Tuesday, August 23, 2016

4 UConn players on Senior Bowl watch list

It the take it for what it is worth department since 400 players have been named to the watch list for the Senior Bowl but four UConn players are on the list.

Offensive linemen Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy, safety Obi Melifonwu and cornerback Jhavon Williams all made the list.

Eventually 110 players will be selected to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26. A player doesn't need to be on the watch list to get the invitation for play in the all-star game.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

27 UConn football players earn AAC All-Academic honors

The American Athletic Conference announced its all-academic honorees for the 2015-16 year and 27 members of last year's UConn football team made the cut.

Starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, starting offensive linemen Tommy Hopkins and Andreas Knappe, defensive starters Luke Carrezola and Obi Melifonwu as well as No. 1 kicker (Bobby Puyol) and punter (Justin Wain) were among those honored.

I found it interesting that six of the top 10 offensive linemen on this year's UConn team were among those to make the grade as Hopkins and Knappe were joined by Steve Hashemi, Dan Oak, Kyle Schafenacker and Brendan Vechery.

Also, three of the four captains from the 2015 team (Knappe, Andrew Adams, Marquise Vann) were recognized for their work in the classroom.

Here are the football players who made the list with players on this year's team in bold
Andrew Adams
Frank Battle
JJ Bivona
Brandon Bisack
Kyle Bockeloh
John-Luke Bogue
Luke Carrezola
Jeremy Claflin
Steve Hashemi
Tommy Hopkins
Andreas Knappe
Nick Lensander
Sean Marinan

Josh Marriner
Aaron McLean
Obi Melifonwu
Dan Oak

Andrew Paluch
Bobby Puyol
Will Rishell

Dave Ryslik
Kyle Schafenacker
Bryant Shirreffs

Marquise Vann
Brendan Vechery
Justin Wain
Tahj-Anthony Wilson

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

UConn's Parker is suspended indefinitely

After this morning's practice UConn football coach Bob Diaco said that sophomore defensive lineman Dallas Parker has been "indefinitely suspended due to athletic department policy violation."

Parker has been removed from the roster.

He came into the program as a tight end/h-back and appeared in six games as a true freshman.

Also, true freshman tight end/h-back Jasen Rose from Southington continues to be missing from practice. It is the third straight practice open to the media that Rose has not been at and Diaco once again said that Rose wasn't feeling well.

"I don't really know anything else," Diaco said. "I don't know anything else."

As for the practice, converted quarterback Tyler Davis earned praise from Diaco and offensive coordinator Frank Verducci. Davis, who only recently made the move to tight end, saw some time with the starters in today's morning practice.

"He acts like a 1 (a starter)," Diaco said. "He conducts his business like a 1. He is a try--hard guy. He is tough and smart, energetic, great passion, communicator, leader, how are you going to have a bad play with a guy like that out there."

Here's what Verducci had to say about Davis.

"He's a very unique player at the position,' Verducci said. "The one thing he has at the position is flat out speed. I think in time he is going to be a wonderful addition."

Linebacker Jon Hicks, who was injured a week ago (in the first practice the media was allowed to attend), could be back doing drills in a week or a week in a half according to Diaco.

Diaco also said "we don't have a quarterback controversy, we are not going into practice 16 wondering who our quarterback is, it is really a lot of fun that way."

At American Athletic Conference media day he mentioned that there was competition for the quarterback spot as Garrett Anderson is pushing Shirreffs but Shirreffs has been the No. 1 guy out there for during the practices we've been at.

Madison native Ken Sweitzer, one of four quarterbacks in program history with back to back 2,000-yard passing seasons, has been hired to serve as the sideline reporter for football games on the UConn Radio Network.

Sweitzer was UConn’s starting quarterback in 1980 and 1981 and when he graduated he owned the program record for total offense, touchdown passes and passing efficiency.

Sweitzer takes over for NBC Connecticut’s Kevin Nathan who was unable to continue in that role due to his anchoring responsibilities on WVIT’s 4 p.m. newscast.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Wrapping up a scorcher of a practice at UConn

Just got home after UConn's practice and it was absolutely brutal out there standing and watching even with the PowerAde I bought on  my way to UConn, I sure it must have been a barrel of laughs to have pads and helmets on.

