Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pre-vacation thoughts

I'm heading off to Florida for a week of vacation starting tomorrow, and I'm getting antsy. Here's a blogs-worth of random, meaningless observations as I count the hours til I collapse into a beach chair with a cold drink for a week of doing a whole lot of nothing.

  • So it turns out Curt Schilling's bloody sock was bogus -- at least that's what broadcaster Gary Thorne claims Red Sox backup catcher Doug Mirabelli said. I knew it. The first thing I said when I was watching that game live? "That's fake." OK, it probably was blood. But would it surprise you if Schilling faked it?

  • Other famous athletes who milked injuries for the cameras...Michael Jordan pretending to be near death with the flu during in the 1997 Finals against the Jazz; Kirk Gibson playing it for all it was worth during his home run trot in the 1988 World Series and every "injured" soccer flopper in the history of the sport.

  • Never mind the injuries. Joe Torre is killing the Yankees right now. He's burned out the bullpen, and it's not even May yet. He's never been smart with his bullpen maneuvering, but he took it to new heights during the Red Sox series last weekend. Sheesh, I long for the old days when Don Zimmer called all the shots while Joe spent the game picking his nose and snoozing behind his sunglasses.

  • Want a "bizzarro world" experience? Walk into any McDonald's in the state of Maine. It's clean, the workers are friendly and happy; it's almost like a real restaurant.

  • Three episodes into the final "8" of the Sopranos, and I'm still waiting for things to explode. There's been so much building and scene setting, but nothing's really happened yet. You'd think they would want to make every moment count considering this is it. Did anyone else think Uncle Junior's final appearance was in last week's episode? Just seemed to me they were closing the book on him with that final scene. What a waste, if it is. Uncle June was one of the great characters on the show, and never failed to leave me in stitches. Even the jokes he told last week were killing me (What did the blind man say when he walked past the fish monger?)

  • Glad Paulie Walnuts survived last week, too. Another character who cracks me up. I was on the floor when he was packing his suitcase for Miami and opened his closet to reveal about eight pairs of those ridiculous white shoes. If there's ever a Sopranos movie, Paulie simply has to be in it.

  • What is a 4-year old doing walking the sidelines during a college football game? Didn't we learn anything from Dusty Baker's kid a couple years ago?

  • If you're in the area, go check out the University of New Haven baseball team sometime. Talk about a lethal lineup. The Chargers have scored 61 runs on 57 hits in their last two games. They beat Assumption 35-12 on Monday and followed that up with a 26-3 win over Molloy Wednesday. There are at least three potential draft picks in the batting order with jaw-dropping numbers. One is a former All-Ivy League third baseman at Dartmouth who is hitting .500 (!!!!) this season, another is a former football teammate of Dan Davis' from Plainfield, N.J. who has a school-record 17 home runs and the other is a catcher from my alma mater (Amity) who has 60 RBIs in 38 games. Fun team to watch.

  • Finally, this clip of a Japanese baseball "brawl" from You Tube has made the rounds lately, but it's absolutely hysterical. Make sure you have the sound on for the full affect.

Feel free to send any other funny links or leave a comment. See you in South Beach!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

And Justise for all? CCSU star hopes so

The NFL Draft is this weekend, and the pickin's are pretty slim for Connecticut players this season. Looks like it could be a slow couple of days, though there are a few who will most certainly sign free agent contracts to at least get into NFL camps.

I've heard mixed reviews of UConn fullback Deon Anderson, but the concensus is that he will receive a more than a few free agent offers at the conclusion of the draft (if he's not picked, that it). UConn tailback Terry Caulley has received interest in several teams, according to his agent, including the Chargers, Lions, Saints, Redskins, Seahawks, Rams, Patriots, Panthers, Colts, Raiders, Buccaneers and Jaguars. Teams have taken notice of Terry's 4.31 speed, his wiggle and toughness. He won't be drafted, but should get an offer. Tight end Dan Murray could also have an offer or two soon after the draft.

Here's a story I wrote for today's Register on CCSU's Justise Hairston, the top rusher in Division I-AA last fall. The New Britain native may have the best chance of being drafted this weekend, and will definitely sign with someone if he's not. Enjoy.

NEW BRITAIN — Justise Hairston never doubted his ability as a football player. But when it came to assessing his chances in the NFL draft, Hairston was a realist.

Despite leading Division I-AA in rushing and earning All-America honors at Central Connecticut State last fall, Hairston knew the pitfalls for small conference players. Getting noticed and taken seriously by the NFL is always tougher for those not playing Division I-A football.

Hairston, a New Britain native, remains pragmatic about this weekend’s draft even after his eye-opening numbers at his recent pro day workout put his name on the draft board for just about every NFL team.

Considered the state’s best pro prospect, Hairston could be selected late in the seven-round draft, which begins Saturday (noon, ESPN) and runs through Sunday. If he’s taken, he would be the first CCSU player ever drafted. If he’s not drafted, Hairston is a lock to get into an NFL camp as a free agent.

