Thursday, March 29, 2007

Greg Robinson (not the Syracuse version), Big Sexy and more Sinatra

Got a chance to speak with Greg Robinson, who along with Scott Lutrus is competing for the starting job at the Husky linebacker position. Robinson, like Lutrus, was a pretty solid offensive player in high school. He played quarterback, running back and wide receiver, all in the same season, compiling over 1,000 total yards of offense.

He turned down offers from Wisconsin, which recruited him as an athlete, as well as offers from Penn State and Rutgers to play defense to attend UConn. He says this spring has been hectic given all the changes on the Huskies defensive scheme.

"It's learning a lot of stuff," Robinson said. "Before I was learning, too, but now we're learning more as we're playing. It's learning as we go on. I'm making mistakes, but I've made some progress too."

At 6-foot-1, 216 pounds, Robinson has fallen behind Lutrus in the battle for the strong side linebacker spot this spring because Lutrus, at 6-2, 227, is bigger and stronger. Until Robinson catches up physically, Lutrus will have the inside track on the job.

"He'll have to get stronger," Randy Edsall said. "The weight room will be his best friend until August. He needs to put on more weight and get stronger."

Robinson agrees.

"Scott's definitely bigger than me," he said. "I need to play with more speed to play the type of defense we use here. Right now, it's going to be who makes the least mistakes and who the coaches feel will get the job done. If I was the only one, I probably wouldn't mind making mistakes. But I know if I make a mistake and Scott doesn't make mistakes, then that's part of what's going into the coaches decision. The competition helps me a lot. "

The competition has been healthy, and Edsall said he's impressed with the intensity the two bring every day. They may be relatively raw, they may have a lot to learn, and Robinson may have plenty of work left in the gym. But neither are the types of players who take a single down off and go full throttle at all times.

Robinson has shown a good head for the game, with the ability to read a developing play.

"Greg has a knack so far, just looking at him, for making some plays," Edsall said. "He might not look the smoothest or most athletic, but he is a football player. He has great playing speed. Sometimes you might say 'look at that', but he finds ways to make plays."

A few other nuggets

  • Walk-on fullback Luke Cox quit the team Wednesday, Leigh Torbin of the UConn sports information department confirmed. That leaves redshirt freshman Anthony Davis as the team's lone fullback this spring. Incoming freshman Anthony Sherman joins the mix in August.
  • The right side of the offensive line -- guard Donald Thomas and tackle Mike Hicks -- looked pretty darn impressive during drills. And I'm not being biased toward our New Haven area guys.
  • Defensive end Lindsey Witten didn't practice. His jersey and pads were lying on the sideline, so it seemed it was a last minute decision to sit out. Edsall didn't even know why Witten wasn't out there. “I don’t know, maybe the sun was in the wrong position,” Edsall said. “I have no idea. He came to practice today, I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with him. I’ll have to see what the trainers say. Maybe he didn’t want to practice today. Let me say this, there isn’t anything serious as far as I know.”
  • Lawrence Green did his sprints to end practice, though he finished in last place -- behind even Dan Ryan and his rolled ankle. Green had a pretty bad limp as he left the field at the end of Thursday’s practice.
    “He got kicked,” Edsall said. “Looked like he got kicked in the shin. There was just a big knot. He’s one of those big uglies. That’s part of it. He calls himself “Big Sexy”, I call him “Big Ugly.” If you’re a lineman you better expect to have some bumps and bruises and those sorts of things. It’s not like you’re a wide receiver. You’re not supposed to look pretty.”
  • Read about the safeties and how Edsall is helping them learn in tomorrow's Register.
  • Neil Ostrout of the Connecticut Post couldn't believe I didn't rank "Strangers in the Night" among my top five Sinatra songs in my previous mailbag. It just missed the cut, but I'll end today's entry with this, Neil. ....... Shoobie-doobie-do; do-do-do-dee-do, la-da-da-da-da, ya-yaya-ya.....

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More mailbag

I'm pressed for time this morning. I have to head over to Southern Connecticut State University to cover the parade for the women's basketball team, which won the NCAA Division II national championship on Saturday.
Got some more mail. Here it is.

Question: How are the WRs looking so far this year? WRs have definitely been a weakness in the past, will that change? or same ol'? Also, how has the run blocking looked? Maybe it's just me but it appeared that every big run we had was outside of the tackles the last couple years and every time we ran straight up the gut we'd get a yard at the most. Any improvements there?
-- Jay

A: This was sent to me before the D.J. Hernandez switch. Obviously, I think D.J. will help. I don't see him as a major downfield threat like Brad Kanuch, but he should be a solid possession receiver. If he makes a catch with some room, he has the ability to make tacklers miss and tack on an extra five or so yards. He did this a few times on Tuesday.

