of the way throughout training camp and now that we’re done with training camp, through these preseason games. It’s a continuous evaluation as we keep going through it.

UConn captains have plenty in common

When it came time to select roommates Byron Jones had no thoughts about sharing his living quarters with fellow leaders of the 2014 UConn football team. He did, however, share a bond both emotionally and spiritually with Geremy Davis and Marquise Vann so it seemed only natural that they would choose to be roomies.

"They are stand-up guys, two big guys on offense, two big guys on defense," Jones said. "I can't say enough good things about every single individual.

"It worked out, we always push each other. They set their alarm and if I am sleeping late, they will come wake my up or I will wake them up so we have each other's backs. We all have the same maturity, it is very clear what our goals are and we not afraid to (show) it."

Vann, the only non-senior among the team captains, finds it incredibly ironic that of all the people he could be rooming with this season, it just so happened that it ended up being two fellow captains.

"You look at it and you have us three people who are in the same (apartment) are captains and that is something that you can't make that up," Vann said.

"I believe our personalities kind of mold together, we have three personalities who come together well so we are good teammates and we are good friends so it is awesome."

UConn QB's mullet a big hit on social media

The press conference announcing Casey Cochran as UConn's starting quarterback had not even wrapped up yet when the tweets started pouring in at a fast and furious pace. No, it wasn't Cochran's impressive finish to the 2013 season that generated all the buzz but his mullet. Deadspin got into the act as did many other online entities and that left Cochran practically speechless.

"I didn't even know what to say, it is unbelievable and I never in a million years would have imagined that," Cochran said. "That's a little tough. I guess is the (world) I live in."

Junior linebacker Graham Stewart, was much more receptive to discussing Cochran's hairstyle, however.

"Me and Casey are pretty close and during the offseason we hang out," Stewart said. "He has been working hard on that mullet and for everything to come to fruition with it, that is great. At first a lot of people are like 'what are you doing?' but he had a vision and a path for his mullet and I think the mullet is a great statement. I think people will be rocking the mullet after seeing how he does. I think it is awesome, I am pro mullet 100 percent and I might grow one myself if that is what it takes."

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A look at UConn's depth chart

We were given UConn's two-deep chart although UConn coach Bob Diaco was quick to refer to it as the post-camp depth chart and not the pre-BYU on.

First thing of note is that Andreas Knappe, still dealing with a lower leg injury, is not listed so Dalton Gifford is the starting right tackle and he is backed up by Thomas Hopkins. Also, Max DeLorenzo is the No. 1 guy at tailback.

Here is the depth chart
LT: Rich Levy; Paul Nwokeji
LG: Gus Cruz; Trey Rutherford
C: Alex Mateas; Kyle Bockeloh
RG: Tyler Samra; Ryan Crozier
RT: Dalton Gifford; Thomas Hopkins
TE: Sean McQuillan; Tommy Myers
FB: Jazzmar Clax; Matt Walsh
TB: Max DeLorenzo; Josh Marriner
WR: Geremy Davis; Noel Thomas/Thomas Lucas
WR: Deshon Foxx; Kamal Abrams/Dhameer Bradley
QB: Casey Cochran; Chandler Whtimer

DE: Angelo Pruitt; Foley Fatukasi
DT: B.J. McBryde; Kenton Adeyemi
NG: Julian Campenni; Mikal Myers
DE: Reuben Frank; Cole Ormsby
LB: Marquise Vann; Jon Hicks
LB: Jefferson Ashiru; Junior Joseph
LB: Graham Stewart; Cam Stapleton
CB: Byron Jones; John Green
CB: Jhavon Williams; Jamar Summers
S: Andrew Adams; Jordan Floyd
S: Obi Melifonwu; Wilbert Lee/Ellis Marder

K: Bobby Puyol; Chase Briley
P: Justin Wain; Chase Briley
H: Blake Feagles; Casey Cochran
LS: Dom Manco; Adam Mueller
KR: Deshon Foxx and Josh Marriner
PR: Deshon Foxx; Brian Lemelle

UConn roster attrition continues

DB David Stevenson, who had 13 tackles in back
to back games against SMU and Louisville, is no
longer a member of the UConn football team
Add former nickel corner David Stevenson to the list of players no longer on UConn's roster.