"I always expect nothing but great things, but the draft is out of my hands," Hairston said Monday, shortly after an extended workout for the New England Patriots at New Britain High, where he played. "I look at the NFL as a job and something I’ve been interning for my whole life. I think my chances are great, but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be on the phone listening to offers to come to an NFL camp."

Hairston, a 6-foot-1, 222-pound bruiser, spent the last three seasons getting limited action as a backup at Rutgers. Slated for second string behind Ray Rice and Brian Leonard once again, Hairston transferred to CCSU in August for the opportunity to start.

He dominated the Northeast Conference, leading the country with 1,847 yards rushing. Hairston popped up on NFL radar screens last fall, helping his cause by competing in the Hula Bowl in Honolulu as well as the Texas vs. the Nation game in El Paso.

But it was his pro day workout at Yale earlier this month that truly got Hairston on the map. His 39-inch vertical leap is the best of any running back in the nation, and his broad jump of 10 feet, 4 inches is second best. Hairston bench pressed 225 pounds for 22 repetitions, showing upper body strength nearly comparable to offensive linemen, while running the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds.

Although Hairston wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month, a cross check of the numbers from his pro day with the backs at the combine would have put him among the top at that position.

The NFL has noticed. Over the past few weeks, Hairston says he has received several calls a day from teams wanting to talk or set up a workout.

"He started behind the eight ball because no one had graded him before," said Joe Linta, Hairston’s Branford-based agent. "No one really saw him at Rutgers, and in August and September, no one knew he had transferred to Central."

Linta said the teams who’ve shown the most interest so far are the Patriots, Dolphins, Colts, Eagles and Giants. His Monday workout with New England’s running backs coach may prove to be the barometer on whether Hairston is drafted. Scott Pioli, the Patriots’ vice president of player personnel, is a CCSU graduate. New England is also actively seeking a running back after the departure of Corey Dillon, the player with whom Hairston is most often compared because of his size and bruising running style.

Still, Hairston keeps everything in perspective.

"There’s only 240 or 250 guys drafted each year out of over 2,000," Hairston said. "To be in that top percentile is remarkable. It would be a dream come true to be drafted, but I understand the reality at hand. I’m humbled by it all and thankful for the opportunity."

Monday, April 23, 2007

McLean update: arrested twice

When I requested the arrest report for Brandon McLean from the UConn police department earlier today, I assumed the arrest log faxed over to me was the only one. Never assume. Turns out McLean was arrested again on Saturday, just three days after the first arrest. So after another call and request to UConn, here's what happened on Saturday.

McLean, Breanna Janey Evans, 18, of New Haven and Dexter Royes, 47, of New Britain, were all arrested Saturday at 1:37 the UConn police department. According to the report, police were dispatched to a fight in the lobby of police headquarters. Investigators revealed McLean and Royes had been involved in a disturbance outside the police department during which time each had struck another person. McLean and Royes were both arrested and charged with second degree breach of peace, issued a May 1 date at Rockville Superior Court and released.

Evans, also involved in the disturbance outside the department, discharged a canister of mace in the police department lobby, occupied by six people at the time. Evans was found to be in possession of a box cutter type knife during the incident. She was arrested, processed and is also scheduled to appear in court on May 1.

More on McLean

New Haven’s Brandon McLean, a junior wide receiver for the University of Connecticut football team, received a three-game suspension from coach Randy Edsall following an arrest on campus last week.

A university press release sent out Monday afternoon announced McLean was suspended for conduct unbecoming of a football player. He is not allowed to participate in any team activities through May 29 pending further information gathering.

He will be able to rejoin team functions after that date, but will not be allowed to play in the first three games of the upcoming season -- at Duke on Sept. 1 and home with Maine on Sept. 8 and Temple on Sept. 22.

The university had no further comments on the matter.

According to police reports, McLean was arrested Wednesday night at 8:25 after campus police responded to a domestic dispute at Hilltop Suites. After a brief investigation, officers learned McLean was asked to leave a dorm room and refused.

He also threatened a guest of a resident and was engaged in loud and tumultuous behavior, the police report said.

McLean was arrested and transported to police headquarters where he was processed and released on a $1,500 bond. He was charged with threatening, first degree criminal trespass and second degree breach of peace. All three charges are misdemeanors.

McLean could not be reached Monday.

Reached at home, McLean’s father, Lionel Nixon, said his son has a court date on May 16.

“All I can say is there’s an ongoing investigation, and Brandon will be innocent,” Nixon said.

McLean, a second-team Register All-State selection at Hyde in 2003, is a three-year letter winner who appeared in every UConn game in his career until breaking his ankle in October and missing the rest of last season. He has 32 career receptions for 353 yards and two touchdowns.

McLean suspended

UConn just made this announcement....

Connecticut Wide Receiver Brandon McLean Suspended From Team

STORRS , Conn. — University of Connecticut head football coach Randy Edsall announced on Monday that senior wide receiver Brandon McLean (New Haven, Conn.) has been suspended from the team for conduct unbecoming of a UConn football player. McLean will be suspended for the first three games of the 2007 season and from all team activities through at least May 29 pending further information gathering.

The University will have no further comments on this matter.