I think the receivers in general will be much better. I expect Terrence Jeffers will double his 17 catches from last season, same with Kanuch (13 catches). They are a solid pair of bookends who gained physical strength and confidence since last fall. Larry Taylor is still there, and is a threat any time he gets his hands on the ball. That should happen more.

The offensive line is a bit banged up in the spring, so what we're seeing in practice isn't a true gauge of how the run blocking will be in the fall. I believe Lawrence Green, all 332 pounds of him, will be a huge help at left guard. My feeling is Donald Thomas will win the other guard spot, and as a fifth-year senior he brings experience and power (he's one of the strongest guys on the team) to the line. But there's still work, and healing, to be done on the line.

Q: What's up with Jarrell Miller? He was supposed to be a super recruit but haven't heard much on him.
-- Jaxson, Fitchburg, Mass.

A: Jarrell is working with the 2's at middle linebacker. Danny Lansanah is established there, and a candidate for one of the captains. He's big and fast, but as long as he's in the middle he will be in a backup role with the linebacker rotation.

Q: (In your last mailbag) you said "I love to rank things, no matter how random: all-time TV shows, rock drummers, movies featuring John C. Reilly, Sinatra songs. You name it, I'll rank it." Don't leave me hanging, what are the rankings? Obviously, New York, New York is the best Sinatra song but what about the others?
-- Max Power, Springfield

A: Any Yankees fan has to agree that New York, New York is the best Sinatra tune. I'll follow that up with 2) My Way; 3) Summer Wind; 4) The Way You Look Tonight and 5) Luck Be a Lady. Somewhere, Tom McCormack is smiling.

Top 5 all-time TV shows: 1) The Sopranos; 2) Cheers; 3) Seinfeld; 4) The Simpsons (for you, Max Power); 5) The Wonder Years (didn't see that one coming, did ya?). The Office is making a solid run at the top five. Just not enough longetivity there yet.

Top 5 rock drummers: 1) Neil Peart of Rush; 2) Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater; 3) John Bonham of Led Zeppelin; 4) Alex Van Halen and 5) This 12-year kid, who's not in a band yet bit is no joke. This kid's not bad either (plus, he's playing Rush, and doing a decent job).

Top 5 uses of John C. Reilly in a movie: 1) As Chest Rockwell in Boogie Nights; 2) As Carl Naughton Jr. in Talladega Knights; 3) As Happy Jack in Gangs of New York; 4) As Murph is The Perfect Storm and 5) As Monk Arnie Shankman in Anger Management,

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

D.J. now a W.R.

The big story today was supposed to be Tyler Lorenzen's first meetings with the media since spring practice began. Instead, you'll be reading all about D.J. Hernandez's move to wide receiver in the state papers.

Here are the nuts and bolts of the maneuver.

Randy Edsall said the move was Hernandez's idea, something D.J. first came to him about before spring practice even started. Edsall, who had also been thinking about a possible position switch, told Hernandez he wanted him to remain at quarterback through the first scrimmage. The plan was that after those first six practices, if D.J. fell behind Tyler Lorenzen and Dennis Brown in the race, then the move would be made.

That's exactly what happened. After playing QB during Saturday's scrimmage, Hernandez was in Edsall's office at 7 a.m. Monday to discuss a course of action. During Tuesday's practice, Hernandez was lined up at receiver.

The move has nothing to do with injuries at wide receiver, Edsall reiterated (receiver Ellis Gaulden will miss about six months with ligament damage to his foot, Kevin Poles has missed time with a hamstring). It was something Hernandez wanted to do because it gives him his best opportunity to contribute this season. He will still be the team's third-string quarterback -- Edsall said the plan is to redshirt incoming frosh Cody Endres -- but unless there are injuries to Lorenzen and Dennis Brown, Hernandez won't take any more snaps at quarterback this season. He's a full-time wide receiver.

Hernandez, of course, wasn't available for comment. His turn to speak to the media was two weeks ago. But Edsall and Lorenzen both talked about the switch.

"His big thing is he's a competitor and he wants to play," Edsall said. "He felt if he was going to be the third guy, he wanted the opportunity to get on the field and play. He felt at wide receiver that would be the opportunity for him to do that. I told D.J. at the time to let it run its course through six practices.