Things had calmed down significantly since news broke that fellow former reserve defensive back Tyree Clark left the team. However, a quick check of the current roster shows that Stevenson, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Michael Boland and true freshman linebacker Tom Rodrick are no longer listed on the roster. None of the three appeared to be in line for significant duty this season although the depth at defensive back continues to shrink which led to a pair of receivers being shifted over to play in the secondary.

Heading into last season Stevenson was thought to have a chance to compete with Taylor Mack for one of the vacant starting cornerback positions following the graduation of Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. However, Stevenson did have some disciplinary and injury issues and he ended up playing just four games a season ago (finishing with 16 tackles).

Boland was originally headed to prep school last season but when a couple of UConn freshmen left the program, he was given a scholarship. He quickly moved from defensive line and tight end and say regular practice reps as a true freshman. He was moved back to defense during preseason camp.

Rodrick is the first departure among this current group of scholarship freshmen. Walk-on receiver Bobby Cole is also gone from the roster.

In a couple of other changes, former Hand High star Nick Vitale has been moved from receiver to cornerback. He also switched from wearing No. 89 to No. 27 while freshman Sheriden Lawley is now wearing No. 88 after being moved to tight end also John Green is now listed as a cornerback. At the last practice there was a player wearing a beaten-up No. 7 jersey who was working with the second team at cornerback. At the time I assumed it was just a case of not being able to see both numbers on the jersey but I guess that is not the case.

By my count there are 19 players who were on UConn's 2013 season-ending roster with remaining eligibility who are no longer listed on the roster although this does include some walk-ons.

Here is the list along with their current school
DE Brandon Battles-Santos
DE Michael Boland
DB Ty-Meer Brown Boston College
DB Tyree Clark
QB Michael Ecke
K   Rick Harrison
OT Xavier Hemingway
DB Carlos Martinez
RB Lyle McCombs Rhode Island
QB Scott McCummings
TE E.J. Norris
WR Shakim Phillips Boston College
TE Liam Sallquist Miami (Ohio)
LB Donald Slater
DB David Stevenson
QB Kivon Taylor Foothill (CA) College
LB Zach Taylor
TE Quinn Thompson Baldwin Wallace
RB Joe Williams ASA (NY) College

Former UConn QB now at Foothill College

Little by little the landing spots of players who left the UConn program since Bob Diaco's hiring are starting to be announced.

First it was Lyle McCombs landing at Rhode Island then fellow running back Joe Williams emerged at ASA College in New York and now quarterback Kivon Taylor is at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California.

There's some quotes from Taylor in the story I linked above including Taylor stating "at UConn, the coaches that recruited me got fired, so I decided that I was going to leave."

There will be plenty of former UConn players going the junior college route in an effort to return to playing for a FBS school. In addition to Williams and Taylor, receiver Ricky Gutierrez is at Dodge City CC. Former fullback Wyatt Vinci showed up on the Diablo Valley roster a year ago but I didn't see reports of him showing up in a game. It is interesting that Diablo Valley and Foothill will play on Oct 25.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

UConn's Davis, Jones named to Senior Bowl watch list

The Senior Bowl released its watch list of players under consideration to play in the 2015 game and the UConn duo of Geremy Davis and Byron Jones are among the 350 or so players on the list.

Davis is coming off one of the best seasons by a receiver in UConn history as he caught 71 passes for 1,085 yards while Jones, in his first season at cormerback after moving over from safety, finished tied for the team lead with three interceptions and his 42 solo tackles was second only to Yawin Smallwood.

As for UConn opponents, Central Florida and Cincinnati lead the way with five players on the list.

BYU (4): CB Robertson Daniel, DT Marques Johnson, OG Solomone Kafu, TE Devin Mahina
Stony Brook (1): RB Marcus Coker
Boise (3): S Jeremy Ioane, DE Beau Martin, WR Matt Miller
South Florida (2): WR Andre Davis, OG Quinterrius Eatmon
East Carolina (2): QB Shane Carden, WR Justin Hardy
Central Florida (5): S Clayton Geathers, WR Rannell Hall, LB Terrance Plummer, OG Torrian Wilson, WR J.J. Worton
Army (0)
Cincinnati (5): RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, OT Eric Lefeld, LB Jeff Luc, LB Nick Temple, CB Harold Wilder
Memphis (1): DE Martin Ifedi
SMU (1:): LB Stephon Sanders

The game will be played on January 24 at Ladd-Peeples Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.

