Friday, March 24, 2017

UConn's Puyol to join brother on center stage

Wednesday was a special one for former UConn kicker Bobby Puyol as scouts and/or assistant coaches from 20 NFL teams were on campus for UConn's pro days. Puyol was given a few minutes to hit some field goals and also take some kickoffs.

"Coach Baylock was helping me out, letting me go first so no teams could leave afer watching Obi (Melifonwu)," Puyol said. "There was a little adversity there, I want you to kick for five minutes and let's go. I did all right on kickoffs, a little inconsistent but I thnk my tape proves I can hit a good kickoff."

Puyol has hired the agent who represents New Orleans kicker Will Lutz. He said he will take part in a local workout with the Miami Dolphins (Puyol grew up in southern Florida) and a couple of others teams have shown interest in one of the most accurate kickers in UConn history.

Puyol was flying a little under the radar at the pro day with the NFL reps there to check out Melifonwu and see some of the other prospects  but that won't be the case this weekend. He is going to have the microphone to introduce his older brother Eddy, a Grammy-recognized artist and speaker at a concert at Laurel Hall on Saturday at 7 p.m. The concert is sponsored by Athletes in Action, an organization Puyol has been very involved with during his five years at UConn.

"We did it two years ago so it is a little event for the students here that want to come out especially the athletes," Puyol said. "It is going to be fun. A lot of athletes are excited so it is going to be fun, a good little event to hang out and have fun."

So does Puyol have any of his brother's musical gifts?

"I don't have the musical gifts, he took them all," Puyol said. "OK, a little."

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Strong numbers for Andreas Knappe at UConn pro day

Little by little numbers are emerging from yesterday's pro day.

The www.walterfootball.com site posted a few additional numbers. Noel Thomas' time in the 40 was 4.49 which is a little more reasonable that the 4.42 that was floating around yesterday. He also had a vertical jump of 33 inches which is pretty good. Not sure if that will be enough to get him drafted but he certainly helped his cause.

The numbers of offensive tackle Andreas Knappe really jumped out at me. His vertical of 30 inches would have been tied for fifth among offensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine and his broad jump of 8-10 would have tied for 12th. He also had a pretty solid time of 5.25 in the 40. He said his hamstring was tightening up during the 40 so perhaps he could have gone even faster. Knappe's results in those three events compare favorably with one of the draft's best offensive tackle prospects as Alabama's Cam Robinson had a time of 5.15 in the 40, a 26-inch vertical and went 8-10 in the broad jump. Of course, Robinson's tape is going to be far superior to Knappe's. However, Knappe is a relative newcomer to football and the Denmark native could pique the interest of some pro scouts even if he never played left tackle at UConn which think he has untapped potential.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Recapping UConn's pro day

Unlike two years ago there weren't any current NFL coaches taking in the pro day event at UConn but a total of 20 teams were represented.

There was nothing earth shattering to report. Getting results from these things is no easy task especially this year when we weren't allowed in to watch the bench press, vertical or broad jumps as we have been in previous years. NFL scouts aren't in the habit of giving results out to the media at these sort of events.

The door was cracked open when I got there this morning so I did hear that Mikal Myers had 29 reps at 225 pound in the bench press followed by Matt Walsh topping him with 30.

Noel Thomas, who ran in the 4.63/4.64 range in the 40 at the NFL scouting combine believes he easily topped that mark today but I never got a time on his run or anybody else's.

"I definitely got a little bit of redemption in the 40-yard dash," Thomas said. "I have never seen a 4.6. I wanted to come out here and get that taste out of my mouth and I don't know the exact time but it definitely wasn't 4.6."

Obviously Obi Melifonwu, coming off a jaw-dropping showing at the NFL scouting combine, was the one former Husky the scouts were there to see. He stood on his efforts at the combine (why wouldn't he?) but did both shuttles and the 3-cone drill. His times in the 20 and 60-yard shuttles would rank nearly the top of the defensive back group who did those events at the combine.

results from UConn DB Obi Melifonwu's pro day:

4.09 short shuttle
10.69 long shuttle
7.05 L drill


obi melifonwu unofficial 10.95 unofficial sixty-yard shuttle!

Walsh was especially busy today as he did all the running and agility drills and he was among the final ones there to do run pass patterns for a couple of scouts who wanted to see him as a fullback, He made some pretty impressive catches 30-40 yards down field on some nice throws from Garrett Anderson

"Just like every other level of football, the more you can do, the more valuable you are," Walsh said. "I played a little bit of fullback here my first two years and got some linebacker stuff the last two years. I kind of mixed it up today and whatever a team needs me to be, that is what I am going to be.

