Thursday, August 31, 2006

Post game ramblings

A few thoughts following the postgame interviews.....

  • UConn's long snapper Martin Bedard played on Thursday after learning his mother died suddenly the night before. Randy Edsall received the phone call late Wednesday night, and had to break the sad news to Bedard around 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning. "I asked him if he wanted to go home. He said 'coach, I'll go home after the game'. For a kid to have to go out and do what he had to do, in terms of snapping the ball, with that hanging over his head is a tremendous credit to the young man in a tough situation. We have him a game ball. He's a great young man playing under trying times."

  • Terry Caulley said he's thrilled to have fullback and good friend Deon Anderson blocking for him once again. Caulley talked about sitting next to Anderson on the bus ride over to Rentschler earlier in the day, and how he watched Anderson get emotional before his return. "I've been in the same situation, and I know it can be anxious. He's back and has a second chance and he played as if it can all be taken away from him tomorrow," Caulley said.

  • I listened with interest as Caulley spoke of his knee. He said he's got a lot more confidence in the surgically repaired knee than he did a year ago. "My mentality is to be reckless on it. I don't want to baby it like last year. I feel like I'm cutting like I used to." Don't underestimate how important that mentality is after a serious knee injury.

  • Edsall said the Huskies will probably have an intrasquad scrimmage next Saturday to keep fresh since the team is off for over two weeks until the Sept. 16 Wake Forest game. He said his plan was to play the first team for three quarters no matter what Thursday because of the long layoff.

Rhody kill

Here's what transpired Thursday...

4:00 p.m.: Waiting at New Haven Register office for O'Rourke, who is giving me a ride to the Runway. He is late.

4:20: O'Rourke arrives. He says he is running late because he stopped for a haircut. Suddenly he's Sam Malone. He assures me he remembered to tip the shampoo girl.

5:20: We pull into the Rentschler Field parking lot. The good news is traffic isn't too bad on the side streets, though we're still over two hours frim kickoff. There's also a ton of tailgaters who appear to have been there for hours and having a great time. The bad news: Some of the runways are now off limits for parking. Again, it's early and the traffic isn't bad yet. But I wonder how big a problem congestion will become on game days once the shopping centers are built.

5:30: I hobble across the parking lot to the press entrance.The friendly gentleman at the door inspecting bags tells me this season he will be searching for dynamite, frankincense and myrrh. He's joking. He then asks me who I think will win tonight's game. Unfortunately, he isn't joking.

5:35: I sit down at my seat in the press box and get my first look at the field. It looks magnificent. A year ago, thanks to a Rolling Stones concert, half the field resembled the unpaved streets of Tombstone, Ariz. circa 1876. All that was missing was Wyatt Earp and a tumbleweed rolling by in the wind. Not today. It's bright and plush green.

6:15: Got a press release from Madison Square Garden (which manages Rentschler Field) that says a team of three Husky dogs will be "mushing" along 1-84 between the Hartford Civic Center and Rentschler. What a great idea! I wonder aloud if the dog sled will lead the football team onto the field for UConn's official entrance, like Georgia Tech does with it's Ramblin' Wreck car or Chief Osceola planting the flaming spear at Florida State. I honestly can't wait to see this. Then I read the email again. Turns out the dogs are just sculptures, part of some art collection, and are on display underneath the big scoreboard. So much for what would have been the coolest entrance in college football.

6:40: Journey's "Any Way You Want It" is playing over the stadium PA. So what? So let's dance!

7:10: Here's a list of teams scouting tonight's game, according to the press box seating chart. The Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Albany Stampede. Yes, the Arena Football League employs scouts. I had no idea.

7:25: My prediction for tonight: UConn 56, Rhode Island 0. O'Rourke guessed 45-10. No one in the stadium except the guy checking bags at the press entrance thinks the Rams have a chance.

7:31: Some guy has a microphone at the 50-yard line and is ordering the crowd to follow along with him while he directs some sort of chant. He's like the annoying announcer who yells into the mic non-stop during games on "Streetball". If this lasts much longer, everyone over age 30 will be cancelling their season tickets on the spot.

7:34: The guy finally stops yelling at everyone and the cool opera song from "Apocolypse Now" cranks up. UConn players burst out onto the field through a cloud of smoke. Pretty neat stuff. They should still look into the dog sled idea.

7:36: We're about to kick off and there must be 10,000 empty seats. Unacceptable. Where is everyone?

7:37: Rhody surprise onside kick to start the game. Rams recover. Wow. A great call by coach Tim Stowers.

7:38: First play for URI is a pass completion for 18 yards. Dare I say upset? Not yet.

7:40: On the next three plays the Rams botch an option pitch, mess up a handoff, and are flagged for a big penalty to make it 3rd-and-17. One down later, a 51-yard field goal attempt comes up about 25 yards short. That's more like it.

7:44: Terry Caulley breaks off a 39-yard gain on the first UConn play from scrimmage, and looks darn good doing it. OK, it's only URI, but if Caulley can do this even a few times this season it will be great news.

7:46: Looks like Larry Taylor is fine after knee surgery. He just caught a 24-yard touchdown pass (first of his career) from D.J. Hernandez. Three plays, 66 yards in 1:15 for UConn's first score. Hear that sound? It's the wind being sucked from the URI bench.

7:55: Ugh. Apparently, they're still blasting the opening riff to "Welcome to the Jungle" on EVERY third down when UConn is on defense this season. We used to warm up to this song before high school basketball games, when it was still a new tune. Did I mention I graduated in 1989?

7:57: Yep. Larry Taylor is back. He just juked his way to a 35-yard punt return like nothing ever happened. His presence on special teams is immeasurable.

8:04: Start spreadin' the Nuzie....Matt Nuzie blasts a 41-yard field goal that would have been good from 55 yards. It's 10-0 UConn.