Edsall mentioned it was the same situation as when Keron Henry was switched from QB to receiver a few years ago.

"As a coach, you want (a player) to have to see it for themsevles. If they see if for themselves, they come to you. I told the coaches before the spring I am not going to approach him.
I said we're going to let this thing play out and see where it stands. When he came to me about it, that's when I put my plan into effect where it's lets go through x number of days and evaluate it. He evaluated it as well and he and I were both on the same page."

Lorenzen, who has worked closely with Hernandez in learning the offense, even threw passes as D.J. worked on his routes back in January. Now, it's Lorenzen, who was moved from QB to WR at Iowa State three years ago, who has given some advice to Hernandez about switching positions.

"I told him that first practice, you're going to be tired," Lorenzen said. "I remember my first practice (at receiver) I was dead. He was a little winded, but I'll go back (to the locker room) and see how he's doing now.

Lorenzen said he expects the transition for Hernandez to be smooth.

"(Hernandez) knows the offense, he knows the protections, he knows what I'm supposed to be doing," Lorenzen added. "I don't have to tell him anything, he already knows and is a step ahead. D.J. is a tremendous athlete, and he'll do fine."

As for how Hernandez performed on his first day, well, let's just say he got a little clue as to how it would be when he stepped into the pre-practice wide receivers meeting. The defensive backs had snuck in earlier and hung a sign with Hernandez's number 14 in the middle of a bullseye.

"They have so much respect for him, I think that's what that shows," Edsall said. "I think they thought they might be able to take advantage of him his first day, but they found out he's a tremendous athlete and a tremendous competitor."

Hernandez had his moments in practice, catching a couple of quick outs and dancing past defenders for nice gains like we've seen so many times before with his QB scrambles. But he also got a couple of 'welcome to wide receiver' hits from Darius Butler.

The first came after an interception by Robert Vaughn. As Vaughn was making his return, Butler leveled an unsuspecting Hernandez with a block, sending him flat as a pancake and illiciting cheers from the defensive unit.

About 20 minutes later, a pass from Lorenzen heading Hernandez's way hit D.J. square in the face mask. In the moment Hernandez staggered back as the ball bounced out of bounds, Butler came in again and laid the wood -- once again sending the newest receiver to his back.

"I tell you what, 'But' got him pretty good," Edsall said. "But I'm sure they're in there right now sharing a laugh about it."

A few other notes and observations from Tuesday:

  • Dan Ryan was dressed, and though he didn't participate in contact drills he did sprints at the end of practice. He said though he's disappointed at his injury, a class three ankle sprain, he's aiming to be ready to play in the spring game next month.

  • Trey Tonsing is out for the rest of the spring with a broken fifth metatarsal bone in his foot, suffered during a drill last Thursday. He was on crutches Tuesday. "It's a six week (recovery period), but he should be fine," Edsall said.

  • Cody Brown won't be practicing on Tuesday's and Thursday's because of academic issues. He's still eligible, but Edsall has warned him to get the books in order or it could lead to bigger problems.

  • Dennis Brown caught an earful from Edsall for telegraphing his passes. "Stop staring everything down!" Edsall said.

  • Injured free safety Glen Mourning also caught Edsall's wrath. "Hey Glen! Are you practing today?," Edsall bellowed. "I thought you were practicing today!" When Mourning indicated he wasn't practicing, Edsall responded "You should go play tiddleywinks."

More tomorrow

Monday, March 26, 2007

We've got reader mail!

There were some quick responses to my call for reader mail, so let's get to 'em.

Question: Chip, Can you give us a top 5 for position battles based on what you've seen in practice? I'm curious as to where the most heated competitions are taking place.
-- Huskypantz

CM: Good question, especially since I love to rank things, no matter how random: all-time TV shows, rock drummers, movies featuring John C. Reilly, Sinatra songs. You name it, I'll rank it. Back to the question, here's how I'd break it down after two weeks.

1. Quarterback. Obviously, this is the most closely watched position battle, continuing a UConn tradition since spring 2005. Keep in mind it's virtually impossible to make any reasonable guess as to who is the front-runner since the media has only seen a handful of drills. From what I've seen, I would say Dennis Brown and Tyler Lorenzen have looked the best. Brown seems to throw a slightly better ball, but Lorenzen might be a better runner. I would guess these two will be the starters in the spring game, but which is at the helm of the first team and which the second is too tough to call. Maybe one will emerge in a few weeks. I'm not counting D.J. Hernandez out just yet, either.

