Tuesday, August 22, 2006

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."


Blogger ScottVib said...

UConn has a lot of short receivers, with Young the tallest starter at 5'11". I kind of wish that Dewar had won one of the spots out of camp, if only to give D.J. a nice big target if he got in trouble, or especially near the end zone.

August 23, 2006 11:09 AM 

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