8:14: Rhody running back Jimmy Hughes is wide open down field, but drops a sure 44-yard touchdown pass. That won't happen against Division I-A opponents.

8:17: End of first quarter. UConn runs a between-quarter contest where a fan tries to catch 80-yard bombs out of a pitching machine. The kid they selected has no chance -- or coordination. Probably a good thing. Anyone who catches one of these footballs might get planted in the Rentschler turf like Jimmy Hoffa.

8:21: LT breaks off a long run, dancing though the line untouched before he's knocked out of bounds 52 yards later. When he's on, he's so much fun to watch.

8:23: After two goal line stops, UConn goes for it on 4th down. Touchdown, Terry Caulley. O'Rourke, unafraid to admit he watched "Celebrity Duets" on FOX the other night, points out Caulley looks just like the guy who played Carlton Banks on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire". I think his name was Alfonso Ribero. It's 17-0 UConn.

Carlton and Caulley
8:31: Another URI punt. I'm literally on the edge of my seat whenever LT is about to handle the rock. He makes something out of nothing again, and scampers for 15 yards.
8:37: Nice scramble by D.J., who has the Rhody tacklers crashing into each other like a Three Stooges skit before taking it in for an 18-yard touchdown. Tremendous run. Still, after last season's injury fest you can't help but hold your beath everytime a UConn QB takes off. Make it 24-0.

8:39: We're midway through the second quarter, and there appears to be only about 3 or 4 thousand empty seats. The stadium has filled in nicely since opening kickoff. It's not filled to capacity, but it's still a pretty great (and loud) crowd.

8:47: Rhode Island gets on the board. Derek Cassidy tosses a 25-yard wounded duck that's hauled in in the end zone by Nick Del Grosso. None of the UConn DBs went for the ball. There goes my shutout prediction.

8:52: Brandon Young gets behind the Rams defense and catches a 61-yard TD pass from D. J. There wasn't a defender within 20 yards of Young the whole play. 31-7. UConn has scored on every possession. Can they break 60?

9:02: With 11 seconds left in the half, we finally get to see punter Chris Pavasaris. No one picks up the Rhode Island player flying around the corner, and he stuffs the punt. Despite the score, not the best way to end the half. Is it possible for Randy Edsall to be upset ahead 24 points at halftime? Maybe.

9:29: We're underway in the second half, and they're steadily filing out of the Runway. Hard to blame them considering the opponent, and tomorrow is a work day, but at least stick around through the end of the third quarter.

9:33: Acrobatic interception by Darius Butler, a solid pick to be all-Big East this season.

9:37: Tonight's announced attendance: 36, 227. Number currently in the stands: 23,227 and dropping fast.

9:40: Four hours since we arrived and the smell in the press box is getting rather pungent. Maybe serving chili to the media isn't such a good idea.

9:41: O'Rourke is now rubbing his stomach with a pained look on his face. Serves him right. He devoured three cookies in about 15 seconds not long after we arrived. I may have to write the game story after all.

9:55: Lou Allen scores on a short run. Guard Matt Applebaum, who was pulling on the play, absolutely buries the poor sap he's blocking from Rhody. This guy's body outline may be permanantly imprinted in the end zone. It's 38-7 late in the third.

10:03: End of the 3rd. The stands are now half empty. I'm also running out of steam with this diary. I've been here five hours, written over 2,000 words and my knee feels like it was bashed by a sledgehammer. Probably a good time to end.

I'm heading down to the field for a bit, and will post a late update with some player comments for those interested. Check out O'Rourke's stories in the Register tomorrow.

Game time!

My surgery on Monday went pretty smooth, aside from the fact that after shaving away half of my medial meniscus the doctor noticed I had no ACL. That was fun news to wake up to on the operating table. But I'm putting off that surgery until after football season. After three days of incapacitation on my couch -- I may never watch TV Land or SportsCenter again -- I can't take another day being cooped up.

So I tossed the crutches in the closet and am heading to the game tonight even though Sean O'Rourke is handling the stories for the paper. I'll be writing exclusively for the blog. Since I don't have to worry about deadlines, or anything else for that matter, I decided to write a running diary to document the opener against Rhody. Although I'm limping around like Redd Foxx, it will be a chance to experience the Runway game day experience a little differently for once.

I'll post my diary when the game ends...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Week 1 injury list: Malafronte, reporter (knee) - questionable.

I used to think I was invincible. As a kid I would play sports for hours on end, day after day, and never get hurt. Even as a young adult, my attitude never changed. After college, I played several years in the West Haven Twilight League, participated in multiple rec basketball, flag football and slo-pitch softball leagues with no worries. Sure, there might be a little blood now and then, an occasional rolled ankle or jammed finger. But nothing that required more than a little ice. I'd be back on the court or field in a day or two.

Then I turned 30, and like clockwork a steady stream of significant injuries began to hit me like an array of body blows from Rocky Balboa. After nearly 10 years without a visit to his office, I suddenly got to know my doctor quite well.

It started a month or so after that ominous 30th birthday, when I came down on someone else's foot after a harmless jump shot that resulted in the worst ankle sprain I ever had -- swelling my size 11 foot into a dark purple and black size 16 EEE. That summer, I tore my rotator cuff pitching batting practice to, of all people, New Haven Register columnist Dave Solomon during a home run derby against ex-major leaguers Steve Balboni and Luis Sojo before a New Haven Ravens game with about 6,000 people watching at Yale Field. A great story in itself, but maybe I'll tell it another day. Six months later, I broke my left arm during an Orange Park-Rec men's league game when a teammate accidentally cut my legs out from underneath while I was tipping in his missed layup.

Then there's the latest mishap. Playing in the same rec basketball league, not long after noting to myself how my knees were still in good shape, I landed awkwardly running a fastbreak and violently wrenched my left knee. Initially diagnosed as a sprained MCL, an MRI later revealed a tear. So after hobbling around the last few months like Fred G. Sanford (the 'G' stands for gimp), I will undergo arthroscopic surgery Monday at St. Raphael's Hospital in New Haven.

