Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ask and you shall receive.

Not a lot of questions or comments this spring. Here's a question that can maybe help kick start a few mailbags:

Question: Chip, nice report. Americans love lists and rankings - any chance we could get a top 5 most competitive position battles list? Any player who has really surprised you thus far?
-- Huskypantz

Answer: Huskypantz, you must be a regular reader because there's no better way to get me to spring into action than to ask me for a top 5 list...on any topic. Here you go:

Top 5 position battles this spring
  1. Strong safety: Kijuan Dabney and J.J. Louis are pretty close. Randy Edsall mentioned he's mulling changes on the depth chart that could be announced as soon as Tuesday. I think Kijuan still has a slight edge, but this one could be up for grabs right up until the week before the Hofstra opener.
  2. Wide receiver: Kanuch and D.J. seem to be locked in, even though neither is practicing. The battle for the No. 3 spot should really heat up once the true freshmen arrive. You'll have the Moore's, Marcus Easley, Sheppard and Smith and Parker all vying for time.
  3. Kicker: Tony Ciaravino and Dave Teggart: Tony is the incumbent and coming off a nice year. Teggart has a stronger leg. We may ultimatley see a platoon.
  4. Right cornerback: Robert McClain and Terry Baltimore. Only because Terry is coming off a strong practice.
  5. Offensive line: There's nothing to base performance this spring on, aside from a few minutes of a controlled scrimmage on Saturday. But Gary Bardzak and Mike Ryan (who is a giant) could make their case to play very soon.

I can't really say anyone's performance has been a surprise so far, but there seems to be a lot of depth on defense. I see that unit being the strength of the team once again.

Keep the questions coming.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is there a high school coach in the house?

The sidelines at the Shenkman Center are usually devoid of civilians, save for us media types and an occasional handful of high school recruits with their parents. On Saturday, we were greeted by high school coach-a-palooza. Roughly 500 high school coaches lined the entire outline of the practice field as part of UConn's annual seminar. It was a sea of khaki pants and windbreakers (no coaches' shorts, however...a bit chilly outside for that polyester fashion staple of the football coaching profession, I suppose). Andy Baylock, who organizes the event, said every New England state plus New York, New Jersey and even 37 Canadian coaches were represented. It wasn't easy to get a view of Saturday's controlled scrimmage, but here's a few other observations.

  • D.J. Hernandez didn't practice, but seems to be getting along pretty well in his walking cast. He dressed in shorts minus the pads, and even jogged through a couple of routes prior to the scrimmage. No doubt he'll be fine in a few weeks.

  • Your starting receivers on Saturday? Kashif Moore, Marcus Easley and Rob Theoudele. Kashif has some speed. Easley could haul in a few passes this year. Theoudele would like his name pronounced as Toe-DEAL, not Toe-DELL.

  • Expect the competition to replace Dahna Deleston at strong safety to be fierce. Kijuan Dabney has the inside edge now, but Jonathan Jean-Louis is nipping at his heels. Both had some big hits Saturday, though Jean-Louis had a nasty pop on ... I believe ... Robbie Frey. Edsall isn't ready to heap praise on either, as both have a long way to go, but I think he's pleased with what both can bring to the table.

  • Zach Frazer had an off day and caught Edsall's ire, just two days after he laid into Tyler Lorenzen. Neither has exactly been gangbusters so far, but they're also limited with so many receivers on the shelf. Edsall has also been shuffling his running backs when one isn't getting the job done to his liking. He's sent a few messages this spring. "We're looking at that competition phase of it, and it's a way to keep people motivated. If a guy doesn't go out and perform, people know we won't hesitate to put someone else in. There's more guys able to step in and make a contribution. Plus, guys have to know that even though they've been starters, there are guys breathing down their necks."

  • The running back depth seems very deep and very talented. Everyone knows what Donald Brown and Andre Dixon are capable of, but I like what I've seen from Robbie Frey and Screamin' Meme Wylie. Even Nate Sherr pulled off an impressive run last week, making a pretty cut back on a 90-yard TD run. Expect to see Brown and Dixon on the field together in some sets.

  • Donald Brown has dropped a few pounds from last fall, and Edsall says it's made a world of difference in the early spring. Andre Dixon, on the other hand, just can't seem to gain weight. Edsall said he'd like to see him a little bulkier, but it's not something that a week of buffalo wings and Krispy Kreme's will cure. "Good weight," Edsall said. "We want him to put on good weight."

  • Every time I see Robert Vaughn do something on the field for UConn, I automatically think of the law firm of Mark E. Salomone and Morelli. Maybe since that damned commercial is aired 1,000 times per day in Connecticut has something to do with it. However, I love that they were forced to put a disclaimer at the bottom of those ads stating that "actor Robert Vaughn is a paid spokesman." I envision tons of potential customers expecting to be represented by the debonair actor demanding an explanation when some schlub comes out to greet them. "Hey! You're not Mark E. Salomone!" ... (Robert Vaughn the UConn football player is doing just fine, by the way.)

Warning: This is not attorney Mark E. Salomone.

No official spring depth charts have been released, but here's what they would look like, best as I can tell. (Only players in camp included).