"My agent is talking to everybody, he is the third party in the middle of everything so I wanted to stay out of it and all I focus on is putting up the best numbers I could, I am pretty happy with everything that happened today."

A couple years ago Reuben Frank did what Walsh did today working out on both sides of the ball during pro day. It worked out well for him as he got into NFL and CFL training camps. We'll see if Walsh is as fortunate.

Walsh said he could do 17 or 18 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press when he was at Hand High School and his max was 23 while at UConn but his work with Frank Quido at BreakOut Athletes pushed that number to 30.

"That was definitely one of my stronger events, all the events you can turn a head on are kind of the most important things," Walsh said. "That was one thing that had to stand out and get the ball rolling and start the day off with a bang."

Both Thomas and Andreas Knappe (probably generating the most buzz among the UConn products not named Obi Melifonwu) both had their days cut short due to their hamstrings tightening up when they ran the 40 which is unfortunate.

"It is the name of the game," Knappe said. "When you go all out and do whatever you can do, sometimes you get bruised and bumped a little bit so that is what happened.

"After I did my 40 so I didn't want to make it any worse so I am calling it a day."

Knappe was able to play in the NFL Collegiate Bowl which could prove beneficial moving forward.

"The NFLPA Bowl was awesome, it was nice to get to know some scouts and let them get to know you so they know what kind of guy you are," Knappe said.

Jhavon Williams is the UConn player who I think should be getting more buzz than he is in the pre-draft process and he said he was pretty happy with his performance today.

"You never know," Williams said "A lot of people told me I looked good today, I ran well but you never know. I am working hard and keeping it in God's hands."

Bobby Puyol was there to kick some long field goals and he was on target with all of them while also doing some kickoffs. He said he will be taking part in a workout run by the Miami Dolphins on April 7 and has heard from some other teams as well.

Garrett Anderson, John Green, Brian Lemelle, Richard Levy and Sean Marinan also took part in today's festivities.

Atlanta, Arizona, Baltimore, Carolina, Cleveland, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, New England (with multiple scouts including Brian Smith who ran the show at both pro days), New Orleans, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay were teams represented at UConn's pro day. I'm missing three teams but I saw reps from Atlanta, Arizona, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New England, New York Giants and Philadelphia at the event in Tolland so special kudos to those teams  (and others who were there) for going the extra mile. What is interesting is that two of the teams missing today were Minnesota (who had head coach Mike Zimmer at the event two years ago to see Byron Jones) and Dallas (the team which drafted Jones).

After the UConn event was over I headed over to Tolland for a regional pro day coordinated by agent Joe Linta. With NFL teams coming to UConn in large numbers and UConn not being receptive to players from other programs taking part in the UConn event, Linta has been holding events the same day in Tolland to check out other prospects.  Yale great Tyler Varga and New Haven's Mike Flacco are among clients of Linta's who landed on NFL rosters. Today Linta set the event up to showcase New Haven's All-American offensive tackle Zach Voytek of Trumbull. Voytek measured in at 6-4 1/2 and 313 pounds, ran a 5.37 in  the 40, 4.60 in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.90 in the 3-cone drill. All of those numbers would hold up favorably after offensive linemen at the NFL scouting combine. Scouts from 10 teams were there (the Patriots and Giants had two reps each while the scout from the Colts seemed especially chummy with Voytek).

Former Yale running back Dale Harris ran a 4.5 in the 40 and had a vertical jump 35 1/2, Southern Connecticut State receiver Devante Jenkins had a 33-inch vertical and New Haven defensive lineman Dean Tsopanides from Orange had 31 reps in the bench press.

Current NFL players Andrew Adams and Geremy Davis were at the UConn event as were Dan Orlovsky (who thinks he could be signed by an NFL team in the next week or two) and Yawin Smallwood. The current UConn team came out for the end of the event. I spoke to Davis and Orlovsky and at some point will get around to sharing stuff from those interviews. UConn will have its second spring practice tomorrow, sorry but after driving to UConn for six straight days and looking at as many as four drives to Bridgeport and back beginning on Friday due to my women's basketball coverage responsibilities, I am taking tomorrow to be UConn free but I believe one of my colleagues will be writing a story off tomorrow's practice.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

One player departs, three players limited at UConn spring practice

UConn coach Randy Edsall listens in on a drill run by the linebackers
One of the most interesting story lines from spring practice was likely going to be Chris Lee's transition from tight end to offensive line.