What does this have to do with UConn football, you ask? Absolutely nothing. However, I'll obviously not be at Monday's media luncheon for the Rhode Island game and will be laid up for a couple of days after that. Colleague Sean O'Rourke will cover for me, and I have harrassed him to keep me informed of any news so, if possible, the blog can remain somewhat up to date. I've been told recovery time is fairly quick, and I'm shooting to make the Rhody game on Thursday even if I have to do it on crutches. So if the blog happens to go a few days without updates, don't lose faith. It'll be up and running again in no time (and, with any luck, so will I).

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Call me Kreskin

I'll make predictions on just about anything. And I mean anything. I'm the guy hiding in the bushes at the golf course betting $50 that the Smails kid picks his nose. Double or nothing on whether or not he eats it? You're on. Want to know what's going to happen in the final eight episodes of "The Soprano's" next year? I've already formulated an opinion. Your 2006 NFL Most Valuable Player? None other than Jake Delhomme (with DeAngelo Williams giving Reggie Bush a serious run as rookie of the year). Academy Award winners? Sure. Doesn't matter if I've seen the movie or not. That's why I have no problem predicting the final records of every team in the Big East this season, even though at this point I've seen nothing aside from a handful of UConn practices. Just keep that in mind while you're firing off that email telling me what an idiot I am.

9/2: Eastern Kentucky. (Win)
9/8: Pittsburgh. (Loss)
9/16: at Ohio State. (Loss).
9/23: at Virginia Tech. (Loss).
9/30: Miami (Ohio). (Loss).
10/7: Akron. (Win).
10/14: at Louisville. (Loss).
10/22: South Florida. (Loss).
10/28: Syracuse. (Win).
11/11: at West Virginia. (Loss).
11/18: Rutgers. (Loss).
11/25: at UConn. (Loss).

9/3: Kentucky. (Win).
9/9: at Temple. (Win).
9/16: Miami (Fla.) (Loss).
9/23: at Kansas State. (Win).
10/6: at Middle Tennessee State. (Win.)
10/14: Cincinnati. (Win).
10/21: at Syracuse. (Win).
11/2: West Virginia. (Win, 2 OT).
11/9: at Rutgers. (Win).
11/18: South Florida. (Win.)
11/25: at Pitt. (Loss)
12/2: UConn. (Win).

9/2: Virginia. (Loss).
9/8: at Cincinnati. (Win).
9/16: Michigan State. (Loss).
9/23: The Citadel. (Win).
9/30: Toledo. (Win).
10/7: at Syracuse. (Win).
10/13: at Central Florida. (Win).
10/21: Rutgers. (Loss).
11/4: at South Florida. (Loss).
11/11: at UConn. (Win).
11/16: West Virginia. (Loss).
11/25: Louisville. (Win).

9/2: at North Carolina. (Loss.)
9/9: Illinois. (Win).
9/16: Ohio. (Win).
9/23: Howard. (Win).
9/29: at South Florida. (Win).
10/14: at Navy. (Win).
10/21: at Pitt. (Win).
10/29: UConn. (Win).
11/9: Louisville. (Loss).
11/18: at Cincinnati. (Win).
11/25: Syracuse. (Win).
12/2: at West Virginia. (Loss).

9/2: McNeese St. (Win).
9/9: Florida International. (Win).
9/16: at Central Florida. (Loss).
9/23: at Kansas. (Loss.)
9/29: Rutgers. (Loss).
10/7: UConn. (Win).
10/14: at North Carolina. (Loss).
10/22: at Cincinnati. (Win).
11/4: Pitt. (Win).
11/11: Syracuse. (Win).
11/18: at Louisville. (Loss).
11/25: at West Virginia. (Loss).

9/2: at Wake Forest. (Loss).
9/9: Iowa. (Loss).
9/16: at Illinois. (Loss).
9/23: Miami-Ohio. (Win).
9/30: Wyoming. (Win).
10/7: Pitt. (Loss).
10/14: at West Virginia. (Loss).
10/21: Louisville. (Loss).
10/28: at Cincinnati. (Loss).
11/11: at South Florida. (Loss).
11/18: UConn. (Loss).
11/25: at Rutgers. (Loss).

9/2: Marshall. (Win).
9/9: Eastern Washington. (Win).
9/14: Maryland. (Win).
9/23: at East Carolina. (Win).
10/7: at Mississippi State. (Win).
10/14: Syracuse. (Win).
10/20: UConn. (Win).
11/2: at Louisville. (Loss, 2 OT).
11/11: Cincinnati. (Win).
11/16: Pitt. (Win).
11/25: South Florida. (Win).
12/2: Rutgers. (Win).

8/31: Rhode Island. (Win).
9/16: Wake Forest. (Win).
9/23: at Indiana. (Win).
9/30: Navy. (Win).
10/7: at South Florida. (Loss).
10/14: Army. (Win).
10/20: West Virginia. (Loss).
10/29: at Rutgers. (Loss).
11/11: Pitt. (Loss).
11/18: at Syracuse. (Win).
11/25: Cincinnati. (Win).
12/2: at Louisville. (Loss).

There you have it. For the record, I did this before last season and hit only one team's schedule right on the money week-for-week (UConn), while I was way, way off on South Florida, Pitt and Syracuse. So take it for what it is. Of course, I fully intend to hedge my bets here by making weekly predictions on each conference game, taking injuries and other things into account.