Now time to focus on other UConn positional battles

Now that the drama surrounding the naming of a starting quarterback is out of the way, it is a perfect time to focus on some other hotly-contested battles for starting positions at UConn.

TAILBACK: Max DeLorenzo is the returnee with the most experience but I will go on the record as saying that I expect Josh Marriner to be UConn's leading rusher this season. I am very interested to see how true freshmen Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson are utilized. Springing a game-breaking player like Newsome on teams for 6-10 snaps a game could add some much-needed juice to the offense.

Brian Lemelle (84) and Dhameer Bradley (1) are in the mix
to be the No. 3 wide receiver for UConn during 2014 season
NO. 3 WIDE RECEIVER: I do not expect UConn to use the three-receiver sets as much this year as a season ago simply because UConn coach Bob Diaco is going to use more multiple tight end formations. Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx are unquestionably the top two receivers. Thomas Lucas has been getting plenty of love in the preseason. Brian Lemelle, Dhameer Bradley and Noel Thomas, who had 16, 13 and five catches respectively as true freshmen, will be in the mix. I haven't heard much about Kamal Abrams but wouldn't be surprised to see him in the rotation.
DEFENSIVE END: There's been plenty of buzz surrounding Reuben Frank, whether he lines up as a defensive end or outside linebacker on the right side, but no position appears to be more competitive than the defensive end on the other side of the ball as B.J. McBryde and Kenton Adeyemi appear to be running neck and neck. Adeyemi has run out with the first unit in the last two practices the media was able to attend but Diaco raved about McBryde when I asked about the competition between the two of them after a recent practice.

Both Adeyemi and McBride had sacks during the spring game and figure prominently in UConn's defensive line rotation regardless of which one ends up drawing the starting position.
NO. 2 CORNERBACK: Byron Jones is unquestionably UConn's top corner. Jhavon Williams received plenty of work as a nickel corner a season ago and he figured to be a starting CB this year. However, true freshman Jamar Summers has been opening eyes since he arrived on campus in January. He finished tied for third on the team with five tackles in the spring game and with Williams less than 100 percent early in camp, Summers was seeing plenty of first-team work. Javon Hadley is another talented youngster with the capability to push for playing time.

KICK RETURNER: Diaco said that Foxx will be the primary punt returner and will be handling kickoffs as well. Now the question is who will go back with Foxx on kickoff returns. Diaco said that Bradley, Lemelle and all the tailbacks are in the mix for that position. Unfortunately, I did not see UConn work on shagging kickoffs during the media access portion of practice so can't offer too much insight into who has been getting most of the work back there.

The Arena Football League will hand out its individual awards tomorrow in Cleveland and among the candidates for the Rookie of the Year has to be former UConn star Teddy Jennings.

Jennings led all rookies with 11 sacks during his rookie season with the Philadelphia Soul as he was a first team AFL pick at defensive end. I can't say I follow the Arena Football League enough to come up with a complete list of the top candidates but the only other player to earn first team honors was Portland defensive back Varmah Sonie, who had nine interceptions and led all first-year players with 86 tackles. Orlando receiver Greg Carr was a second team selection and he finished sixth in the league with 113 catches and 1,435 yards. Another player to consider is A.J. Cruz as the former Brown star led the league in kickoff return average, was sixth in punt returns and also returned a missed field goal 58 yards for a score.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Boyle content to use 2014 as developmental year at UConn

The major news to come out of a Monday press conference that ranges somewhere from the bizarre to the surreal was that Casey Cochran, who led UConn to all of its three wins a season ago, has been named the Huskies' starting quarterback while former starter Chandler Whitmer will be featured in the offensive game plan on a weekly basis.

