Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hockey's over. Let's watch some spring football practice!

And we're back.

As some may or may not know, my other beat here is college hockey. It's kind of a big deal around New Haven. Both Yale and Quinnipiac play in a major conference, and both sellout their 3,500-seat arenas pretty much every game. Plus, Yale had its best season ever, winning the league regular season and tournament championship. The Bulldogs were ranked fifth in the nation heading into the NCAA tournament, helping Bridgeport's Arena at Harbor Yard (capacity: 8,500) to sellout the East Regional. Having Michigan, Vermont and Air Force also playing in Bridgeport certainly didn't hurt ticket sales.

Anyway, Yale lost over the weekend, so I'm back to UConn football for the rest of the spring. I'll be at the remainder of the Tuesday and Saturday practices (not Thursday, players and coaches don't speak, and it's too long a drive for me to simply give observations for the blog). I'll also do my best to make blog entries on the off days, news or no news, just to get back in the good graces of you, dear reader.

Here's what I got for today, bullet-points for your convenience.

  • It wasn't a great day for the offense. Lots of high snaps, bad throws and dropped passes. Randy Edsall wasn't the least bit concerned. "That's why you practice," Edsall said. "We're only seven practices in, and we're putting something new in. Understanding the base offense is the big thing. We don't play games until September. But we're meeting our objectives."

  • Chip's March 31 disclaimer: The player/coach quotes today won't be perfect. My 1-year old son got a hold of my digital recorder and hid it somewhere in the house (probably in the garbage)...he doesn't know how to talk yet, so, until I find it I have to make do with my hand-written notes. My shorthand is comparable with my son's scribbles, so I need to find that recorder soon. The search continues...

  • Meme Wylie is running well, and he's tough to tackle because he's always so low to the ground. Jordan Todman is still fast. How fast? He ran almost completely out of his football pants today. I kid you not.

  • Zach Frazer broke free for an 80-yard run, pulling a Deion Sanders "high-step with head turned" before spiking the ball in the end zone. Needless to say, it didn't go over well. He actually broke loose again later, with no hot-dogging.

  • Matt Edwards made a pretty one-handed interception on a deep ball, taking it away from Alex Molina. Jerome Junior, also in the vicinity, then planted Molina with a block.

  • Scott Schultz was switched from defensive tackle to offensive guard today. Edsall said it was something he's been considering for a while, and suits both UConn and Schultz in the long run. Schultz, by the way, looks exactly like John Silver of the Journal Inquirer. They could be brothers. Schultz is twice the size of Silver, however.

  • Your top four defensive tackles as of today: Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes; Alex Polito (out for spring ball with injury) and Brandon Dillon based on experience, with Ryan Wirth and Beau Brunelli in the mix, too.

  • Dwayne Gratz and Blindi Wreh-Wilson were moved up to second team cornerbacks today, behind Jasper Howard and Robert McClain. Gary Wilburn and Harris Agbor are with the third team.

  • Anthony Sherman was bothered by a tight hamstring, and sat out the second half of practice. It's nothing serious.

  • One of the more interesting position battles is between senior Dan Ryan and redshirt freshman Jimmy Bennett on the offensive line. "It's Dan's job to lose because of his experience, but Jimmy is putting pressure on him," Edsall said. "(Ryan) has a guy breathing down his neck and who wants to play."

  • Freshman Billy Ferriter joined the football team today in an attempt to win a roster spot. Ferriter, from Nashua, N.H., was an outfielder with the UConn baseball team. He was an all-state quarterback and defensive back in high school, and is trying to make the team as a defensive back and special teams player. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Edsall said he saw some good athleticism from Ferriter.

  • Michael Smith, Marcus Easley, Brad Kanuch and Kashif Moore are the top four wide receivers, but Isiah Moore is closing in quickly. Edsall said Isiah is the closest of several young receivers to being ready, ahead of Brian Parker and Gerrard Sheppard, though all three are making strides. They key for all is getting stronger and being more precise in the routes. None is afraid to get hit, however. More on the young receivers in tomorrow's Register.

  • Randy Edsall served as UConn head coach/sports information director today. He sauntered over near the end of practice to jot down which players Chuck Banning of the Day, Zac Boyer of rivals.com and myself would like to speak with, then rounded them up for us when practice was over. He even yelled at the players who were dilly-dallying to hurry up and come talk to us. Think Jim Leavitt does that for the South Florida media? Edsall then retreated to his office to work on game notes and the media guide.