Midway through the practice UConn coach Bob Diaco brought the team together so everybody could get water to deal with the conditions. He also challenged them to finish practice off strong and these are the moments that will set up how the Huskies execute in late game situations. That will be the basis of the story I am filing so more on that later.

As for what I saw at practice:

Redshirt freshman John Robinson continues to have a strong camp at cornerback.  Also, Kyle Schafenacker seems to have moved into a guard spot with the second team offensive line. Neither player appeared on the two-deep chart released during the AAC media day but if a current depth chart was published, I would say that both would be on there.

Diaco said he doesn't even think of true freshman long snapper Nick Zecchino any longer as a freshman. Zecchino was the first long snapper out there followed by Alec Bloom.

There was a scary moment when both starting right offensive tackle Andreas Knappe and inside linebacker Junior Joseph were slow to get up due to different collisions on a play late in practice. Knappe stayed on the field. Joseph did remain on the field at first but eventually came out to get checked out. The way the medical staff were moving Joseph's knee and lower leg seems to be a good sign. Joseph walked off at the end of practice without being accompanied by any members of the training staff but perhaps it was merely a cramping situation. Jalen Stevens also was down on the field after attempting to make a tackle late in practice but once again, I wouldn't be surprised if he was merely worn out from the grueling conditions.

Jon Hicks, injured during the Wednesday morning practice, did not practice but he was there in uniform. It is a situation I will be monitoring as camp moves on. Chris Britton got second-team reps at inside linebacker in place of Hicks.

Both true freshmen scholarship running backs looked good. Ja'Kevious Vickers, playing with the second-team offense, ripped off a long touchdown run of perhaps 75 or 80 yards and had some other nice runs as did Nate Hopkins. Diaco also talked up true freshman offensive tackle Cam DeGeorge, one of three true frosh working with the third team offensive line.

"Vick and Nate, Donovan Williams, Q (Quayvon Skanes) at slot (receiver), Keyion (Dixon) at wide receiver those are really highly talented guys," Diaco said. "It is easy to not think of him (Zecchino) as a freshman, I can't bestow on you a better compliment than that. He might not have to knock anybody off the ball like we might ask Cam DeGeorge to do who is going to be a heck of a tackle here. He shows all the tools of being a great tackle here, he is just a freshman so he is not going to be ready (this season) but he is going to be a heck of a good one. Nicky Zecchino is doing a great job. Tahj (Herring-Wilson) on the perimeter at the corner."

Luke Carrezola and Cam Stapleton each had fumble recoveries when the first team offenses and defenses went head to head.

There were officials on hand for the scrimmage portion of practice and Diaco told them practice would end as soon as the offense got another first down. Freshman quarterback Donovan Williams took care of that with a long completion to classmate Mason Donaldson.

Still no sign of true freshman tight end Jasen Rose. Diaco said he was still not feeling well.

"He's (still) not feeling great so he is getting better," Diaco said. We will let you guys know more when we know more

Pair of rookies from UConn make NFL debuts

Andrew Adams had 4 tackles in his NFL debut
Neither Kenton Adeyemi nor Andrew Adams were among the 253 players taken in April's NFL draft but the former UConn teammates took advantage of the opportunities as undrafted free agents to make their NFL debuts on Friday night.

Adeyemi made the stop on Green Bay running back Brandon Ross with 2:37 left in the game in Cleveland's 17-11 loss.

Adams made his first NFL tackle on the final play of the third quarter on a 4-yard reception by Daniel Thomas then he made tackles on three consecutive plays including stuffing Thomas for no gain on 3rd and 1 at the Giants 16,

Other highlights from former UConn products included Shamar Stephen making four tackles in the Minnesota Vikings' 17-16 win over Cincinnati and Dan Orlovsky was 16 of 25 for 164 yards with one touchdown and an interception in Detroit's 30-17 win over Pittsburgh. Also, Tyvon Branch had three tackles for Arizona in a 31-10 loss to Oakland, the team he broke into the NFL with.

The news wasn't all positive. Geremy Davis, a second-year receiver for Giants, had two catches for 21 yards before leaving the game with a hamstring issue.