Well, there is some other news to report about Lee as UConn coach Randy Edsall said he has left the program, the school and is done with playing football.

"I came back on Sunday, sitting here in my office getting some work done," Edsall said in the press conference after the first spring practice. "All of a sudden I am sitting here looking at my phone and I have a text message from Chris saying, 'Coach, I would like to meet with you either today or tomorrow.' I texted him back and said I am free all day tomorrow. If I get a text like that, I know something is not right. I've been in this too long to know there's not something going on.

"He proceeded to tell me he went home, it had nothing to do with him being moved to the
offensive line. He went home, talked with his parents. His dad was a Navy Seal and he
said, 'Coach I tried to do something to live up what my father accomplished and that was
through football.' Basically what happened is he just lost the love for football. I told
him, I've never met you dad but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, being a
Navy Seal that is probably a top 1 percent of what somebody could do but if your heart
is not into it, you are going to move on, you are making the right decision for
yourself."

The conversation could have ended there but Edsall encouraged Lee to join him in his office to talk about the decision.

"Come up stairs, 'no, I don't want to waste your time.' I said, 'Chris, I am not going to try to talk you into it. I just want to sit down with you. I wanted to sit down with him to make him feel like, 'OK, this didn't work out for you but you can still go and be successful in the rest of your whole life and whatever you want to do.' We had that conversation. He said, 'Coach it had nothing to do with the position. I am thankful that you guys were going to move me and thought enough of me to put me in a situation where I could end up being a starter.' Those things are unfortunate as a coach but for
the young man, if that is that he felt was best for him then I respect that. h said he was done playing football, said he was going to go back home and try to enroll in a school back home in Maryland, he didn't mention where but try to go there and work to finish his degree."

Edsall said "we are good from that standpoint" when I asked him if there were any other players on the way out.

The quarterbacks typically wear red no-contact jerseys but there were some other prominent players wearing no-contact jerseys - linebacker Luke Carrezola as well as offensive linemen Ryan Crozier and Tommy Hopkins.

"They are cleared for everything other than contact so you see the red jerseys but they
are coming along," Edsall said. "They are getting better, Ryan and Luke are improving with their
shoulders," Edsall said. "Tommy, we have to get his confidence level up. That is something we are
working on. We don't want to rush him in there. We felt like right now he is not ready to go through that contact and the one thing I see I am not a doctor or a trainer but the one thing I do see is a young man that is really not confident right now (with his knee) and I've been around long enough, if guys aren't confident there is no sense putting them in situations where they have to go full speed, it is just not going to work for them."

Crozier and Hopkins are two of UConn's most experienced offensive linemen so their absence will help give the younger offensive linemen a chance to get more work during spring drills. In the "for what it is worth department" the starting offensive line consisted of left tackle Matthew Peart, left guard Brian Cespedes, center Dan Oak, right guard Trey Rutherford and right tackle Cam DeGeorge.

"Any reps you can get on the offensive line is a bonus," Edsall said. "One area that we really have to
work on is with the offensive line. Those guys have been willing and they have been doing things and we will get the guys in there to play. We have to get some guys to step up so every rep those guys get is going to be good for them and good for us."

A few other items

Plenty of alums were there including some of the 12 members of the 2016 team expected to take part in tomorrow's pro day (former defensive lineman B.J. McBryde may also work out for scouts). Mikal Myers was among those back and he made it a point of coming over to say hello to the media. I've been covering UConn sports since 1999 and if I had to list the number of times a football or women's basketball players did something like that without prodding from us, it would be a very, very short list.

Former UConn stars Dan Orlovsky and Yawin Smallwood were among the alums here and there's a reason, they are both finishing up taking classes and will be serving as student assistants this spring.

Edsall said the receivers were a very impressive group during preseason conditioning drills.

When the first-team defense took the field, familiar faces Foley Fatukasi, Cole Ormsby, Vontae Diggs, Junior Joseph, Jamar Summers and E.J. Levenberry were joined by Philippe Okounam, Marshe Terry, Omar Fortt, Brice McAllister and Tony Watkins. Once again let me state that it is hard to read too much into who was out there on the first day especially with a new coaching staff in place but I tend to concern myself with such things so I am staying true to my nature.

Much more to come

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Former UConn safety Andrew Adams gets a few pretty pennies

The list of the players receiving the most money as part of the NFL's performance-based pay distributions came out yesterday.