Be sure and pick up a copy of Sunday's New Haven Register. There will be a full UConn/Big East football preview page. You can also check out my second annual ranking of the top 10 minor league baseball prospects from Connecticut.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mailbag Episode 33 1/3

I got a few emails wondering why I would bother answering questions from non-UConn fans or non-football related questions. The answer: if someone has a question, I'm going to do my best to answer it. I don't discriminate, and I want this blog to be fun as well as informative. Plus, I'll talk about anything in this forum as long it's in good taste. (I'll only answer the stuff that's in bad taste in person). The questions have been rolling in, and I don't think I can get to all of them this week. I may have to continue the mailbag either next week or the week after. Anyway, here we go again...

Question: Chip, how have the freshmen looked, particularly Greg Robinson and Lawrence Wilson. Any chance either or both will see any playing time?
-- DJ Sturtevant, Bradford, MA

CM: I have to admit I haven't really noticed either Greg Robinson or Lawrence Wilson. That's not to say they haven't been doing much, but there's so much going on in practice with so many players it can be like sensory overload. You just can't formulate opinions on every single player, especially given the limited number of practices made available to us. Randy Edsall also limits his responses to direct questions about the first-year players for most of camp, which is sort of an unwritten policy with him in the preseason. That said, Wilson and Scott Lutrus are both on the two deep, as are several other true freshmen. Look for Desi Cullen to be the biggest impact frosh, with Brad Kanuch, Terence Jeffers and Kevin Poles also making significant contributions at wide receiver.

Question: What can we expect this year from D.J Hernandez? Can he really provide the Huskies with the quarterback stability that we so desperately need? Because last year he was fairly unimpressive in his starts.
-Tom, Enfield

CM: D.J. was average at best last season, no doubt, although I thought he was very good against Louisville in the finale. Here's the thing to remember: D.J. was a 19-year old, redshirt freshman last season. He had no game experience, and the plan was to have him serve as Matt Bonislawski's backup all season. He was thrust into an active role only when Bones was injured against Syracuse. Not every young quarterback can step in against Division I-A competition and look like he was born to be there. Very few can do it. Most need time to learn the nuances of a difficult and complicated position.

All indications are that D.J. will be vastly improved this year. He's a work-aholic, spotted by coach Edsall at Memorial Stadium at 6 a.m. a few mornings working on his drops and techniques. He earned the starter's job over Bones, the very man who beat him out last year, through solid, heady play in practice. With Bones and Dennis Brown as experienced, capable backups, the Huskies should be fine at the position.

Question: What’s the story on playing Division 1-AA teams this year? A win doesn’t count towards bowl eligibility, does it? If not, why would a team schedule one? I am genuinely curious about this. It seems like a no-win situation to me….unless it counts towards bowl eligibility, in which case I would have scheduled about 4 or 5 of the suckers.

CM: The NCAA passed emergency legislation in April 2005 which allows Division I-A teams to count one win each year against Division I-AA opponents toward bowl eligibility. It came about as a concession when the NCAA expanded Division I-A regular season schedules from 11 to 12 games. The previous rule was that a I-A school could count a win over a I-AA school once every four years and use it toward bowl eligibility.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mailbag part deux

A few more of your questions...

Question: Did Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon once serve as an assistant coach on the Cleveland Indians in the movie Major League? Have you seen the similarities between the two? It’s eerie.
-- Vinny, East Haven

CM: I assume you mean the coach whose only two lines in the movie were, "Look at this (expletive) guy." during the scene where players were arriving at spring training for the first time and "This guy's dead." while looking over the training camp invitees (to which the owner of the Indians replied "Well cross him off, then.") I don't know if they are the same person, but Maddon definitely borrowed Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn's dark-framed glasses. He looks like he should be working for NASA. By the way, congratulations on making so many friends on the blog so fast, Vinny.

Question: Around the league, it sounds like most of the media is favoring West Virginia to run the table this year. But if Louisville beats Miami, does that maybe put them in the driver's spot? Also I have a feeling Pitt has great dark horse potential this year. They have both WV and Louisville at home in the last two games of the year. If their season is going well at that point, who knows... What do you make of their chances?
-- Kenneth Buck

CM: If West Virginia doesn't run the table, I'd be shocked. The Mountaineers schedule is way too easy...Louisville has a good chance to beat Miami, especially since the game is at Papa John Stadium. But no team will be in the driver's seat until Nov. 2, when the Cardinals play host to West Virginia in what will easily be the game of the year in the Big East. If West Virginia wins, they'll be in position for national championship game consideration (though I don't think they'll be invited. See easy schedule). I agree Pitt will be strong. Palko is a gamer and H.B. Blades is as good a linebacker there is. But beating both Louisville and West Virginia this season? Won't happen.

Question: During the 1A transition period, UConn invested some resources in "traditions" for the team. They visited 1A schools such as Penn State and observed gameday traditions firsthand. What's your take on the UConn gameday experience thus far? Do we need to be force-fed new "created" traditions? Should we wait for things to develop? Keep up the good work.
-- Eric, Waltham, MA

CM: Here's the thing with traditions. If they aren't your own, they won't work. I get a kick out of the handful of students at various schools who paint themselves school colors, put on a multi-colored wig and try to imitate Duke's Cameron Crazies. They usually wind up trying to get the other 10,000 people to join them, with no success, and making fools of themselves. You can't duplicate certain things. Traditions are born unto themselves. A UConn football game will never be like it is at Penn State or Auburn. And it shouldn't be. The Rentschler experience should be whatever it evolves into over time.

I covered Yale football for the Register for a few years, and the great thing about that was the totally unique atmosphere around the Ivy League. From the pristine, brick campuses to the older alumni dressed in sports coats and khakis tailgating with wine and cheese or sipping on hot apple cider to the students waving giant flags embroidered with their residential college crests. You knew you were experiencing an Ivy League football game.