Friday, August 12, 2016

UConn's open practice has been called off

The plan was for the fans to get their first look at the 2016 UConn football team at tomorrow's open practice at Rentschler Field. Mother Nature, however, had other ideas.

With threats of rain and thunderstorms around the time the Huskies were set to practice, the decision was made the cancel the practice.

The team will hold an indoor practice on campus tomorrow so look for some updates in the afternoon.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A more physical Watkins eyeing starting spot for UConn

There were no questions about who would be the starting field safety heading into preseason camp in Bob Diaco's first two seasons at the helm of the UConn football program.

However, with the graduation of Andrew Adams who could make his NFL debut tomorrow when the New York Giants play Miami, there is a major hole to be filled at one of the most important positions in the UConn defense.

Sophomore Tony Watkins, who made his one career tackle in last year's upset of Houston, was running with the first team throughout spring practice and continues to be the starter in the early part of camp.

"Him and Brice (McAllister) are in competition for the field safety position, they are both still in competition but Anthony had a great six practices," Diaco said after Wednesday's morning practice. "I'm very pleased and I can see him running the defense."

UConn knew that Adams and Junior Lee, the Huskies' top reserve safety, would be graduating but the Huskies also lost Ellis Marder and Jordan Floyd who did not return for their senior seasons. McAllister and Aaron Garland were moved from cornerback to safety while redshirt freshman Marshe' Terry was being viewed upon as another possibility to figure into rotation at safety.

Watkins is embracing his role whether it is as a starter or reserve.
"I am getting a better feeling, just seeing the game better and play faster," Watkins said. "I am just trying to help the team win. I want to me to be a positive for the team. Whatever role I have to play for us to win, that is all I want to do."

Watkins got to learn from Adams, Lee and Obi Melifonwu during his redshirt season as well as during his freshman campaign and he tried to use that time as best he could.

"I would stick around Andrew, Obi and even Junior Lee, they just took me under their win and I just stuck with them through film study," Watkins said. Coach Dex (defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter) really helped me out a lot during this  process.

"Being under the wing of Obi and Andrew, seeing how they run things, Coach has that confidence in me and I have that confidence in myself."

If there was a point of emphasis for Watkins to focus on to move into a key role for the Huskies it was to become a more physical player.

"We all have (things) we want to get better at so (during) the spring it was (Watkins bringing) more physicality so it was really an emphasis for me in the spring."

Fans can check out Watkins and the rest of the Huskies when UConn hosts an open practice on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Rentschler Field.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Naugatuck's Coney hard work is rewarded at UConn

Bob Diaco has spoken about the his quest to change the culture inside the UConn football program rather often since being named the Huskies' head coach.

There might never have been a better sense of what Diaco has been able to accomplish than a recent video of the team's reaction when former Naugatuck High receiver Bryan Coney was given a scholarship and he signed the paperwork with the cameras rolling.

After Wednesday's practice, Coney spoke about what it meant to him to be rewarded in that fashion.

"This is the hardest summer in all of our lives because Coach (Matt) Balis is the best strength coach in the country so we were together all summer working real hard," Coney said. "Everybody around me once I got it, knew it was a group effort, we all worked hard. My family and me, I got it but they were also part of my family so they were all happy for me. It was like they all got their scholarship too so there was a lot of love and emotion.

"We are all a big family. One thing that happens here is coaches definitely don't treat walk-ons like you watch old movies like Rudy, it is not like that. They expect you to come out and do what you've got to do. There was a lot of responsibility put on me even when I was a walk-on so I just did what they wanted me to do and they rewarded me for it."

No player seemed to revel more in Coney's special moment than starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs who quickly moved in so he could congratulate Coney.

"So many of my friends coming here and building relationships with and then to see all the work they have put in, I couldn't imagine the feeling he had," Shirreffs said. "Every time that happens I get such a strong feeling. When he first came in, I honestly thought he was on scholarship. He is really working hard and he has skills too, I didn't know he was going to get a scholarship so I was really proud of him. I was partners with him in the weight room the other day just talking to him about how I was proud of him, just to keep working. It is awesome to see something like that and the stars align for him."