More to come.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Australian Rules golf

Here's why I love the internet (well, sometimes). Got an email from a bloke in Brisbane, Australia who stumbled across the Runway blog about Ted Knight I wrote a couple of months ago. He and some Aussie pals, who all worship Caddyshack, started a Ted Knight Memorial "Gof" (that's golf without the 'L') Invitational back in 1986, the year Ted passed away. It's been held annually at various courses in The Land Down Under, and the lads recently completed their 22nd tournament in December. They even have their own rather extensive website, with full results and participants. Seems like they get their fair share of drinking in with the golfing, or shall I say, 'goffing'. Definitely my kind of event! If I'm ever in Australia, I'd love to participate.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A little Sunday gravy: blogging Italian style.

Enjoying this lovely mid-April Sunday afternoon? Nothing like 18 hours of solid rain and Hurricane-force wind gusts to dreary up an already craptastic Connecticut spring.

Stuck inside all day? Never fear. The Runway is here. As my grandmother always said on rainy Sundays just like this, "You no worry...I cook up for you a nice-a blog, just-a the way you like, OK?" Just don't dunk pieces of Italian bread in the sauce. You'll get your hand slapped for making crumbs.

  • Having mixed feelings after the spring game yesterday? Just think back to the 2006 game. That should ease your mind. UConn is miles ahead of where they were a year ago. The offense looked brutal back then. There's still a long way to go, don't get me wrong. But Dennis Brown is a quarterback, and Tyler Lorenzen will be right there with him come August. Dennis had an up and down day. He started like gangbusters, leveled off, got hot again, leveled off again, etc. Randy Edsall summed it up like this. "I thought he tried to be too perfect. I thought instead of (Brown) letting it take it one play at a time and move on. He's got all the ability you're looking for in a quarterback. He just has to understand every play is not going to be a great play."

  • No suprises, but nothings been decided at QB. Edsall has said all along his intention wasn't to have the competition decided by the end of spring. "We probably won't name a starter until the Thursday before we play Duke." Get ready for four more months of healthy competition (and debate).

  • More quarterback fun. Dennis Brown's quarterback rating on Saturday was 45.05. Matt Vollono? 98.21. Excellent column by my collegue Dave Solomon on Vollono and what Saturday's game meant to him in today's Register. Even though Dave says he doesn't read blogs (well, la-de-freakin' da), I'll give the link to a good story anyway.

  • I'm a little worried about Larry Taylor at wide receiver. Once he gets the ball, forget it, he can make big things happen. But therein lies the crux. Throughout spring practice and again on Saturday, and even dating back to last season, it seems it's very difficult for quarterbacks to get him the ball because he's such a small target. He can't get over taller defensive backs in traffic, and even on the quick outs the QB has to put the pass right on the money. Would Larry's talent be better served by moving him back to being a scat back? I think so.

  • I've been saying it all spring, and they proved me right. Terrence Jeffers is looking like he'll be a top-notch possession receiver and the unquestioned No. 1 threat in the passing game. D.J. will have a big impact, too. He's the real deal. We didn't see Brad Kanuch targeted much Saturday, but his potential as a downfield threat is legit even if he's the third option this season. He reminds me of Kevin Curtis, now with the Eagles, incidentally.

  • Tough days for Donald Brown and Lou Allen. Call me a glass is half full guy, but credit the defensive line before getting too down on the o-line.

  • Speaking of the offensive line, Donald Thomas credits his two emergency starts last season (against Cincinnati and Louisville) with convincing himself that he could play and play well at this level. A former walk-on who played one year of high school football -- and that was as a freshman -- Thomas is one of the strongest players on the line. “I still have a lot to improve on, but going into the season I feel I should be starting and that I’m in a place where someone will have to take the spot away from me,” Thomas said. Against the Cardinals last December, Thomas was lined up opposite All-American defensive tackle Amobi Okoye – being touted by some NFL draft experts as a once in a generation player. “That was a confidence booster,” Thomas said of his day blocking Okoye. “Knowing I could play against him and that I can compete against the best competition helped me a lot.”

  • Six captains? Could be a club record. The team voted, but those ballots, at least partly, may have been tossed out the window. Forget about a recount. Edsall joked that the state ethics commission may come after him because he used his executive privileges to ensure those six guys became captains. “The most important thing is to get your leadership right, and I felt these were the six best on our team to lead us." It's good to be the king.

  • Just think, Scott Lutrus could have been in the Ivy League or at a Division I-AA program like UMass right now. UConn was one of the few I-A schools to court him, and Lutrus ate up the offer (much the way Edsall recalls eating up a terrific steak dinner at the Lutrus' house during an in-home visit). Lutrus, as you saw Saturday, has the potential to be one of the special ones. I liked that he and Desi Cullen went out and ran the Memorial Stadium steps earlier in the week, too. "At some point, Desi text messaged (outside linebackers coach) Lyndon Johnson and said we don’t want to hear about Orlovsky and Fincher anymore because we’re out here running these stinking steps.” Edsall said.

  • Your starting punter, field goal kicker and extra-point man next season? Could very well be the Kentucky Hammer. At any rate, incoming recruit Dave Teggart will have to win the place-kicking jobs from Cullen come August.