WR: Isiah Moore - Kashif Moore

WR: D.J. Hernandez (injured) - Marcus Easley

WR: Brad Kanuch - Rob Theoudele

LT: William Beatty - Mike Ryan

LG: Alex LaMagdelaine - Gary Bardzak

C: Keith Gray - Trey Tonsing

RG: Mike Hicks - Mathieu Olivier

RT: Dan Ryan - Zach Hurd

TE: Steve Brouse - Martin Bedard - Yianni the Greek OR John Delahunt

QB: Tyler Lorenzen - Zach Frazer - Cody Endres

TB: Donald Brown OR Andre Dixon - Robbie Frey - Screamin' Meme Wylie

FB: Anthony Davis OR Anthony Sherman


DE: Cody Brown - Hard Hittin' Lindsey Witten

DT: Rob Lunn - Scott Shultz - Jarrell Miller

DT: Alex Polito - Twyon Martin - Danny Russell

DE: Julius Williams - Kendall Reyes - Oliver Bernson

SLB: Dahna Deleston - Greg Robinson - Corey Stringer

MLB: Scott Lutrus - C.J. Marck - Aaron Bryant

WLB: Lawrence Wilson - Greg Lloyd - Matt Ashmeade

LCB: Darius Butler - Jasper Howard - Derek Foster

SS: Kijuan Dabney - Jonathan Jean-Louis - Jameson Davis

FS: Robert Vaughn - Aaron Bagsby - Glen Mourning

RCB: Robert McClain - Terry Baltimore - Harris Abgor OR Gary Wilburn

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pro Day at UConn

Danny Lansanah, Dan Davis, Larry Taylor, Donald Thomas and Tyvon Branch all got to showcase their skills at the Shenkman Center this afternoon in front of scouts from 13 different NFL teams (as well as the Albany Conquest and Mahoning Valley Thunder of arenafootball2). Greenwich's Erik Woodring of Middlebury College and Ryne Nutt of CCSU also got invites to work out.

A few notes and observations:

  • Larry Taylor did 17 reps of 225 pounds and ran a 4.51 in the 40, and looked much smoother running the drills than Lansanah and Davis, who both struggled with their footing on the turf. Lansanah ran a 4.68. Davis looks bigger, and though I'm not sure what Davis ran, he seemed pretty fast for his size. Lansanah and Davis probably didn't help their chances today, but both seem likely to get invited to someones camp. Taylor was impressive, and while his size is his biggest downfall, you have to think he'll get an opportunity to showcase his punt return ability in somebodys camp as well.

  • Branch and Thomas didn't run any timed drills, both content to let their outstanding NFL Combines results stand on their own merit. Branch had his vertical leap tested again, and he was a little disappointed with his 38", about an inch or so less than he says he's capable of. Thomas, now weighing in at 307 and looking like a block of granite, had a 29-and-a-half inch vertical -- over 5 inches better than what he did in Indianapolis. The two, who are both looking like they'll be drafted, spent most of Wednesday running various ball and agility drills.

  • Branch says he's been out to interview at quite a few NFL cities, but wouldn't specify. Thomas has been flown out to Cleveland and been in to see the Jets, and expects to hear from a few more teams after today.

  • Most of the 17 NFL reps in attendance were regional scouts. But a few NFL coaches showed up, too: Dave Campo, new secondary coach of the Cowboys, Dave DeGuglielmo, assistant offensive line coach of the Giants; Tim Lewis, secondary coach of the Panthers; and Mark Carrier, secondary coach of the Ravens. The 49ers, Bills, Eagles and Packers (UConn alum John Dorsey) all sent their directors of college scouting. The Panthers, Colts, Giants, Patriots, Saints, Lions and Browns all sent regional scouts. The Ravens also sent Mark Azevedo, the player personnel assistant.

  • I haven't dealt much with NFL scouts before, and discovered they aren't exactly the most personable fellows. Some politely declined to speak, which is fine (though a bit paranoid, if you ask me), and a few were just pompous jerks. Why cop an attitude when asked if you have a minute to chat? Whatever. Just know this: Major League Baseball scouts on the whole are far more approachable and accomodating.

Read more on Donald Thomas and Tyvon Branch in tomorrow's New Haven Register.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wanted: Healthy wide receivers.

Anyone else have San Diego in their office pool? Just me? Well, I had Cornell beating Stanford too, so I won't brag. At least we know UConn spring football practices will be populated with a little more media members starting this week.

Here's a taste of what happened on Saturday at the Shenkman Center. Let's just say the receiving core is dwindling.
  • D.J. Hernandez went down hard on a route over the middle during a skell-o drill. He suffered an ankle injury, which Randy Edsall said is probably only a bad sprain. But it also might keep D.J. on the sidelines for the remainder of the spring. He could barely put any weight on it as he was helped off the field. Linebacker Aaron Bryant had a decent stick on D.J. during the play, and I thought the hit caused the injury at first. But Edsall said it was more of a fluke thing.