To me, there is nothing wrong with the UConn game day experience. Of course, I don't tailgate and I watch the game from the seclusion of the press box. But fans looking to start traditions or create an atmosphere should make it unique to New great would it be to walk through the parking lot to the wafting aroma of steamed clams on barbacue grills at the tailgates or hot clam chowder on a brisk October afternoon (anyone else in the mood for clams? Just me? OK.) The point is, visiting fans should leave the Runway feeling like I did driving home from a game at Yale or Dartmouth. They should feel like they just watched a football game in Connecticut. That's the only real tradition a school can ask for. That's something to be proud of.

Stay tuned for part three of the mailbag...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bonus musings from a busy Tuesday

A few nuggets from Randy Edsall's media teleconference on Tuesday. The Brandon McLean story that follows this posting is a sneak peak at my story for Wednesday's edition of the Register. I won't do that often but since Pilot Pen tennis is (rightly) dominating our coverage in New Haven this week, it's a good way to keep UConn football prevalent.

Senior tight end Dan Murray, a key cog in the UConn offense, sprained his left ankle during an intrasquad scrimmage Monday night. His status for the season opener is unknown. Edsall said Murray will see team doctors again tonight.
"Someone fell on him," Edsall said. "He was tackled and someone fell on the back of his leg. The docs are coming up in the afternoon, and we should know more later this evening."

It seems linebacker Ryan Henegan is still in Randy Edsall's doghouse. Henegan, who topped the depth chart at middle linebacker heading into preseason camp, was left off the two-deep. Weakside linebacker Jonathon Smith shifts to the middle and earns the start there vs. URI, swapping his position with Julius Williams (who will backup Danny Lansanah at weakside). True freshmen Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson are listed as the No. 2 MLB's. Edsall again barely acknowledged Henegan when questioned about him by the media. "No sense to even talk about him," Edsall said. "He hasn't even stepped on the practice field yet. These other guys have been through 21 practices already." There must be more to the story.

I'm never one to back away from predictions, so I'll provide a few concerning the depth chart. Donta Moore will start at strong side linebacker against Rhody, but Justin DeRubertis will play a lot, too. If he isn't there for the opener, Desi Cullen will be the starting punter at some point. The kid is just too talented.

That's it for today. I still have a ton of mailbag questions to sift through, so I'll have a second edition of that tomorrow.

McLean may feel the heat

Brandon McLean earned the opportunity to start at wide receiver once again for the University of Connecticut football team with a good showing at preseason camp.

But increased competition from younger players at the position puts McLean, a junior from New Haven, in a precarious position. He must contribute right away or he could find his name a notch lower on the depth chart.

On Tuesday, UConn coach Randy Edsall announced the two-deep position chart for the Huskies season-opening game against Rhode Island on Aug. 31. Aside from the middle linebacker position, where sophomore Jonathon Smith was switched from backup weakside linebacker to earn a starting job in the middle, there were no surprises. Seymour’s Mike Hicks, a 6-foot-7, 338-pound redshirt freshman, will start at right tackle while Trumbull’s Matt Nuzie, a four-year starter, will handle the place kicking duties again.

No decisions were made among some of the hotly contested position battles, including strong side linebacker, punter and backup quarterback, where it could come down to a game-time decision. Edsall listed competing players alongside each other -- separated only by the word "or" — rather than picking one over the other at those positions.

Juniors Justin DeRubertis and Donta Moore have been even at strong side linebacker all summer. The same can be said of punters Chris Pavasaris, a senior, and true freshman Desi Cullen.

Sophomore Dennis Brown has worked with the second team offense at quarterback most of the summer, but Edsall is holding out hope that he won’t be needed and can redshirt the year to gain another season of eligibility. Senior Matt Bonislawski, last season’s starter, could be the choice to spell starter D.J. Hernandez.

"It could be an ‘or’ situation all year depending on the situation," Edsall said. "If something (like an injury) did happen to D.J. we’ll have to decide which way is the best way to go with the team. Right now, we don’t have to do that."

As for McLean, who played high school ball at Hyde, he’ll start at one of the three wide receiver positions for a second straight season. Edsall said he has above average speed, and a knack for finding seams and catching passes across the middle.

But he needs to get physically stronger. At 5-foot-10 and 161 pounds, McLean has trouble with bigger defensive backs and that limited his production last season, when he caught 15 passes for 180 yards and no touchdowns. Edsall would like to see more games like the season finale against Louisville last December, when McLean caught a season-long 57 yard pass.

"He knows the offense much better now than in the past," Edsall said. "With all the experience and reps he’s gotten, he understands the system. We’re always working with him to put more weight on and get physically stronger. He also needs to improve his blocking."

A strong freshman class has dramatically improved the Huskies depth at wide receiver. True freshmen Terence Jeffers and Brad Kanuch are both listed as backups on the depth chart. True freshman Kevin Poles, though not on the depth chart, has also had a strong camp. Sophomore Nollis Dewar finished last season strong and will push McLean as his backup. Explosive junior kick returner Larry Taylor, a former tailback, has switched positions and one of the other starting receivers along with senior Brandon Young.

"Whoever is out there at wide receiver will have to contribute for us to succeed in our run game and our passing game," Edsall said. "Brandon has an opportunity to do that. But he has to continue to push himself and watch the people behind him pushing him. Having Nollis behind him, pushing him, should help where as before Brandon didn’t have to feel the heat."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mailbag Part I

The mailbag was a success. I received several inquiries over the last few days, and some of them even dealt with UConn football. This is a dead week for media access (aside from a teleconference tomorrow), so I'll split up the numerous questions in multiple parts and post them over the course of the week.

Question: Would like to know about our back up situation along the trenches, both OL & DL… Do we have a chance to “shock” people this year with adequate depth this time around?
-- Kenneth Tucker (UConn '93), Bridgeport.