2. Defensive tackle. Dan Davis had minor surgery, and hasn't been practicing, but we know he'll start at one of the DT slots. It's between Rob Lunn and Brandon Dillion for the other spot, and this could be a decision that's not made until the summer. Dillon was held up with a nagging hamstring, so Lunn, a backup the last two seasons, could have a slight edge.

3. Strong side linebacker. Barring injuries, there will be a redshirt freshman starter there for sure as Scott Lutrus and Greg Robinson are the only two on the depth chart at the moment. Both are raw, but with a lot of apparent ability. Lutrus is a bit more physically imposing, but both are very athletic.

4. Left tackle. This may have been the No. 2 battle if Dan Ryan didn't injure his ankle. Will Beatty, a starter coming off a broken leg, isn't as physically strong as Randy Edsall would have liked him to be entering the spring. Edsall was hoping Ryan would push Beatty back to form, but Ryan sprained an ankle and hasn't practiced for over a week. Zach Hurd is now at left tackle with Beatty. Expect this battle to really heat up over the summer.

5. The safeties. Everyone is listed as a starter on the spring depth chart, but none of the five in contention have ever really been a starter. Senior Donnell Ford and true frosh Aaron Bagsby are in competition at strong safety. Robert Vaughn, pressed into action as a true frosh last fall because of injuries, is listed with Glen Mourning and Corey Stringer at free safety. Edsall lined up just behind the safeties during a red zone drill at last Thursday's practice and it wasn't pretty. He was instructing all of them on what they did wrong after just about every snap. Inexperience will do that. I think Vaughn should win a job by the time spring is out. Ford and Bagsby may be drawn out a little longer.

More of my own (very early) speculation regarding some other 'OR' spots on the spring depth chart: Donald Thomas will start at right guard and Mike Hicks at right tackle.

Q: You haven't heard from us because we haven't heard much from you. Randy's closed scrimmage and limited practice coverage is small time football. Tell him if he wants to be a big time coach at a big time program he needs to lighten up with the Tom Coughlin imitation.
-- No name given

A: Um...yeah. I'm sure that would go over well. By the way, what's with the anonymous comments? There have been way too many on this blog over the last eight months. At least have the decency to give me a fake name. That's what I always do when sending obnoxiously self-assertive email to various members of the local media. This wasn't a question, but anonymous does bring up a good issue: spring practice policies for media set by Division I football programs.

UConn will practice 15 times this spring (inlcuding the spring game), and the media is invited to all but four. I didn't think that was terrible, considering there are some programs that close all practice sessions to the media. My only issue at UConn this spring is that the players available for post-practice interviews have been pre-selected, at least through the end of March. I always enjoyed the spring because it provided the freedom for media to give readers a variety of stories after practice. Now, we writers all have pretty much the same stuff.

Anyway, I did a quick, informal survey today to see what the media policy was around the Big East as well as at a completely random selection of other schools around the country. I was somewhat surprised to find UConn is relatively strict with the media. Most schools are open to media every practice, many to the public as well. Of course, there were some schools running things a lot tighter. Here's what I found.

In the Big East

Cincinnati: Is all open to media and the public, although the policy about being open to the public is being reviewed, accoring to Cincinnati SID Kelby Siler. Nippert Stadium, where the Bearcats play and practice, is located in the middle of campus and impossible to close off (kind of like the old Memorial Stadium at UConn). Cincinnati would like to keep the public out, but can't do much about it considering there are no gates.

West Virginia: All practices are open in their entirety to the media. Only the spring game is open to the public.

Louisville: All practices open to the public and media, with video and photo limited to the first 30 minutes. Keep in mind this is a dramatic change under a new coach in Steve Kragthorpe. Last summer, Bobby Petrino closed all practices to the media and public because he felt too much information was getting out.

Pittsburgh: The media is allowed to watch all practices from start to finish, with coach and player availability each of the 15 days. They are not open to the public.

South Florida: Similar policy to UConn. All practices are open to media, but the scrimmages are closed. Photo and video for the first 30 minutes only. Practice is closed to the general public, but family members of players are generally allowed. John Gerdes, the sports info director, said things are much tighter in the fall.

Syracuse: Only five practices are open during the spring, and media gets only a 20-minute window to observe. No public.

Rutgers: All practices are open entirely to the media. No public access.

Sampling from around the country

I picked schools for no reason other than they were the first to pop into my head. Here are the 11 who had their practice policy immediately available on their websites.

Florida, Texas A&M, UCLA, Oregon State: All practices open to media and public.