However, it would be a mistake to downplay the importance of Tim Boyle's role in the quarterback derby at UConn. With all due respect to Cochran and Whitmer, Boyle is the most physically gifted of the trio. It was Boyle who ascended to become UConn's starting quarterback in game No. 5 after Whitmer and the Huskies began the season with four straight losses. When Boyle was pulled in favor of Cochran after he started four games, all UConn losses, I remember hearing rumblings from a pretty reliable source that Boyle was at least pondering his future with the Huskies. A call to his former high school coach (Xavier's Sean Marinan) quelled those rumors.

I've gone on a couple of radio shows to discuss the prospects of the 2014 Huskies and naturally the quarterback situation was a popular topic of conversation. I predicted that either Cochran or Boyle would win the starting job. It wasn't due to any insight I gained from watching practice because I did not see one 11 on 11 or 7 on 7 drill due to the limited amount of practice time the media was allowed to watch but simply that if the quarterback competition was going to as close as I expected it to be, why would Bob Diaco and his staff use this year to develop a senior like Whitmer when they could build the offense around a player with two more seasons of eligibility after this year? The other concern I mentioned was whether one of the sophomores would exit stage right if the other one was named the No. 1 quarterback.

Well, Boyle certainly said all the right things during the press conference.

"I am extremely happy," Boyle said. "I appreciate Coach Diaco and the coaches doing what they are doing with me but my role this year is to help Chandler and Casey prepare for games, continue to push them to improve their games so they can perform on Saturdays. I have my role this year and I am 100 percent willing to do it. I have learned that getting mental reps is a huge part of the development in a football player. I think seeing things in practice and from the sideline and hearing the play call in the headphones, seeing that the defense does to prepare for it is going to help me prepare for it mentally. Like Coach said I am going to be ready to play games this year, it is not like I am going to take a year off. I am going to be studying BYU film in a couple of hours with the quarterbacks and I am going to be ready to go but my job this year is going to be to push these guys to their best levels."

If that proves to be the case, the quarterback situation played out perfectly as UConn will be able to bring back both Cochran and Boyle next season with Boyle having three more seasons of eligibility and Cochran would have two years left. Also, North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs, who has to sit out this season due to NCAA regulations, would have three seasons remaining while highly-touted high school quarterback Tyler Davis will be in the mix as well.

Here is what Diaco said about Boyle's role.

"With some nagging injuries here and there through this fall camp, it has slowed his competitive portion and with that, he is going to prepare for the games and help the team prepare to win games. We would expect him to go in and perform at a winning level - and we have no doubt he would do that. But, all in all, if we can, we are going to protect him. He is a four-to-play-three (in terms of eligibility), so that will give us an opportunity to create separation in terms of years between he and other guys. If is possible, I say that with great clarity, we will make every effort to do that. If it's not possible, we will not hesitate and he's going to be ready and be diligent in his preparation to get that done."

Some other thoughts and items from yesterday's practice that I didn't get into previous blogs.

First, while it is impressive to hear that both Cochran and Whitmer completed nearly 65 percent of their passes during this competition, I have to wonder what that says about the quality of the pass defense since those numbers occurred in drills against the defense. I have no idea how many of these completions were against the first, second or third team defenses but for every pass completed by the UConn offense, that is one pass not broken up by the defense.

For the second straight practice I was able to attend, true freshmen Ryan Crozier and Trey Rutherford continue to work with the second team offensive line at guard.  Redshirt freshman Thomas Hopkins continued to be the second-string left tackle. Redshirt freshmen Tommy Myers at tight end and Thomas Lucas at receiver continue to look like they will play significant roles while I would be surprised if redshirt freshman Josh Marriner is not the Huskies' leading rusher this season while I have long said that of the true freshmen, I predict tight end Alec Bloom would have the biggest impact early on. Of course Arkeel Newsome, who is the all-time leading rusher in Connecticut high school football history, is a true freshman with an exciting future while every time I looked over to see the offensive drills yesterday I saw fellow true freshman Ron Johnson with the ball tucked under his arm. On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt freshman Foley Fatukasi has been with the second unit at defensive tackle at every practice I have seen while redshirt freshmen Cam Stapleton, Cole Ormsby and Junior Joseph were working with the second team defense at linebacker. It has been reported multiple times that true freshman Jamar Summers is pushing for a major role at cornerback. In other words, there will be plenty of youth on display during the 2014 season.