CM: It's tough to gauge, but Randy Edsall hasn't been heaping praise upon his offensive lineman in the preseason. It's not like he said anything bad about them, either. But it seems to imply they still have some work to do. Depth on the defensive line isn't great thanks to some injuries. Jason Ward is out for a while, Gary Mack is slowed by turf toe, Rob Lunn has had hamstring issues. Edsall would like to use a four man rotation at defensive end and defensive tackle, but health could be a concern.

Question: I have the fourth pick in my NFL fantasy football draft next week. Who should I take?
-- Lee, West Haven

CM: Assuming Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson go 1-2-3 like they should, grab Edgerrin James and don't think twice. With Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver, opposing defenses won't be able to stack up against the run. James' numbers will hold up, even with a weaker offensive line. Tiki Barber is 31 and doesn't get goal line carries. Plus, he burned me two years ago and I'm not above holding a grudge.

Question: Have you seen the new football facilities yet? Are they totally done? Thanks.
-- Zack

CM: I have seen it and it is spectacular. It isn't finished yet, but more and more things are being completed on a daily basis. It's the most impressive college facility I've seen, with the exception of Engelstad Arena, home of the University of North Dakota hockey program (if you're ever in Grand Forks, N.D., check it out. You'd have to, there's nothing else there).

Question: What do you think UConn's record will be this season, and if they can make a bowl game where will they go?
-- Joseph H., Seymour

CM: I'll hold back on my prediction for the Huskies' record. I'm planning to break down the schedule and make an official prognostication sometime before the URI game. However, I think they will qualify for a bowl game. So get your passports in order now (not a bad idea, as of Jan. 1 you'll need one to get into Canada), because it will be the International Bowl in Toronto on Jan. 6.

Keep the questions coming. This could turn into a regular feature.

Next update: Tuesday.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Saturday night live

The media met with Randy Edsall prior to Saturday night's practice at 6:45 p.m., but since we won't get player access until it's over at 9:30 p.m. I thought I'd come to you live from the media room inside Gampel Pavilion with a few tidbits...

  • Walk-on quarterback Andrew Simmons has left the team. Edsall will hold walk-on tryouts shortly after classes begin on Aug. 28th to try and find some players for the scout team and perhaps another quarterback. This could be good news. "Invincible", the movie based on Vince Papale, a former Philadelphia bartender who makes the Eagles out of a tryout camp, opens on Aug. 25. Maybe Marky Mark can serve as inspiration for a few UConn students, sort of how Sly Stallone convinced a slew of kids in the 70s to try boxing. You never know. "Rocky" inspired a generation of fighters including Vinny Pazienza, who once said he had little interest in boxing until saw the movie and bought the story hook, line and sinker. I'll go on a limb and say Rocky 6 probably won't have the same impact. By the way, have you seen Stallone in interviews lately? Is it possible to be punch drunk from portraying a boxer?

  • Ryan Henegan's nagging hamstring injury continues to hold him back in camp. Even Edsall is showing showing frustration over it. This quote about the battle to start at middle linebacker says an awful lot without saying much. "The biggest concern I have is at the middle backer position. I don't even want to mention his name because he hasn't been out there so there's no sense mentioning his name. It's not worth it to mention his name because he hasn't practiced." Not hard to figure out who he's alluding to.

  • Asked if it was crazy to think true freshman Scott Lutrus could win the middle linebacker job in camp, Edsall said "pretty much". He equated starting a freshman at that position to starting a freshman at quarterback. Add to that the fact that Lutrus had no experience in the middle until last week and it looks Julius Williams will be the starter.

  • Another big battle will be at the "husky" linebacker spot, where Justin DeRubertis and Donta Moore appear to be waging a fight to the end. Edsall said it could be a game-time decision on who starts there for the URI game.

  • Freshman punter Desi Cullen left campus Saturday morning to attend his sister's wedding in Kentucky. He is expected to fly back Sunday morning.

  • Edsall is also thinking long and hard about his backup quarterbacks. A decision on the No. 2 won't be made until after Monday's scrimmage, although my feeling all along is it appears Dennis Brown has the inside track. The conundrum for Edsall seems to be if it comes down to it, should Dennis Brown's redshirt season be burned if D.J. gets injured at some point. Could be something to watch. More on this in Monday's edition of the Register.

OK, time for me to head back up to the practice field. Hopefully, it's not raining. Don't forget next week's mailbag. Send your questions to

Friday, August 18, 2006

An open invitation to you...

We'll be locked out from practice all of next week, but I'd like to keep the blog active. So I've decided to run a mail bag to keep things going in the interim. Email me your questions, and I'll dedicate a day (or week) to answering them. Football questions will get preference, this is a UConn blog after all, but I'm game to tackle any subject. If there's enough interest, I'll turn it into a weekly feature. Judging by the comments, I know there are some characters out there. Let's have a little fun, here. Send any and all questions to

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's D.J.

No surprises. Randy Edsall named D.J. Hernandez as the team's opening-day starter at quarterback against Rhode Island on Aug. 31. Hernandez was adequate last fall until the season finale against Louisville, when he threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns. Since then, he's made his case by working countless extra hours and improving his game in spring and summer practice sessions. Hernandez had so distanced himself Edsall decided to make the announcement today and get it out of the way before he releases the rest of the depth chart on Tuesday.

Barring more injuries, I don't see many real surprises coming when the final two-deep comes out next week. Julius Williams should start at middle linebacker with Ryan Henegan's nagging injury. Cody Brown should fill in for injured Jason Ward at defensive end. Terry Caulley will start at tailback, but will be spelled more with the talented trio of Lou Allen, Andre Dixon and Donald Brown backing him up. The Huskies have played wide receiver by committee in the past, and that likely won't change. Freshmen Brad Kanuch and Kevin Poles may not be listed at starters but all appear to have a shot at playing a lot right away. Keep an eye on punter Desi Cullen, too. Just a hunch, but he may unseat Chris Pavasaris for URI.