Baylor: All practices closed to the media.

Arizona State, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin: All practices open to media.

Boise State: Eight practices are open to media.

Oklahoma: Limited practices are open for media to view, but coach Bob Stoopes is available for interviews after all 15 practices.

Arkansas: Practices are open to media, but the early bird gets the worm. The Razorbacks are practicing at 5 a.m. this spring.

The mailbag is still open. Are there any more questions? Send to or send through the comments below.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Got a question?

Perhaps it's because of my mid-winter hiatus from blogging, or maybe it's because I'm dizzy from paint fumes, but we're two full weeks into spring practice and I haven't heard much from you readers. The mailbags are always fun, so here's another open invitation to send me your questions concerning the spring. I'll answer anything and everything. Post them in the comments section or hit me at

Next open practice is Tuesday.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I'll have a large wood finish-flavored coffee with a shot of varnish, please

Woke up bright and early this morning, ready to spend today staining the windows in my house. I made a quick trip out to get some coffee, which I brought back with me to sip while I painted. Bad move. After slapping on that first little bit of stain, I proceeded to dip the paintbrush into my full cup of coffee instead of the paint can. It's been one of those mornings.

Here's a portion of my notebook from today's Register that didn't make our website.

Brookfield ’s Scott Lutrus may feel a bit like a pinball the way he’s bounced between linebacker positions since arriving at the University of Connecticut .

In the eight months since he’s been on campus, Lutrus, a Register All-State selection in 2005, has moved from the outside to the middle to back outside this spring as one of two players competing for the starting job at strong side linebacker.

“I switched positions when I first got here, then switched back a few weeks ago so it’s kind of like starting over with a new position,” Lutrus said. “But these past few weeks I’ve been studying hard and watching a lot of film.”

Lutrus, at 6-foot-2, 227-pounds, was redshirted last fall despite making quite an impression on the coaching staff in preseason practice sessions. Despite his youthfulness and inexperience at middle linebacker, he showed the speed and strength to play the position right away.

Only when the coaches realized it would be more beneficial for Lutrus to spend the semester learning in practice and hitting the weights was he taken out of the mix.

He was expected to be a backup to senior Danny Lansanah in the middle this season when an opportunity opened up on the outside. Donta Moore, the starting strong side linebacker last season, was dismissed from the team for academic reasons in December. Moore ’s backup, Justin DeRubertis, wasn’t returning for his final season of eligibility.

Lutrus decided to seize the chance. He went in to ask coach Randy Edsall is he could move back to his old position. Edsall, already considering the switch, was one step ahead.

“We needed to move someone,” Edsall said. “We felt our best option was to put Scott outside. He learned some of the position in the preseason and we felt he had the body structure and makeup to play there.”

Lutrus is competing with fellow redshirt freshman Greg Robinson, a competition that may well last deep into August. Both players are athletic and strong, but both are still learning the nuances of the position.

“Scott took advantage of last year not playing and got stronger in the weight room,” Edsall said. “Now, he just needs more repetitions to get down the fundamentals and techniques.”

Hicks healthy, impressive

Seymour ’s Mike Hicks first season as a starting offensive lineman ended prematurely when he injured his knee and ankle late in the season.

But he’s healthy again and making quite an impression on Edsall with his improved strength and confidence.

“He’s starting to come out of his shell a little bit,” Edsall said. “He’s opened up a lot more. When you go up and say something to him, he says something back and jokes with you. He’s also gotten a lot stronger.”

Hicks, the team’s largest player at 6-foot-7 and 335 pounds, increased his squat to over 600 pounds despite “maybe having the worst (squat) technique I’ve ever seen”, according to Edsall.

A sophomore to be, Hicks is firmly entrenched as the starter at right tackle.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday practice: a little of this, a little of that.

Some news and notes from Thursday's open practice. Randy Edsall called it an intense practice, with some hitting and tackling that wasn't supposed to be but wound up taking on a lfe of its own.
  • Ellis Gaulden's injury is a bit more severe than Randy Edsall first thought. Gaulden was on crutches, and may be on them for another six weeks. Edsall said Gaulden is having a procedure done tomorrow to see how much ligament damage there is, and there's potential for a screw insertion. It could be a couple of months before Ellis is cleared to practice again. Tough break for a guy whose already torn the ACL is both knees since arriving at UConn.

  • Donald Brown is over his stomach virus, but left practice early Thursday after falling on his surgically-repaired shoulder. Edsall didn't think it was anything too serious.