  • Did they just paint the dirt at the Runway green for yesterday's game? The field never looks great for the spring game, but my lawn is in better shape with nothing on it but a winter's worth of natural fertilizer (i.e. my dog's, uh, business).

  • They announced the attendance at 9,200 yesterday. Unlikely. My guess is there were closer to 3,000 in the stands.

  • Just re-read my opening paragraph, and my grandmother sound more like Borat. I was looking to nail down the Italian accent, in case you were wondering.

  • How about that opening episode of the Sopranos? I'm not sure if Bobby Bacala could have knocked out Tony in real life, though. Bobby seems like a lifelong fat guy (uncoordinated, unathletic) while Tony is a strong guy turned fat (i.e. Tony Siragusa). Here's my theory on what happened last week. The French-Canadian guy Bobby killed was in fact Janice's estranged son, Harpo (who, if I recall, lived in Montreal). The cops will trace the murder to Bobby (remember, the guy ripped his shirt before dropping dead) and an enraged Janice will either force Bobby to flip and turn government witness, or simply drop the hammer himself on T.

News will be sporadic until the July 17 Big East media day in Newport, R.I., but I plan to check in often to ramble just for the hell of it. Time to check on the sauce.

Friday, April 13, 2007

It's O vs. D at Blue-White game

Let's get this straight. Half the state of Louisiana and folks in parts of Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Michigan and Indiana can see tomorrow's spring game on television, but no Connecticutters south of Cheshire will be able to watch? I know, I know. Free admission and free parking should bring most folks who are interested out to the Runway to see for themselves. Just seems odd, that's all.

The format for the game will be tweaked a bit. It's offense vs. defense, with some modified scoring changes that will make the game seem a little more like a skills challenge. The offense can score the traditional six points for a touchdown, three for field goals and one for extra points. They'll also get a point for every first down. The defense gets six for touchdowns, but to make it even they will also get three points for turnovers and three-and-outs, two for drive stops and one for every sack -- two-hand touch sack, I presume. Expect a final score of around 87-79.

Supposedly, there are a lot of other programs that use non-traditional scoring for the spring game. It's kind of a necessary evil at UConn this season since a team quarterbacked by Dennis Brown would be favored by about 50 points over the one led by freshman walk-on Matt Vollono.

I have no problems with this. No one cares who wins or loses anyhow. It's a live scrimmage that gives fans a chance to see things like how far Brown has come since the fall of 2005, the play of the offensive line and D.J. Hernandez at wide receiver. Should be a nice day with temps in the low 50s. See you there.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Final tuneup before Blue-White

I logged onto the internet following UConn practice tonight and was as shocked as anyone at the big news story. Yes, Heather Locklear and Richie Sambora have finalized their divorce. Stunning.

OK, I'm sitting here in Gampel Pavilion at 7:15 and I have to pick up the wife from work at 8:30 in New Haven so the notes will be quick. Luckily, I work well under pressure.

  • Defensive linemen Mike Cox and Lindsay Witten showed up with Mohawks at practice, while Rob Lunn sported racing stripes shaved into the side of his head, emulating Arsenio Hall (minus the fade) circa 1989. Actually, I think Michael Irvin still rocks the stripes. Turns out the d-linemen gave each other the hair-don'ts last night. The Mohawk wouldn't have worked for Lunn, a little light on top to begin with, and he just wanted a way to participate. “(Cox) said I don’t have enough hair for anything else,” said Lunn, looking quite aerodynamic. “His exact quote was ‘now you look like you’re in flight’.” More on Arsenio Lunn in tomorrow's Register.

  • Lunn, a fun guy to listen to, loves what he's seen out of his fellow linemen (in terms of play, not hairstyles). "From day 1 to day 15, there's been a lot of progress," he said. "Alex Polito for instance ... I can't even describe it. He came out here and didn't know any plays, didn't know what he was doing, didn't even know how to lineup. Now he's out here making plays, lining up, checking calls." He also praised Cox, whose put on 25 pounds of muscle and has a non-stop motor, as well as Brandon Dillon and Lindsey Witten.

  • Dan Davis on the defensive line "We came along very well. The moves have helped a lot. Julius now at end, and me inside, we became more athletic and can do more things."

  • Edsall said the team has voted for captains, and he will tally the votes tonight with his 13-year old son. My money is on Davis, Lansanah and Donald Thomas.

  • Rosters and format for the spring game will be announced today.
And to finish up, practice ended with some fun and, as always, a moral to the story.

Edsall ended Thursday’s practice by telling the Huskies that if kicker Tony Ciaravino converted a 56-yard field goal, the team wouldn’t have to run their sprints.

Ciaravino got off a solid kick, but it sailed wide left at the last instant. As the team headed to the sideline to begin the sprint, Edsall heard cornerback Darius Butler murmur ‘double or nothing’.

So Edsall called the team back out to midfield. He was giving Ciaravino another chance, though not everyone was happy. Edsall heard some players doubting the kicker would come through, leaving them with double the sprints.

But Ciaravino blasted the lengthy kick through the uprights and igniting a celebration among the Huskies and providing Edsall a chance to teach a lesson about believing in one another.