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Former UConn RB Williams enrolled at ASA College

With the news that former UConn running back Lyle McCombs, the Huskies' leading rusher in each of the last three seasons, is enrolled at Rhode Island it got me wondering where the other players who have departed from UConn for one reason or another have landed.

The only new news I can report is that former running back Joe Williams is on the roster at ASA College in New York, which begins the season ranked No. 7 in the National Junior College Athletic Association national poll after posting a 9-1 record a season ago.

Williams came to UConn with plenty of hype out of Fork Union Military Academy. He enrolled at UConn for the spring semester in 2012 and took part in spring practice. I still remember in my first sit-down interview with then UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni when I was assigned to cover the team that Pasqualoni mentioned how much potential Williams had. However, his final career totals were three carries for nine yards all coming in a 2012 game against Temple.

A season ago Williams was suspended before the season started due to larceny charges and was never reinstated. He is listed as a sophomore on the ASA College so if he can have a strong season he can making his way back to a Division I team for his final two seasons of eligibility.

According to the ESPN box score, former UConn receiver Nick Williams was only targeted twice in the Washington Redskins' 24-23 win over the Cleveland Browns but he made the second one count as he caught the game-winning 30-yard touchdown pass for the Redskins.

There is also a video of an impressive catch in Buffalo Bills practice by former UConn receiver Marcus Easley.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Cochran heading into season as UConn's No. 1 QB

It was a rather interesting day at UConn to say the least.

The initial impression I got was that no players would be available even though this was the day we were expecting Bob Diaco to announce who is going to be the starting quarterback.

Then came the process of removing the podium from the defensive meeting room inside the Burton Family Football Complex and replacing it with a table. Five chairs were then brought in which made the media wonder if this was going to be the day when the team captains were named. Instead, the chairs were for all four scholarship quarterbacks and Diaco. I've covered my share of competitive quarterback battles but have never seen a coach bring in every scholarship quarterback to announce the starter. It was original, that is for sure.

It didn't take long for Diaco to cut to the chase and announce that redshirt sophomore Casey Cochran was going to be the No. 1 quarterback, senior Chandler Whitmer was going to see time in games and Tim Boyle would likely be redshirted.

Diaco told the quarterbacks of his intentions earlier on Monday before announcing the news to the media early in the evening.

"It is great news and it feels even better to hear it around these guys," Cochran said. "We are working as hard as we can. I am glad that Chandler is going to come in and play as hard as he can, we are going to work together in terms of being able to putting points on the board and winning games this year. I have a different life now, a different lifestyle and it feels amazing."

As Cochran mentioned, the plan is for both Cochran and Whitmer to see action in games. Diaco didn't have a preset scenario where Whitmer, who started 16 games over the previous two seasons, would get a certain amount of plays or get onto the field in particular situations.

In practice Diaco said the repetitions with the starting offense will likely be closer to a 51/49 percent breakdown than the maximum 85/15 allotment of snaps.

Whitmer, who was benched after starting the first four games of the season, has admitted that he lost some of the joy he used to get from playing football and with his degree in hand, he could have walked away from the sport. Instead, one phone conversation with Diaco changed it all. Diaco told Whitmer if he could handle being in a situation where he worked with the scout team and didn't get a snap during games he was welcome to come back. If he was only thinking on returning to be the Huskies' starting quarterback, there would be no need to return.

Whitmer vowed that "I did not come back to be the starting quarterback at UConn."

Diaco raved about Whitmer's maturity.
"Every day since he has repaired, rebuilt and gained back the respect of his teammates," Diaco said. "He didn't have to gain back our respect, he got it through his actions, through his behaviors and through his work."

Whitmer sat at a table with fellow quarterbacks Cochran, Tim Boyle and Bryant Shirreffs and said he is ready for whatever role Diaco, offensive coordinator Mike Cummings and quarterbacks coach Don Patterson has in store for him.

"I wanted to come back, set the record straight and not leave UConn the way things ended last year," Whitmer said. "I wanted to change my attitude. I grew as a man and I credit Coach Diaco for having me come back and just the way he changed this whole group, this environment. He has increased the love and it has made it easy for me to be a better teammate."