  • Scott Lutrus is happy to be back at outside linebacker. Moved to the middle last summer to help with depth, he could have been slated to back up Danny Lansanah there this fall. Instead, with the losses of Donta Moore and Justin DeRubertis, Lutrus is competing with fellow redshirt frosh Greg Robinson to start at strong side backer. More on Lutrus in tomorrow's Register.

  • Terrence Jeffers, who has been making some athletic receptions during practice, says all three quarterbacks are looking pretty good to him. "I couldn't even call it," Jeffers said. "They're all getting reps with the 1's. Dino and Tyler are pretty similar. D.J. throws a softer ball that's easy to catch. There's not too much of a difference. A spiral comes into my hands the same way."

  • Jeffers, a solid 214 pounds, says his added strength from off-season weight lifting has given him confidence on downfield blocking. Edsall said he likes the fact that Jeffers won't be easy to bring down by the opposition. "It's going to take some effort to tackle him," Edsall said.

  • Mike Hicks is feeling healthy again after knee and ankle injuries slowed him for the final three games. He recently turned in a squat of over 600 pounds, but didn't win style points for his technique. "It might have been the worst technique I've ever seen," Edsall joked.

  • Edsall spent most of the last 45 minutes of practice standing in the end zone to focus on his secondary during the first red zone drill of the spring. There was a lot of coaching going on. Edsall, a former defensive backs coach in the NFL, says the secondary will be his pet project this spring. With all the inexperience at safety, he'll be busy.

  • Andre Dixon might be the third tailback this season, but he's running the ball pretty darn well this spring. Edsall says he's very quick and more disciplined, but needs to work on the little things.

  • Funny moment of the day: During the red zone drill, D.J. Hernandez threw a pass that was blocked at the line of scrimmage. It wound up in the hands of 332-pound o-lineman (and chatterbox) Lawrence Green, who rumbled a few yards before taking a couple of hits. His momentum propelled him just over the goal line, where he leapt up with arms raised, took a few steps to where Edsall was standing, shouted some more words of encouragement before slapping Edsall on the rear end -- eliciting a big smile from the coach. Green was still whooping it up as he headed back his huddle.

More tomorrow....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dennis Brown and more on the left tackles.

Dennis Brown packed on about 25 pounds of muscle in the six months from the end of his freshman season to the start of practice last August. Primed to make Randy Edsall's decision on a starting quarterback a difficult one, Brown wound up being redshirted last fall.

He made the most of the down time, continuing his weight room sessions while analyzing hours and hours of game film. Once again in the running to nail down the starting job, Brown is showing Edsall he's made major strides in his understanding of the position.

"He understands the offense more than what he did before," Edsall said after Tuesday's open practice. "I think (the redshirt year) helped him from a strength standpoint and also helped him tremendously from a mental standpoint. He’s got excellent velocity on his throws. He has been pretty accurate. He just needs to get more and more repetitions. He does throw a nice tight spiral."

Of course, there's always room for improvement.

"He needs to work on everything," Edsall said. "All these kids need to work on everything. There’s nobody that’s just a complete player right now."

Brown says he's no stranger to hard work, whether it's the weight room, classroom or film room.

"It's just school and football right now," Brown said. "Since I've been (at UConn) I've stayed up here and just try and be around the coaches as much as possible. When I watch film, going over the games, I just pick out the mistakes and stuff like that. That's how you learn, from you making mistakes and other people making mistakes. You just put it in the back of your head, and sometimes that situation will come up in a game."

Left tackle frustrations

In football, left tackle is considered the most important slot on the offensive line. It’s usually the place for a team’s best pass blocker because he's protecting the quarterback's blind spot (if the quarterback is right-handed).

But just a week into spring practice at the University of Connecticut, coach Randy Edsall’s patience is wearing a bit thin with his best two left tackles.

First, two-year starter Will Beatty showed up out of shape after slacking off in winter weight room sessions. Then, Norwich’s Dan Ryan rolled an ankle after hurdling a bush at a local movie theater on Thursday.

One writer asked Edsall which ankle Ryan injured. "Do you think I'm in the kind of mood to know which ankle it was?" Edsall replied.

As a result, Beatty is behind the rest of the starting linemen in terms of strength while Ryan is in danger of missing extended time this spring. On Tuesday, Edsall moved Zach Hurd over from right tackle to help push Beatty, a talented player who is coming off a broken leg suffered midway through last season.