Former UConn defensive back Andrew Adams earned $316,310.42 as part of the program.

Adams signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent. He started 13 games due to an abundance of injuries in the secondary for the Giants and finished with 46 tackles and an interception in 14 games. Adams finished with nine tackles and an interception in a 28-23 win over Philadelphia on Nov. 6.

I've also seen reports that former Huskies Byron Jones and Ryan Griffin have earned more than $100,000 in bonuses, Shamar Stephen earned more than $200,000 while Jordan Todman ($62,908.19) and Darius Butler ($26,237.92) were among those to receive bonuses from the Colts.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

UConn's Melifonwu makes top 50 list of one former NFL scout

There's plenty of lists of the top draft prospects these days but I've always been partial to people who used to work in a scouting capacity for NFL teams.

Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network certainly fits that criteria as he had stints as a scout with the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.

This might be old news since it was posted on the NFL.com site a couple days ago but Jeremiah has former UConn safety Obi Melifonwu as his 46th rated prospect making his the 15th rated defensive back on the list backing up the assertion that this is a scary good class of defensive back prospects.

I would anticipate a rather large number of NFL scouts to be on hand when UConn holds its pro day a week from today even though with the numbers Melifonwu put up at the NFL scouting combine, I would think he won't take part in many of the drills. It could be a huge day for former Huskies like Jhavon Williams, Noel Thomas and Andreas Knappe. In recent years some under the radar players out of UConn have opened eyes at UConn's pro day (B.J. McBryde, Kenton Adeyemi, Reuben Frank come to mind while Andrew Adams not only caught the eye of the New York Giants but played a key role as an undrafted rookie free agent).

Speaking of players in the under the radar category, shortly after the UConn event, former University of New Haven offensive tackle Zach Voytek will work out for many of the same scouts in nearby Tolland. Voytek, a former Trumbull High School star, has been drawing plenty of interest according to his agent Joe Linta. He certainly should have some impressive tape since he was named to the D2Football.com All-American team.

Other local non-UConn prospects could also be at the second workout and I'm hoping to be at both of them.

In other draft news, there were reports that former SMU quarterback Matt Davis (eligible for a sixth season of eligibility) was making himself eligible for the draft.

The draft has a new QB: #SMU QB Matt Davis will now be in the 2017 @NFL Draft, rather than seek a 6th year of eligibility
Media preview

Davis missed most of last season but he did torch the UConn defense for 191 rushing yards and 145 passing yards in the 2014 season finale. By the way, SMU hosts UConn on Oct. 30.

Monday, March 06, 2017

UConn's Melifonwu steals the show at NFL combine

A former UConn defensive back is sending social media into overdrive thanks to some eye-opening performances at the NFL Scouting Combine. Wait, I think I've written those words before.

Two years ago Byron Jones went from an intriguing prospect who figured to be a second-day pick in the NFL draft to becoming one of the most talked about players in the 2015 draft who not only was taken in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys but recorded 100 tackles in his second NFL season.

Now it is Obi Melifonwu's turn.

Melifonwu already opened more than a few eyes with his play at practice during Senior Bowl week and he followed that up with an absolutely thunderous hit in the game as well. That merely set the stage for what is he doing today at the scouting combine.

Melifonwu topped all defensive backs with a 44-inch vertical jump and with a broad jump of 11 feet, 9 inches (which are also the top marks among all competitors at the combine). He also clocked an unofficial time of 4.40 in the 40-yard dash which is tied for fifth among the defensive backs and did all of this at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds.

This is not a case of a player merely impressing in track and field drills either. Melifonwu led UConn with 118 tackles as a senior (24 coming against Tulane in his final game as a Husky) to go along with four interceptions. It should be noted that three of his four interceptions as a senior came against ranked teams and he averaged more than eight tackles in seven career games against ranked teams.

Also, much like Jones he's a top-notch student as well. He's a little more reserved than Jones but I would have to think he will interview well. I thought he displayed plenty of growth as a player especially this season as he went from playing next to Andrew Adams to having the other starting safeties with little or no previous game experience. Earlier in the season is appeared like Melifonwu was trying to overcompensate for the lack of experience of the other safeties on the roster by trying to play two positions at the same time. Once he settled in and just concerned himself with his responsibilities, the quality of his play improved dramatically.

For more on Melifonwu, here's the story I did on him before the start of the season.

There were some suggestions that Melifonwu could sneak into the first round at next month's NFL draft and that chatter only figures to increase after what he accomplished today.

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