“It was a great teaching moment for me from the standpoint that I could say ‘hey, you have to relish the opportunities you get and have a belief and a trust in each other that guys are going to do it.’ Tony making the kick helped me from a teaching standpoint.”

Whew. It's 7:35. Gotta move.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Some midnight reading: Tuesday practice recap

Well, it's 10 p.m. and I'm just getting around to the blog report from Tuesday's practice. Had a few things to take care of tonight, so better late than never.

The big news is that Tyler Lorenzen is out for the rest of the spring. He sprained his left knee last week, and that will keep him on the shelf. Everyone was looking forward to Lorenzen's much-anticipated Connecticut debut. Guess we'll have to wait until September -- that is, if he beats out Dennis Brown for the job.

Both Randy Edsall and Lorenzen seemed confident the injury was nothing serious. Lorenzen said it was a general knee sprain, and he's going through physical therapy and double pool sessions to improve range of motion and strength. He wore a helmet, no pads and shorts with a brand new knee brace to practice, where he spent some time throwing on the sidelines with injured receiver Ellis Gaulden (who was on crutches and with a boot on his ankle). Lorenzen still has a very noticeable limp, which he said was partly due to getting used to walking with the knee brace. I asked him if he was going to have to get used to playing this fall with the brace. "I guess I'll find out," Lorenzen said. "If it heals 100 percent, I'll have nothing to worry about. I'm in good hands (with the UConn trainers and doctors)." I have no reason to doubt Edsall and Lorenzen's sincerity. But a sprained knee often carries hidden surprises: torn cartilage, stretched or partially torn ligaments, that can't be truly be diagnosed until the swelling subsides. Let's hope everything heals smoothly.

What does this mean for the spring game? Most likely, we'll see a more controlled scrimmage with Brown running the first team offense and Matt Vollono taking most of the snaps with the second team. One things for sure: the quarterbacks are off limits. "They'll be wearing red jerseys," Edsall said. "I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid." Here's hoping Vollono doesn't repeat the five interceptions of Peder von Harten (running the Blue team for injured Matt Bonislawski) from the 2005 spring game. No chance that D.J. Hernandez takes any snaps at his old position. Edsall ruled it out. He's a full-time wide receiver now.

There were a couple of minor tussles during the drills that resulted in a lot of pushing and shoving between some offensive and defensive players. Edsall, watching for a moment or two, finally blew his whistle and shouted, "C'mon! You're wasting time!" You gotta love football.

D.J. Hernandez will be quite a play maker and a valuable asset to the offense this fall. Mark my words. He's got the size, speed and smarts to get open, hold onto the ball, then make things happen after the catch. He's looked very good the last few practices. On Tuesday, he made a spectacular diving catch on one play, then caught a quick out, turned around the cornerback and broke free for a 60 or 70 yard touchdown. "He's a gifted football player," Dennis Brown said. "No doubt." He's also laying the wood on downfield blocks (he buried Jameson Davis on Tuesday), getting even for his rude introductory practice. "That first day, (the DBs) got me good," Hernandez said. "But I told them after that they better keep their heads on a swivel, if they don't they're going to get it. I've already got some pizzas coming because I've been laying them out."

But here's why I think D.J. is in line for a huge year. He's happy again. The past two seasons, interview sessions with D.J. were sort of like root canal surgery. His answers were terse, often one word replies, that offered no insight. He almost went out of his way to avoid answering even the juiciest meatball questions. His facial expressions were usually blank, but it wasn't hard to see his frustrations over his inconsistent play (and almost constant injuries) were eating away at him. He was a competitor, and talking after a loss or game where he wasn't pleased with himself was difficult.

On Tuesday, it was a different story. D.J. was loose and relaxed. His answers were extensive and insightful. He even flashed a smile or two, and wasn't afraid to say what he was feeling -- genuine excitement over his new role.

"It's been going great," Hernandez said. "Our receiving core is stronger, we're stronger at the quarterback position with Dino and Tyler competing. I just want to win. If the coaches feel I'm going to help the team more at receiver, than I'm up for the challenge. I'm really looking forward to it."

He recalled playing receiver as a freshman and sophomore at Bristol Central, where his job was basically to block for Tim Washington (who averaged about 50 carries a game).

"It's a little different," Hernandez said. "Going out there now I feel I can let loose.It's like scrambling, that's the thing that comes natural to me. Catching the ball and making people miss is fun and makes others motivated to do that too."

And there will be no nerves on Saturday, when everyone gets their first look at D.J. the receiver at the Runway.

"I'm not nervous," Hernandez said. "If I do what I've been doing people will see and say 'man, he's better than I thought. He can play wide receiver, he's not just a slow quarterback who's going to sit on bench.' I'm so excited. I don't think I've been this excited for a game since Pop Warner or high school."

Friday, April 06, 2007

Miller keeping it real

Something to tide you over until next week.

It would have been easy for Jarrell Miller to enter his first spring football camp at the University of Connecticut with a little swagger considering his status as a blue-chip recruit.