Diaco has made it a point of identifying in-state products who he wants be a part of the program and he brings them in as preferred walk-ons selling them on the possibility of earning a scholarship. Madison's Nick Vitale, Shelton's Jason Thompson, Hebron's Will Rishell and Higganum's Sean Marinan are among those who have taken that path and now it was Coney's turn.

"He has some talent and skill that has given him a chance to produce with the guys so he doesn't look out of place," Diaco said.."He works hard, he works his tail off. He worked hard in the fall, did everything that everybody asked him, was one of the top performers in winter conditioning, came out in the spring and was one of the top performers again in the summer so it ends up becoming easy.

"That is what you like to do. It would be very easy for us to recruit that numbers (fill all 85 available scholarships) but if we have guys who have earned it, are quality teammates, that is how we do it. I am not saying it is right or wrong, it is just right for us. We reward walk-ons that are exceptional teammates that we believe can produce on the field whether they have or not that are high achievers  in the classroom."

So how special was it for Diaco to see the team's reaction to Coney getting the scholarship?

"It was beautiful," Diaco said. "It makes you feel great, I am so excited about Bryan and what he has done, his family and the benefits they are going to receive based on his hard work, all the commitment they have made to his development. He is a special guy and I couldn't be prouder of him."

In a recent blog I suggested that finding a way to get Luke Carrezola and Cam Stapleton on the field together might be beneficial for the defense since Stapleton is clearly not a reserve player even if he is listed as one on the depth chart.

I guess the UConn coaches had the same idea as late in Wednesday's practice I noticed Carrezola and Stapleton being on the field together with the first-team defense.

"Cam and Luke can definitely play together," Diaco said. "We are taking a look at Cam as the other outside linebacker. If he ends up becoming one of the best ones then it will be Cam and Luke so you will see a lot of plays with both of them. Based on style of play, Cam is a big physical player, he might he a different kind of tool to use to do a specific job opposite Carrezola. If we are playing an empty team (no players in the backfield), it is all spread out and we have to do work than maybe it is not Cam so it gives us more flexibility to add a little pressure where it is needed."

Diaco was asked whether he feels any added pressure to put a strong product out of the field since UConn is among the schools in contention for potential Big 12 expansion.

Here's what he had to say on the subject.

"I have no idea, I don't know what is happening outside the Burton Football Complex and the Shenkman indoor (facility)," Diaco said. "I don't know anything but these guy's lives right now and the coaches' and staff's lives right now. It is a little narrow focus but that is what camp is. I have no idea what outside pressures are putting on these guys. I don't mean to minimize that; I am excited about that but if you cant get excited about people really wanting you to achieve, you are in the wrong business, the wrong game. It is the best. I love that, UConn Nation about what we are about to become and having the expectations for greatness, how do you beat that? That is fantastic. I don't want to have the players carry that on their shoulders every day, that would be taxing carrying a two-ton weight on your shoulders and your back. But they are working as hard as they can work. There is no level of pressure that somebody could apply to these guys right now to get these guys to do anything more than they are doing."


Wrapping up Wednesday's UConn practice

The first practice from preseason practice is in the books.

Not much to report as the first and second offenses and defenses were (for the most part) are what is on the depth chart.

Tyler Davis has been moved from quarterback to tight end while freshman Jay Rose, who ironically plays the same hybrid position that Davis is now a part of, did no practice because he wasn't feeling well according to head coach Bob Diaco.

The true freshmen seeing the most time with the second team are cornerbacks (Tyler Coyle and Tahj Herring-Wilson) and running backs (Nate Hopkins, who had a TD in a short-yardage drill and Ja'Kevious Vickers).

Nick Zecchino was seeing some work as a long snapper.

It didn't happen much but I saw Luke Carrezola and Cam Stapleton on the field together and Diaco said Stapleton is being looked at as a possibility at the linebacker spot opposite of

I will have a story running in tomorrow's paper focusing on the quarterback competition between Bryant Shirreffs and Garrett Anderson, caught up with safety Anthony Watkins as he looks to win the starting spot alongside of Obi Melifonwu and spoke to Bryan Coney, who recently was awarded a scholarship so stay tuned.