Diaco said it was nearly a dead heat between Cochran and Whitmer (Boyle was slowed by what appeared to be a lower body injury as he started today's practice riding a stationary bike.

Cochran led UConn to a season-ending three game winning streak culminating when also threw for a single-game program record 461 yards in the regular-season finale against Memphis.

However, with a new head coach in Diaco, new offensive coordinator in Mike Cummings and new quarterbacks coach in Don Patterson Cochran had to earn the job all over again.

The first step was doing the work in the weight room. Diaco said Cochran weighed in at 247 pounds at one point which predictably did not go over well with the new regime. He worked diligently to get down to under 220 pounds and showed enough during the preseason camp that he was named the team's starting quarterback on Monday.

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Casey Cochran named UConn's starting QB

When the 2013 season ended it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Casey Cochran would return as UConn's No. 1 quarterback.
Not only did Cochran lead UConn to a season-ending three game winning streak but he also threw for a single-game program record 461 yards in the regular-season finale against Memphis.
However, with a new head coach in Bob Diaco, new offensive coordinator in Mike Cummings and new quarterbacks coach in Don Patterson Cochran had to earn the job all over again.
The first step was doing the work in the weight room. Diaco said Cochran weighed in at 247 pounds at one point which predictably did not go over well with the new regime. He worked diligently to get down to under 220 pounds and showed enough during the preseason camp that he was named the team's starting quarterback on Monday.
While Chandler Whitmer, Tim Boyle and Cochran each started four games a season ago it was Cochran who led the team with 1,293 yards while completing 63.4 percent of his passes. He was the only one of the three quarterbacks to throw for more touchdowns than interceptions and his passing rating of 141.7 easily was the best on the team.

A few things from Monday's practice

Just finished with the final practice I will be able to witness until the spring. Not too much to report since we only get to see three sessions (not counting the always entertaining stretching portion).

No sign of offensive tackle Andreas Knappe, who is likely still rehabbing his leg injury. Also, didn't see Tim Boyle do too much. He was on the stationary bike at the beginning of practice. He was out there with the quarterbacks but didn't see him doing very much although he did some basic throwing drills.

Jhavon Williams was working with the starters at cornerback and Kenton Adeyemi was working with the first group at defensive end.

Since the first session we got to see was field goals. Dom Manco was the first guy out there as the long snapper and Blake Feagles was the holder although Casey Cochran did get some work as the holder. Tight ends Sean McQuillan and Tommy Myers were working with the top field goal unit as was fullback Matt Walsh.

Redshirt freshmen Junior Joseph, Cam Stapleton and Cole Ormsby were seeing time with the second group of linebackers. There was a drill where Bob Diaco threw passes to one of the linebackers in coverage while one of them rushed the quarterback. Freshman Luke Carrezola made a sweet pick of his own tip working with the third team while Marquise Vann had a similar play while working with the starters.

Four NFL scouts were in attendance, two from the Vikings and one each from the Browns and Texans.

Finally, Lyle McCombs, who was UConn's leading rusher in each of the last three seasons, will play his final season at Rhode Island.

Here are some videos I shot from the practice

A look at the quarterback position at UConn

There's a chance that today is the day when one of the biggest questions surrounding the 2014 UConn football team is answered and the starting quarterback is announced.

It certainly fits the time frame of when UConn coach Bob Diaco said he wanted to have a No. 1 quarterback named but since it is looking as if there will be no players made available to the media after today's practice, we will have to see if the wait will go on for a few more days before the quarterback pecking order is announced.

Just looking at the numbers and you would think that Casey Cochran would be the guy. He threw for more yards, was the only one with more touchdowns than interceptions and had the most completions, attempts and highest quarterback rating. However, it didn't sound like new football coach Bob Diaco, who places a premium of physical fitness, was too pleased when Cochran reportedly was pushing 250 pounds at one point.

Chandler Whitmer has the most experience of the three quarterbacks after starting all 12 games during the 2012 season. He also had the best numbers at the spring game as he completed 19 of 26 passes for a game-high 163 yards and had the only touchdown pass. He was also on the receiving end of three of the four sacks in the game which has been an issue in the past as well.