By the way, no media access at UConn until Saturday. I'm not complaining. Fans shouldn't either. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that coach Petrino has closed all practices to the media: partly because he feels too much info gets leaked on the internet. Not sure I agree with that, but that's a column for another day.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mr. Thomas goes to Storrs

Donald Thomas' future will include graduation from the University of Connecticut in May and then, if all goes according to plan, law school next fall.

Thomas, a West Haven resident, has other goals as well. One is to start on the Huskies offensive line this fall, his senior season. That's still a work in progress and Thomas, the top backup at right guard behind Immanuel Hutcherson, is hoping he can win the job before the season opener against Rhode Island on Aug. 31.

"I'm closer (to starting) now than I've ever been before," Thomas said shortly after Tuesday afternoon's practice ended. "There's a lot of competition now between me and the first string guy, but it's all good competition. I'm just going to continue to work and hopefully pull out the starting job by Aug. 31."

Another of Thomas' goals was realized Saturday night when he was awarded a full athletic scholarship, reward for three years of hard work as an unheralded walk-on. Now, the money Thomas was saving for his senior year tuition at UConn can be used for law school or an internship at a law firm.

UConn coach Randy Edsall said he was having dinner with Thomas recently, just a few days before he was set to officially announce that Thomas fellow walk-ons Graig Vicidomino of Seymour and Chris Pavasaris were elevated to full scholarship status.

He asked Thomas what his future plans were, and when Thomas told him about law school Edsall bit his tongue about the scholarship because he was planning to announce the news at a team meeting.

"(Thomas) said his two sisters graduated from (Virginia Commonwealth University), one is a pharmasist, the other is doing something else but they were both very successful," Edsall said. "His mom was saying he has to uphold the tradition in the family and be successful. It made me feel good. It's part of this business and it's a nice part to be around, especially when it's totally unexpected. He was very thankful."

Said Thomas, "It was great. It's what I've been looking for since I got here. I called to tell my parents and my mom was hysterical crying."

Thomas said he played football his freshman year at West Haven High, but was told he couldn't do that anymore since he was attending school at Career, which has no football program. Rather than transfer, he remained at Career and played basketball and baseball.

His four-year football sabbatical continued through his freshman year at UConn, when he attended a few games and was hit with the urge to play again. He made the team as a walk-on in 2004 and redshirted the season. Last fall, he played all 11 games on special teams, serving as a wedge buster. This summer, he's up to 295 pounds (35 pounds heavier than when he joined the program) and stronger than he's ever been.

"He's had a great summer, and is one of our strongest guys," Edsall said. "He's been a backup on the offensive line, but a key contributor on kickoffs. He was a big reason we were able to break some returns."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tuesday night leftovers

  • UConn Sports Information Assistant Leigh Torbin dutifully pointed out I may need a name switch for the blog because they will soon be tearing up the runways outside Rentschler Field to build a shopping center. Even so, the Runway is still infinitely better than "The Rent". Until someone comes up with a better nickname, The Runway lives on, people.

  • UConn vs. Boston College in football? It could happen if the NCAA approves scrimmage games for Division I-A programs. Randy Edsall said scrimmages were discussed at the national football coaches convention in Dallas in January. Nothing came of it, though Edsall said he joked with BC coach Tom O'Brien that the two could play each other if it ever comes to pass. Edsall, who said he'd rather have a scrimmage than a 12th regular season game, thinks the coaches may push hard for it when the convention comes around again in January. "Maybe we could donate all the proceeds (from scrimmages) to charity," he said. It makes sense to play a summer scrimmage. Even Ivy League schools, who in the name of academics, academics and more academics ban members from playing postseason football, has been doing it for years.

  • Dennis Brown took the bulk of snaps with the 2's. He overthrew a bunch of passes, but the bright side of that is it's better than underthrowing receivers (ala Chad Pennington?). Methinks he has a real chance to be named D.J.'s backup.

  • Middle linebacker Ryan Henegan has fully participated in only three of 14 practices this summer because of a hamstring injury, and it could cost him a starting job. Julius Williams is working with the 1's, but true freshman Scott Lutrus of Brookfield is getting a long look there as well. "It's like the old saying, you can't make the club in the tub" Edsall said on more than one occasion Tuesday.

  • Other injury updates...Backup DT Rob Lunn injured a hamstring Tuesday. SS Glen Mourning of Danbury is hampered with a quad contusion. WR Ellis Gaulden is "making strides" to return from a spring ACL injury.

  • Edsall said no decisions have been made on redshirts for the fall, and it may be a while before anyone is officially redshirted because of thin depth at many positions.

  • If the price of gas doesn't come down soon, I may go broke before the football season is over. It cost me $50 to fill up, and driving up and back to Storrs tonight used almost half a tank. I'm considering trading my car straight up for a mini bike...Jim Carey got 70 miles per gallon on his hog in "Dumb and Dumber".

  • Thoughts and prayers to Jahi Smith, who is dealing with an unimaginable tragedy.

Sad news from camp

Defensive back Jahi Smith, one of four co-captains for the Huskies this season, left the team Monday night after his 18-year old brother was murdered early that morning in Suitland, Md.

Before leaving for home, Smith told Edsall his brother was leaving his girlfriend's mother's house Sunday night/early Monday when he was shot five times and robbed. Smith is expected to return to campus on Friday, though he may need more time.

UConn officials did not have Smith's brother's name, and news reports out of Maryland were still incomplete.

"Jahi was just saying to the team that where he comes from, guys get killed just for being good," Edsall said. "I thought how ironic, he was just talking about that. He said his brother was saving money and working so he could go to school. And it was for really no reason at all from what I understand from Jahi. It's a sad situation. He's going through some tough times, too."