Miller, a freshman linebacker who enrolled at UConn in January out of prep school, is the program's first Parade All-American and a former team MVP at the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

So while it would have been easy for Miller to enter the program with a big head, it probably wouldn't have been such a great idea.

"If he came in with an ego, there are guys on the team that would have deflated it pretty quickly," UConn coach Randy Edsall said.

Instead, Miller entered humble and prepared to learn. He's listed as a backup to senior Danny Lansanah at middle linebacker, a spot he'll likely remain at when the Huskies begin preseason camp in August. The decision whether to redshirt Miller or use him in a reserve role probably won't be made until shortly before summer practices break before the Sept. 1 opener at Duke.

Miller won't have a problem with whatever path the coaches feel is best.

"I can live with it," Miller said following UConn's 11th spring practice on Thursday evening at the Shenkman Center. "If they want to redshirt me, I will do it."

Edsall praised Miller for his work ethic since arriving on campus three months ago, and the proof is evident.

In mid-January, Miller met local media for the first time packing 270 pounds on his 6-foot-2 inch frame. By the official spring weigh-in last month, Miller tipped the scales at 259. On Thursday, he said he was down to 248 — about eight pounds from the ideal playing weight Miller has in mind.

"That's all coach (Gerard) Martin and coach (Drew) Wilson," Miller said, referring to the Huskies' two strength and conditioning coaches. "It's all conditioning."

Closer to where he wants to be physically, Miller is still trying to master the defensive playbook, an overwhelming task for any true freshman. He's made progress, much of it with the help of Lansanah, who has become somewhat of a mentor for the player being groomed as the successor to the middle linebacker position.

"I've been real impressed with him," Lansanah said. "Learning the playbook is a lot. Once he gets a grasp of that, he's going to be a good player. He's come a long way. He's doing everything right in drills. He still has to get faster by losing a little weight and get stronger."

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Channeling Herb Brooks (or Kurt Russell?)

Tyler Lorenzen limped off the practice field early on Thursday (see previous blog entry), but it doesn't seem like a major injury. Lorenzen was spotted walking (however gingerly) to dinner not long after practice. I know most folks (myself included) were anxious to see him play in next weekend's spring game. If he can't go, I'd expect to see Dennis Brown and Matt Vollono (with, perhaps, D.J. Hernandez for a series or two at the most) quarterbacking the two squads next weekend.

Some practice highlights...

Jarrell Miller made a nice hit on Lou Allen during a skel-o drill, forcing a fumble. I spoke with Jarrell after practice, and he said the two biggest adjustments he's making are with the speed of the college game and the playbook. Randy Edsall says Jarrell has been humble and working hard, and you need to look no farther than Miller's frame to see just how much work he's done since arriving in Storrs three months ago. Miller was 270 pounds when he met the media on Jan. 19. He said Thursday he's down to 248, and hoping to land at around 240 for an ideal playing weight. More on Jarrell in tomorrow's Register.


Tyvon Branch made a nice interception during the same skel-o drill, and returned it for a touchdown. But he pulled a Deion Sanders and high-stepped it with his hand behind his neck on the return, drawing the ire of just about everyone on the team. Donald Thomas jogged toward Branch making the jesture of a ref tossing a penalty flag, while both Hank Hughes and Edsall told Branch that would have cost the team 15 yards.


Zach Hurd limped off the field favoring his right leg. Trainers worked on him for a few minutes, but he returned to the field.


Freshman Corey Stringer is the nephew of Rutgers women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer. In the words of Johnny Carson, I did not know that. Quite a gene pool in that Stringer family. His cousins include late Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer, former All-Big 10 cornerback and Indianapolis Colt Deryk Toles and Michigan linebacker (and projected first-round pick in two weeks) Prescott Burgess.


In lieu of a weight room session Wednesday afternoon, Edsall arranged a screening of "Miracle", the Kurt Russell movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. The movie's "team first" message makes it a must-see for any athlete. Most of the team hadn't seen it before, which I didn't find all that shocking. But this surprised me a bit....

“Afterward the coaches sat with some of the guys at dinner and told them it was a true story,” Edsall said. “They couldn’t believe some of those things that happened that they showed in the movie in terms of the gas prices and all the things that were going on in the world at that point.”

Granted, none of the team was even born in 1980. In fact, even the fifth-year seniors were probably four years from this earth at the time. But not knowing about the Miracle on Ice? Man, I feel old.

Edsall told the team he remembered exactly where he when the U.S. beat the U.S.S.R. that day -- he was watching in his apartment at Syracuse. Hughes, Edsall said, actually attended the game (as well as the gold-medal game against Finland).

I was 7 at the time and didn't watch hockey at all back then, but watched it eagerly and remember exactly where I was when Al Michaels spouted off those famous words. It was a proud moment, and prefaced one of the thrills of my job -- meeting Herb Brooks just a few months before he died in an auto accident in 2003. He was head scout of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time and was in Boston to watch the Yale-Harvard hockey game. I was standing beside him outside the Yale locker room before it hit me the man standing next to me was Herb Brooks. We chatted idly for a minute or two, but all I thought about the whole time was that I was talking to the guy who orchestrated the greatest upset in sports history and perhaps the most memorable sports event of the 20th century. It was one of those moments I'll never forget.