Tim Boyle is probably the most physically gifted of the three. Unlike Cochran and Whitmer, he has prototypical size (he's listed at 6-foot-3, 216 pounds on UConn's official roster). But he completed just 44.4 percent of his passes a season ago and threw eight interceptions versus no touchdown passes.

Let's look at what each of them brings to the table.

Boyle can make all the throws and while he is not known for his running ability, he does have more of an ability to make plays with his legs than his other two competitors. He had an issue feeling the pass rush during his four-game stint as UConn's starter and the forgettable touchdown to interception ratio was already mentioned. He is also the only one of the three not to have used up his redshirt season meaning that if the UConn coaching staff thinks he has a bright future, which is something Diaco has said in the past, they could use this season as a developmental year. If they believe Boyle is not going to have wandering eyes and look to leave that could be a good move.

Cochran is an outstanding student-athlete as he was a member of the American Athletic Conference All-Academic team a season ago and he studies football at a high level as well. He led UConn to three straight wins to end the season including a dominating performance in the season finale when he passed for a program single-game record of 461 yards. The problem is Diaco has said many times that nothing that happened last year - good or bad - will determine playing time this season as his current staff is making evaluations based solely on what they see.

Whitmer provides experience which is something this team doesn't have very much of on the offensive side of the ball. He finished in the top 10 on UConn's single season list in passing yards, attempts and completions during the 2012 season and it is easy to forget that he threw for 349 yards in the loss to Maryland a season ago. He has also shown incredible toughness as he hung in the pocket as long as he could before delivering the ball. He tends to be the biggest risk taker among the three quarterbacks which has led to some big plays but also some costly turnovers. Diaco said he values ball security over any other attribute in his quarterback so if Whitmer gets the call, he must have excelled in that area during camp and Diaco certainly seems to like what Whitmer brings to the table based on what he has said to us. The question I would have is if the quarterback competition is as close as Diaco said it has been, wouldn't it make more sense to go with a younger quarterback like Boyle or Cochran so UConn can benefit from this season's experience rather than hand the keys of the offense to a player on his final season of eligibility? Of course, Diaco has said on multiple occasions that he is planning to use more than one quarterback this season so perhaps that is his way of developing one of the younger quarterbacks while letting Whitmer get the bulk of the work.

In my opinion, I think UConn's ability to win or lose games won't fluctuate regardless of who takes the bulk of snaps and that is why I haven't done a heck of a lot with the quarterback position in my coverage of preseason camp but it is going to be interesting to see how this all shakes out and not just during the season opening BYU game but over the course of the season.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Former UConn OL Beatty returns to field for Giants

Former UConn offensive tackle Will Beatty got the start at left tackle in last night's preseason game against Indianapolis in his first live game action since suffering a broken leg in the 2013 regular-season finale.

Courtesy of the transcript on the Giants official site, here are some thoughts from Beatty, who according to reports was in the game for about 10-12 snaps.

"I felt good out there, but I'd feel a lot better with a win. I felt like I had an average performance, but I don't want to be average. I want to be extraordinary."

In the same game former UConn DB Darius Butler had a nice play for the Colts resulting in a diving interception on an Eli Manning pass intended for Victor Cruz but one of his teammates was called for an illegal contact penalty wiping out the interception.

As for the game, former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib led the Giants to a come from behind 27-26 win.

Shamar Stephen, the first UConn player taken in May's NFL draft, continues to impress for the Minnesota Vikings. The seventh-round pick received work with the starters and recorded three tackles in a 30-28 win over Arizona.

As for some of the other former Huskies in action last night, Danny Lansanah had two tackles in Tampa Bay's 20-14 loss to Miami and Kashif Moore had a 12-yard catch in Pittsburgh's 19-16 win over Buffalo while Lawrence Wilson had a tackle in the St. Louis Rams' 21-7 loss to Green Bay.

Former UConn defensive end Teddy Jennings was named to the All-Arena Football League first team after finishing his rookie season with a team-leading 11 sacks for the Philadelphia Soul.

Jennings recorded 5 1/2 sacks in back to back games against Iowa and Orlando. He finished fourth in the league in sacks and seventh with 11 1/2 tackles for loss despite missing three games.

Jennings and Portland defensive back Varmah Sonie, who had nine interceptions, were the only rookies selected to the AFL defensive first team.

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