"It’s always hard for me because I’m supposed to politically say the right things, but I’m a little disappointed in Will," Edsall said. "He didn’t take advantage of his time in the weight room, where he could have gotten stronger. If you take a look at our other offensive linemen, you can see physically how much better they are than they were in the fall.

"He’s better on his assignments, but he should be a lot stronger. That’s a discussion I’ve had with him and a discussion I’ve had with his dad."

While recovering from his leg injury, suffered at South Florida on Oct. 7, the coaches scheduled extra time in the weight room for Beatty, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound junior to be who won a starting job as a freshman. Beatty showed up for the sessions, Edsall said, but didn’t put in the full effort needed. His power lifts don’t compare with those of fellow linemen Mike Hicks of Seymour or Donald Thomas of West Haven.

"I feel 100 percent," Beatty said. "Our depth at the position is a good thing because now there’s competition, and I’m fighting for my (starting job)."

Ryan, a 6-9, 313-pound sophomore to be, took over at left tackle when Beatty went down last fall. His mammoth size and rapidly improving technique put him in line to win the job for this season.

Now, he could miss the spring after injuring his ankle in the parking lot at the Buckland Hills cinemas. Edsall said Ryan tried to leap over some shrubs to get to his car and landed on a curb, rolling his ankle in the process. Ryan watched from the sideline with his ankle in a protective boot on Tuesday.

"It could be two weeks, it could be three weeks, it could be the whole spring," Edsall said. "I don’t know. I’m hoping to get him back, but I don’t know if he’ll be at full speed and be able to push off the way he needs to. It takes away from his opportunity to be competing for a starting position. I know accidents happen, but you sure as heck don’t want to be missing practice because you tried to jump over a bush."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Lou train, extreme hedge jumping and other bizzare news from practice

College hockey season is finally over, at least for me. Quinnipiac made a valiant effort at the ECAC final four in blizzard conditions in Albany, N.Y. over the weekend, but came up just short of winning an NCAA tournament bid. The Bobcats beat St. Lawrence, the No. 11 team in the country, to advance to the finals where they led Clarkson 2-0 heading into the third period. But Clarkson, ranked third in the country, scored four unanswered goals to spoil a great run.

So it's back to UConn football for me. I'll be heading up to Storrs for all the open practices the rest of the spring, praying gas prices don't spike any higher and hoping the Nor'easters are over until next winter. At least we weren't out on a snow-covered field watching the team practice today. At any rate, expect the Runway to be at full strength for the next month.

Here's a recap of Tuesday's open practice.

  • The Huskies were in pads and tackling, or as was the case whenever Lou Allen got the ball, trying to tackle. Allen broke off a couple of long runs and looked like a runaway tractor trailer. "(At 238 pounds) he's a load," Randy Edsall said. "Coming around that corner with a head of steam, he'll throw the fear of God into some people."

  • Edsall said Allen will no longer be simply the goal line back. He'll spell Donald Brown as his top backup and have a more significant role on offense.

  • Brown missed Tuesday's practice with a stomach virus.

  • 6-foot-9, 313-pound offensive lineman Dan Ryan is big enough to step over a Volkswagon in one full stride, but apparently he's not much of a leaper. Ryan watched from the sidelines with a protective boot on his ankle today after he was injured last Thursday. It seems he tried to hurdle a bush in the parking lot at the Buckland Hills cinema in Manchester, but landed awkwardly on the curb and rolled his ankle. That must have been a sight to see. Edsall said Ryan could miss two weeks, three weeks or maybe the whole spring. "I just don't know," Edsall said.

  • Will Beatty has recovered from his broken leg, but landed in Edsall's doghouse after going half speed during off-season weight room sessions. Ryan was primed to win the job outright in the spring, but after his failed Edwin Moses impersonation at the movie theater, it looks like Ryan has also taken two steps backward. Zach Hurd was switched over from right tackle to help push Beatty back into shape. More on this story in Wednesday's Register.

  • I always thought Dennis Brown had a good arm, but never realized just how good it was. He throws bullets.

  • Wide receiver Ellis Gaulden hurt his foot Tuesday. It may not be serious. If Gaulden can stay healthy, he'll be a real help to the passing game.

  • Terrence Jeffers could be one of UConn's breakout players this fall. He hit the weight room hard over the winter, and looks like a scaled down version of Calvin Johnson. Keep an eye on him at the Blue-White Game. Brad Kanuch also got bigger, and is still a burner. He showed that after outrunning everyone after one catch.

More to come tomorrow......