Lorenzen limps away from practice, status unclear

Just left the comforts of the Shenkman Center, where UConn finished practice No. 11 of 15 on the spring. Here's the scoop...

Tyler Lorenzen left practice with about 15 minutes remaining, walking gingerly with team trainers. It didn't appear to be a devastating injury. Perhaps a sprained ankle. Could have been a knee. Lorenzen was walking with only a minor limp. Even Randy Edsall, right after practice, hadn't been informed what the injury was and that's probably a good sign. He admitted if it was serious, someone would have come back out and let him know before practice was over. "I would hope I wouldn't be the last guy to know (if it was serious)," Edsall said. The coach was expecting a full report during dinner from head trainer Bob Howard.

"I just saw him limp off," Edsall said. "Its hard for me to say, but it'll probably be a low ankle or a high ankle sprain. The good thing was he walked off. They took him off and put him right into the pools, which is a blessing. It was just a freak thing. The intensity was up today, it wasn't supposed to be but they got a little carried away. Danny (Lansanah) or someone pushed him and he rolled it a little. I don't think it's serious. If we get him back out here the last 3 or 4 practices that's great. If he can't, he'll be back ready to go in August."

I'll post a full practice recap later....

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Motivation easy to find for Davis

Couple of quick non-football related notes....

  1. I wondered yesterday about the official term for a native of Connecticut. We know about Floridians, Vermonters, Massholes, etc. The official ruling, from a highly-placed source, is "Connecticutter". Leigh Torbin (a big fan of Keith Moon's drumming, by the way) now has a new term to use in his UConn game notes besides Nutmeggers.

  2. I get on Alex Rodriguez as much as anyone, but even I think Yankee fans need to lighten up. The guy had two hits, a stolen base and a key two-run homer that sealed the opening day win over the Tampa Bay Triple-A Rays, and all anyone on the radio wants to talk about is his first inning strikeout and that the homer meant nothing. Give the guy a break. As for misplaying that pop-up in the first inning.....

  3. In case you missed it, Keith Richards says in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine that the strangest thing he ever snorted was his dead father's ashes mixed in with a little of his nose candy. Richards now says he was joking. Let's all light a candle for Keith.

Here's the Jameson Davis story that ran in print editions of today's Register.

STORRS – If at any time over the next several months Hamden’s Jameson Davis needs a quick dose of motivation, all he has to do is flip open his cell phone.

Davis ’ screen saver is a picture of Rentschler Field, home stadium of the University of Connecticut football team.

One quick look provides Davis , a vision of where he wants to be this fall. It also conjures up a subtle reminder of where’s he’s been and how the Huskies are providing him a second chance to revive his college football career.

“I look at it every day,” Davis said. “It’s where I want to be.”

Once a highly regarded recruit at Big Ten conference power Wisconsin , Davis is spending this spring trying to prove himself to coaches as a walk-on cornerback at UConn.

The Huskies are pretty well set at the position with Darius Butler and Tyvon Branch set to begin their third seasons each as starters. Davis is making strides toward getting time in nickel packages and as a special teams player.

It’s been a slow but steady process as UConn nears the end of spring practice.

“He’s out here working hard,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said of Davis . “He still has a long way to go yet in terms of things he has to master as a cornerback. There’s still a lot for him to learn, develop and digest as we go.”

A speedy quarterback and defensive back who earned Register All-State honors in 2003 at Hamden , Davis chose Wisconsin over a bevy of offers that included UConn. But in nearly three years with the Badgers, Davis played nothing more than special teams.

He didn’t help his situation when in January 2006 he and teammate Antonio Freeman were suspended from the team after an arrest in Jefferson County , Wisc.

According to police reports, a car Davis was driving was clocked at 101 miles-per hour. The responding state trooper found marijuana in the car. Freeman was charged with marijuana possession. Davis was charged with resisting an officer and being party to the crime of marijuana possession.

Davis pled not guilty to the misdemeanors, and was granted accelerated rehabilitation by a judge. He was eventually reinstated to the football team and remained with the Badgers all through preseason practice last August, deciding to leave school on the final day of camp.

His decision to leave Wisconsin , he said, was based on what was shaping up to be another season with little action on the field.

“You can tell when your time is dwindling,” Davis said. “I love football. I have to play. That’s what I do. I needed a better chance to get out on the field and get the job done, so I decided to come here.”

UConn was the logical choice for Davis . The Huskies had recruited him out of high school, and Davis made a visit to see the inaugural game at Rentschler against Indiana back in the summer of 2003. He spoke with coaches, who promised him nothing more than an opportunity to walk on.

“I just wanted to play,” Davis said. “It didn’t matter whether I was walk-on, school or had to sit. I was going to do whatever it took to put the pads on and be part of the team.”

Davis spent the fall semester taking classes at Gateway Community Technical College and working out to remain in football shape. He enrolled in classes at UConn in January and was listed third on the depth chart at cornerback to start spring practice last month.

It’s been quite a life experience for Davis, who says he’s learned from his past transgression and plans to make the most of his second chance.