An update to come later tonight.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Some Monday news after all

Three former walk-ons (two from the New Haven area) have been elevated to scholarship players: ex-Seymour High kicker Graig Vicidomino, OL Donald Thomas of West Haven and punter Chris Pavasaris of Needham, Mass. Well deserved. Pavasaris wound up winning the starting job last season, Vicidomino nailed a pair of field goals against Army when pressed into action for injured Matt Nuzie last October, and Thomas should see action as the backup to Immanuel Hutcherson at right guard.

Also, Edsall announced Deon Anderson and Donta Moore both had their scholarships reinstated after both paid their own way last semester.

Practices and the media

I've received a few emails from readers wanting to know why I don't have daily practice reports from camp, be it in the Register or this blog. UConn limits its open practices for football, and the media has access only one or two days a week in the summer. This isn't an uncommon policy in Division I-A football, and it's understandable. The coaches have enough worries trying to cram in plays and iron out the kinks in the all-to-brief preseason without a gaggle of reporters asking questions every day after practice. There's a bit more leeway with availability once the season starts, though players are still off limits certain days of the week and even open practices have only a brief window for media to observe. I don't want to upset the folks at UConn by blurting out the open dates, as I'm not sure what the policy is for fans watching practice, but I'll provide a teaser. There are two this week and a teleconference next week -- when the depth chart for the URI game is expected to be unveiled.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dennis Brown: new and improved

UConn held its Media Day on Friday at the Runway. Getting there was an adventure for me, as I experienced the new airport regulations first hand on Thursday and Friday (more on that later). Here's a few thoughts from Friday's session...

Don’t count Dennis Brown out of the quarterback race just yet. He may not unseat D.J. Hernandez for the starting job, but he's making the decision tougher for the UConn coaches.
Brown is noticably bigger, and posed his new, chisled physique for our photographer.
He's gained 35 pounds of rip since arriving at UConn last summer, and now weighs in at 205. He also told me he's increased his bench press from 185 to 315 and added 100 pounds to his squat while still managing to run the 40 in around 4.4 seconds.
"He’s doing very well," Randy Edsall said. "He didn’t play as well in our (intrasquad) scrimmage (Thursday) as he’s done in practice. He’s throwing with good accuracy. You can see he’s thicker and stronger. The weight program has done him a world of good."
Brown has been pleased with his play so far this summer, and doesn’t consider himself an underdog in the competition to start the Aug. 31 season opener against Rhode Island.
"It’s going to come down to the wire," Brown said. "I’m making the coaches push their pens to the end. I think I still have a real good chance. The coaches like what I’m doing, and I feel I’m jelling with the offense a lot."

Though neither Edsall nor Brown would say it, Brown’s emergence at the position may have also played a part in the departure of redshirt freshman Billy Cundiff, a promising quarterback who told Edsall he is transferring to a Division II program near his home in Ohio on Thursday because he is homesick.
Cundiff's departure is disappointing, but in the long run will have little impact on the program. Some UConn fans thought Cundiff would be the second coming of Dan Orlovsky, but the reality was that Cundiff was still the fourth-string quarterback after a full season in the program. It seems unlikely he had much of a future with sophomores D.J. Hernandez and Brown in front of him and Pennsylvania high school prospect Cody Endres set to enter the program next season.

The Rentschler Field turf looked magnificent Friday. Hopefully, it will stay that way. It should. There are no rock concerts booked at the Runway.

As for me, I'm still bushed from a brief vacation to Chicago. I spent 8 hours at O'Hare Airport on Thursday before my flight was finally cancelled and rebooked for Friday at 6 a.m. My wife and I decided to check all our baggage (all of which were carried on to get to Chicago) because of the new flight regulations implemented earlier in the day. The airline told us they couldn't retrieve our bags, so we had nothing but our wallets and a cell phone when we checked into a hotel at O'Hare Thursday night. However, they did hand us a couple of baggies full of toiletries for our trouble. We awoke at 4:15 a.m. Friday and, wearing the same clothes from the day before, headed back over to O'Hare and wait in more security lines. Fortunately, everything went smoothly and we got into LaGuardia on time. Then came the fun part: getting to Rentschler in time for Media Day. With my wife driving like Ted Kennedy five minutes before the package store closes, I got back to my house in Orange a little before noon, jumped in the shower, changed clothes and drove the 45 minutes to the Runway to arrive on time.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Three days and counting

Preseason practice begins Friday. Can you feel the static? Randy Edsall held a media teleconference today to update us on some news and happenings. A couple of thoughts...

Junior wide receiver Seth Fogarty was lost for the season, and may never play football again, after a severe injury to his foot and lower leg while riding an ATV last week somewhere near Storrs. Situations like this must drive Edsall bonkers. While the first concern, of course, is on the health and well-being of Fogarty, you have to wonder why athletes willingly put themselves at risk...and so close to the start of the season.
You see it time and time again. Ben Roethlisberger could have died riding his motorcycle without a helmet. At least he knew how to ride. Kellen Winslow blew millions of his signing bonus and may never be the same player when he blew out his knee teaching himself to ride a street bike that was way too powerful and dangerous for a beginner. Jason Williams, Dario Franchitti, the list goes on and on.
And there's little a coach can do to prevent it. Edsall, like any parent does whith their own children, said he talks himself tired lecturing his players about the perils of putting themselves in dangerous situations. But you can't watch them 24/7. In the end, these are still kids who, despite all the attention and coverage cases like Roethlisberger and Winslow recieve, will still do the dumb things that kids do. It's up to the athletes to think of the consequences of their actions before they put themselevs at risk.

On a positive note, the Burton and Schenkman complexes are ready for use, and there's no way to understate their importance to the football program. They will be the vehicle that takes UConn to the next level -- a recruiting tool that could elevate the Huskies into a regular spot in the AP top 25 polls and a chance to compete with the West Virginia's and Louisville's for the Big East's BCS spot very soon. Edsall said "If anyone in the country has a nicer facility, I'll have to go and see it."

I can't wait to check it out on Friday.