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."


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