“It’s humbling,” Davis said. “Sometimes it takes an incident like that to learn from. Unfortunately, that’s what it took for me. All I can do now is put it behind me and move forward.”

And whenever Davis needs a boost, a little extra incentive is just a flip of the cell phone away.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ten down, five to go: Tuesday's practice recap

A few obervations and reports from Tuesday's practice session.

  • In his first practice as a wide receiver, D.J. Hernandez took two monster hits from Darius Butler...the kind that get paused, rewound and played again in slo-motion during film sessions over and over again to whoops and hollers. One week later, D.J. dished out a little punishment. He buried safety Aaron Bagsby with a sick downfield block, drawing cheers from the team. Injured Dan Davis, watching from the sidelines, had the loudest response. "He's coming for you next!" he said, pointing to Butler. Here's hoping D.J. gets to run the rewind control himself during the film review of that play.

  • Today was Connecticut native day for postgame interview sessions. Well, for those Connecticut natives who haven't yet been called upon to speak to the media. So while Hernandez was again unavailable, walk-ons like Joe Hartigan (Manchester) and Alex Folsom (New Haven) were fair game. By the way, what's the proper term for a native of Connecticut. Connecticutian? Connecticutter? Someone get Governor Rell on the horn.

  • Actually, Tuesday's Connecticut day did provide the chance to speak with Hamden's Jameson Davis, a former Wisconsin defensive back now trying to walk-on to the Huskies. Davis is a good guy to talk to, and was very up front about his past transgressions. He's thrilled to be getting the chance to play again, even if it's in a reserve role and perhaps special teams. More on Jameson in Wednesday's Register.

  • Coach Edsall wasn't happy with Tuesday's effort, and it wasn't hard to see why. There were quite a few fumbles, which came in just about every variety. The center-quarterback snap, the quarterback-running back exchange, wide receivers running after the name it, there was a fumble for it.

  • No need to talk about Luke Cox, Edsall said. He's gone, end of story. Anthony Davis will handle all the fullback duties until incoming freshman Anthony Sherman arrives to help out over the summer. You won't see Lou Allen moved back (and that's a good thing...Lou has been great this spring and will see plenty of time spelling Donald Brown at tailback)... "We're not moving anyone else to fullback," Edsall said.

  • Glen Mourning has frustrated Edsall over the past two seasons with his unwillingness to practice through what I can only assume are minor injuries. Those days may be over. Since Edsall admonished Mourning at practice last week, the Danbury resident has been full speed, which the coaches need him to be to evaluate his progress. "I think the day I told him he should go play tiddleywinks, I think that hit home with him because since that time he's been out here practicing pretty hard," Edsall said. "I think that's when he got the message. Loud and clear. Since that time I've seen a different person."

See you Thursday after practice.

Monday, April 02, 2007

TV for spring game

Can't make it to the spring game? Watch it on live TV (if you have Cox Cable). Here's the school's press release.

UConn Athletics Forms Partnership With Cox Sports Television; Spring Football Game To Be Televised Live

STORRS , Conn. --- The University of Connecticut and Cox Sports Television have formed a new partnership that will see a number of UConn sporting events televised by the channel, including live coverage of the UConn Blue-White Spring Football Game on Saturday, April 14 at 12 p.m.

Cox Sports Television (Cox Channel 3) will also televise a UConn baseball game and softball doubleheader on a taped-delay basis this spring. The UConn vs. Providence College softball doubleheader on April 7 will be shown on Cox on Sunday, April 8 at 12 p.m. The UConn vs. University of Rhode Island baseball game on April 11 will be shown on Cox on Thursday, April 12 at 7 p.m. In addition, Cox will televise a men’s soccer, women’s soccer and volleyball match in the fall.

ESPN International play-by-play announcer Mark Brown will call the action of the football game with color commentary provided by former UConn All-American (1990 and ’91) and Pittsburgh Steeler Mark Didio.

Joe D’Ambrosio of the UConn Radio Network and WTIC NewsTalk 1080 will provide play-by-play for the baseball game with former Husky baseball coach Andy Baylock providing color. Wayne Norman of the UConn Radio Network and WILI Radio in Willimantic will be play-by-play for softball with Doris Yon of the Danbury News-Times on color.

“We are very pleased to begin this relationship with Cox Sports,” says UConn Director of Athletics Jeff Hathaway. “It is an outstanding opportunity for a number of our programs to receive unprecedented exposure. We were impressed with the quality of the Cox Sports productions and look forward to brining their production expertise to these UConn athletic events.”

“This is a great opportunity for UConn sports fans to catch the Huskies on Cox Sports,” said Paul Cronin, vice president and region manager, Cox Communications New England. “Showcasing these talented teams in these exciting games emphasizes our commitment to offering compelling local sports to our customers.”

The UConn Blue-White Spring Football game will also be available to Cox subscribers on Local OnDemand. The game will also be seen live on Cox Sports New Orleans and on a taped-delay basis on April 14 at 4 p.m. on Comcast Local, which services 1.6 million homes in Michigan (including Detroit) and Indiana. Other clearances for the game are possible.