  • Ellis Gaulden is hurt again. He suffered a foot injury on Thursday, and could be out for some time. Edsall said a tendon separated itself in the foot, and though he wouldn't speculate on Ellis' future, he is considering moving someone from the defense over to wide receiver to help out. Darius Butler? "He's probably waiting for me in my office right now," Edsall joked. It won't be Butler, and your guess is as good as mine.

  • What does this mean for the receivers? Marcus Easley has already been working mostly with the first team because Brad Kanuch tweaked something in his leg the first day. The Moore's, Isiah and Kashif, and Rob Theoudele will also be getting plenty of chances to show their stuff.

  • Pads and contact on Saturday made it seem a little more like football practice. Saw some good hits by Jasper Howard, Darius Butler and Kijuan Dabney (looking like he has the edge on a starting job at strong safety). Dabney's performance early on has eased Edsall's mind about moving Dahna Deleston from safety to Husky linebacker. Hamden's Jameson Davis, a Wisconsin transfer making the switch from cornerback, was getting some work with the second string safety's as well. Sounds like he'll be more of a special teams player, though.

  • Lots of recruits observing practice, most from Connecticut though there were some out-of-staters too. Mike Osiecki of Seymour, Trevardo Williams of Bridgeport, Jake White of Foran-Milford were among the guys I recognized.

  • Tony Ciaravino and Dave Teggart could ultimately share the kicking duties, similar to how Matt Nuzie and Tony C split kicks two years ago. Teggart has some power, and could be the guy from 40 yards and out. Ciaravino has the leg -- he was 4-for-4 from 40-49 last season and hits them from over 50 in practice -- but wasn't as consistent from 50 and out. That's what spring is for, to sort this kind of stuff out.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring in their steps

The first day of spring arrived today with the beginning of football practice. It was a rather bland affair, at least until about 5:20 p.m. when the first fight of the year broke out. While most of us completed our brawling in the wee hours of the morning on this St. Patrick's Day weekend, Rob Lunn and Keith Gray showed it's never too late to show their Irish spirit by recreating a scene from John Wayne's "The Quiet Man". I think Mike Hicks (or at least his facemask) got caught in the cross fire, as well. The whistles blew, the scuffle ended, and that was that.

Both said afterward it was nothing but showing a little too much aggressiveness on the first day. "Sometimes (after all the time off) you just need to put the pads on and hit each other," said Lunn.

Gray said the offense vs. defense tension always mellows into more of a team feel after spring practice. "We're smart guys. We know enough not to do that in a game situation. Oh, make sure you get it in there that I won."
And if you've never seen "The Quiet Man", you've never really gotten into the St. Paddy's Day spirit.

Some news from the day...
  • Defensive end Mike Cox suffered a knee injury last week, will undergo surgery and is finished not only for the spring but most likely at least half the season as well. Kendall Reyes should see plenty of action behind Julius Williams on the end.

  • There's no official depth chart for the spring as of yet. Whether one is released at all before the spring game is unclear. Right now players at their positions are listed alphabetically, though Alex LaMagdelaine still managed to get to the top of the list at left guard over Gary Bardzak.

  • Brad Kanuch tweaked a quadriceps muscle and didn't practice. Nothing to be concerned about.

  • Tyler Lorenzen confirmed he's as close to 100 percent healthy as he's been in some time. He still practiced with his thumb taped, but says he's feeling fine.

  • Randy Edsall has his eyes on receivers Ellis Gaulden and Rob Theoudele this spring. "It's a big spring for (them). We're going to find out if Ellis is going to be a guy in the rotation. He's finally healthy. Hopefully we'll see more of what he can do. I've seen a guy who'se very focused and intent on showing what he can do on the field."

I'm on deadline for the paper, so that's all for now.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Perfunctory prepractice preview presently

Almost made it through cold and flu season unscathed. But I had to listen to today's conference call to preview spring practice in a Claratin-induced fog. Even without the medication, pretty dull stuff. Not a lot of news or tidbits to report, but here's a quick rundown.
  • Lawrence Green's surgery was a success, but he's now "a medical guy", according to Edsall. No, Lawrence isn't a doctor now. That term apparently means his career as a football player is over. Edsall said he made the announcement about Green's career last month when he told us of his surgery. I recall the surgery part. But much like Andy Pettitte, I guess I misremembered that latter part. There are no other injuries heading into next week's start of practice.

  • Marcus Campbell has reapplied to school for the summer sessions and will rejoin the football team in May.

  • We knew Tyler Lorenzen was banged up at season's end, but he was a little more injured than he let on, even to Edsall, for last three games, including the Meineke Car Care Bowl. His left thumb was a problem, as was his knee. "He had some heath issues there at the end of the season and he didn't lead on to us just how bad he was," Edsall said. "He and I addressed that at end of year. But I think he'll be better this year than he was last year. Those (health) issues probably didn't allow him to perform to capabilities he did even earlier in the year. The thumb certainly hampered him from a throwing standpoint."

  • Lorenzen will be the quarterback, and the battle at that position will be whether Cody Endres or Zach Frazer starts the year as his backup.

  • Expect fierce competition for the open cornerback spot vacated by Tyvon Branch as well as the safety position left open now that Dahna Deleston is a linebacker.