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The first day of spring is here

I've been in college hockey mode for much of the last three months. I got back from Ithaca, N.Y. Sunday and will be heading back upstate (to lovely Albany, N.Y.) on Thursday to cover Quinnipiac University's quest for an NCAA tournament bid at the ECAC Championships. For those UConn hockey fans (if there are any) who haven't kept up with the Q since they departed Atlantic Hockey for the ECAC, let's just say things are going well. The Bobcats opened a state-of-the-art $52 million dollar arena in January which rivals UConn's new football facilities in terms of opulence, and are currently ranked 18th in the nation.

However, I was able to get up to UConn this afternoon for the first spring practice. I must say, it was quite different covering spring practice in the Shenkman Center. The last two years were spent staving off frostbite at the outdoor practice fields and being unable to write anything during the interview sessions because your hands were frozen into a claw. But it was warm and toasty Tuesday, with players and coaches in shorts and sleeves and no worries of slipping on wet turf or clearing phlegm for 45 minutes on the drive home.

Here's a quick roundup of what went down and what some of the players had to say.

  • If Dan Davis isn't elected captain, I'll personally petition for a recall election. He exudes leadership, at least in his dealings with the media. By the way, after sitting out the spring following arthroscopic surgery to clear cartilage in his knee, Davis says he'll have plenty of pent-up aggression to unleash once preseason practice starts in August. "My major will be violence," Davis said. I'll take a wild stab and predict Danny Lansanah and Larry Taylor will be selected as the other captains.

  • Davis was 287 at the official team weigh-in, but says he's dropped to about 280 in his search for the ideal playing weight at his new position, defensive tackle.

  • Donald Brown bulked up to 214, about five pounds heavier than he was listed last fall. He says the biggest difference between this spring and last spring is in his confidence.

  • It's amazing how much one can learn about sports injuries in this profession. Today's lesson was on distal clavicle osteolysis. Brown said he had surgery in December for the disorder (he says he's finished with his rehabilitation and is at 100 percent). After checking WebMD, I found the condition is caused by trauma to the shoulder and is also a common weight lifting injury.

  • Hamden resident Jameson Davis, who left the Wisconsin football team following an arrest last January, is at UConn practice as a walk-on. A speed demon who played quarterback and defensive back at Hamden High, Davis is eligible to play this fall. “He’s been admitted to the school and asked if he could come out for the team,” Edsall said. "Anyone who’s admitted and wants to walk on, we’ll give them a tryout. He’s here trying to earn his stripes."

That's all I've got for now. Gotta get back to the hockey rink.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Spring ball is here!

Some highlights from Randy Edsall's media teleconference this morning to preview spring practice.
  • Immanuel Hutcherson, Donta Moore and Dahna Deleston are no longer in school. Edsall alluded that all three were academically dismissed by the university. "It's not football-related, it's not a legal issue," Edsall said. "The number one reason why they're here in school is to get an education."

  • Anthony Barksdale and Johnathan Smith are both transferring.

  • Keith Gray will not participate in spring contact drills. Dan Davis, now a defensive tackle, had minor surgery and may not be available to practice. Ryan Henegan will miss at least Tuesday's first practice because of mononucleosis. Brandon Dillon could be slowed with a hamstring injury.

  • Don't expect to hear much from Edsall regarding the progress of his three quarterbacks this spring. "We'll have three guys getting as many reps as we can get them, and we'll see where they're at at the end of spring," Edsall said. "It's not something I'll probably comment about after each practice or every week. Throughout the spring they'll be evaluated and we'll make a decision based on where they're at at the end of 34 days from a physical standpoint, what we see on the field and what we see in the classroom."

  • Some interesting battles based on the spring depth chart could be shaping up, where several positions have multiple starters listed. Among those to watch, aside from quarterback, are at strong-side linebacker (Greg Robinson and Scott Lutrus), left tackle (William Beatty and Dan Ryan), right tackle (Mike Hicks and Zach Hurd) and free safety (Robert Vaughn, Glen Mourning and Corey Stringer). Donnell Ford and Aaron Bagsby will also share reps at strong safety, as will Rob Lunn and Brandon Dillon at defensive tackle and Donald Thomas and Alex LaMagdelaine at right guard.

  • Trey Tonsing, starting center in 2005, has returned to the team and is listed as backup to Gray. But since Gray won't be participating in contact drills, Tonsing will have every opportunity to show Edsall he's improved.

  • Kicking practice should be rather intimate this spring. Punter Desi Cullen and kicker Tony Ciaravino are the only kickers on the roster.