  • What will they do with the highway sign just off exit 68 on I-84 commemorating UConn's 2004 men's and women's basketball national championships? Do they take it down and replace it when both win titles next week? Do they simply add the year 2009 to the old one? What if one team wins and the other doesn't...will they toss one team's 2004 accomplishment aside? Is that politically correct? Does anyone but me care?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

O'Spring O'Practice on St. Paddy's Day

Spring practice got underway late this afternoon. Not terribly exciting stuff. The new offense is in the process of being implemented, and there are still bugs to be worked out. The pace is much quicker. For those still sober enough to read on this St. Patrick's Day, some notes and observations.
  • Randy Edsall says the quarterback position is open, and it's only the first day. But a sleeker Zach Frazer worked with the first team. Have to think he's got the edge to start. Frazer lost between 13-15 pounds in the offseason, and weighed in this morning at 223 (lots of salads, smaller portions, he says), and appeared to be moving better in practice. A mirage, Frazer says with a smile. "I feel fast, but I know I'm not." He also said the quarterback needs to be well-conditioned to run the up-tempo style being installed.

  • New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was a little nervous before the first practice with the new offense. "He told me 'now, it's not going to be perfect today'," Edsall said. "I knew it wasn't going to be perfect, but it probably was a little bit better than I anticipated to tell you the truth. A lot of that credit goes to the players because they're working hard to understand a lot of the playbook before we even got out here."

  • How much more offense will UConn fans see this season? Edsall said the team was able to run 39 plays during a 15-minute period Tuesday. The normal total is around 27. "Toward the end, it wasn't as good," Edsall said. "But they'll get the conditioning as they go."

  • Frazer is certainly much more relaxed with the media than he was at this time a year ago. He caught some flak from Edsall for being overly enthusiastic in his quotes about the new offense, saying UConn would score 40 points per game this season. Asked again how many points he thought the Huskies could score, he glanced at Edsall, who was within earshot, and nodded. "How many points will we score? Enough."

  • Moe Petrus got word of his position switch to center yesterday morning at 6:45. He said he figured he'd eventually wind up there, but didn't know when. "A lot of it (today) was just trying to get the snaps down, because I've never snapped before. I'll be working a lot with Zach to get it perfect." The two spent about 10 extra minutes after practice working on snaps, as did Cody Endres and Gary Bardzak. "I like to be around my center as much as possible, so I'll try and spend as much time with him as I can," Frazer said. "Whether he likes it or not." Frazer said the two have already driven to Jersey Mike's in Rhode Island. Jersey Mike's, by the way, makes a hell of a good sub.

  • Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman split carries with the first team, as did Meme Wylie and Robbie Frey with the second team. How did they look? Fast. Then again, it was shorts and no pads or contact. Everyone has a little extra burst. So, take that for what it's worth. Anthony Sherman is also faster and quicker, and could see an increased role in the offense as well (though he played a pretty large role last year).

  • Looking at the spring media guide, I always get taken aback by the years. For instance, Desi Cullen and Brad Kanuch are already listed as seniors. Scott Lutrus is a redshirt junior. And I am just ripping through my 30s at breakneck pace. Time stops for no one.

  • I, for one, usually enjoy open practices. It's great get an actual look at what players are doing and how they look as opposed to the season, when we get a 5 minute and 35 second open practice window to basically watch the guys stretch. That said, the first day of spring is pretty dull since most of it is spent getting the little things straight. So how do reporters spend the down time? Joe Perez of the Norwich Bulletin and I deciphered the signals coming in to the offense from the sidelines during the tight red zone drill (well, Joe mostly figured them out. I just made dumb jokes about the signing). Only took about a half hour, too. Next time, we'll work on the audibles.

  • The drive from New Haven to Storrs is still long. Sirius radio makes it bearable. A few observations from my hour and 15 minutes of channel surfing: Ireland's best contribution to rock? No, it's not U2. Van Morrison. Great singer, even better songwriter.
  • Winger is underrated. They got a bad rap because the nerd from Beavis and Butthead used to wear a Winger t-shirt. But Kip Winger has a great rock voice, and a decent bass player. Also, Reb Beach is a phenomenal guitarist. Proof? Check out this clip. By the way, this is also how I spent New Year's Eve in 1988. Home, watching New Year's Rockin' Eve on MTV. Hey, I was only 16. And grounded.
  • The Springsteen channel on Sirius bugs me because they play a lot of live concerts from the 70s, and the sound quality is awful -- like it was taped by some hippy through six layers of clothing on 8-track. Remember the episode of "What's Happening?", where Re-Run gets caught illegally bootlegging a Doobie Brothers concert? He starts doing the Re-Run dance, and his tape recorder falls out of his overcoat, bringing the concert to a screeching halt? Powerful stuff. I miss that show. And the Re-Run dance.

That's it. Stay safe tonight.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gearing up for spring

A few notes from today's call with Randy Edsall previewing spring practice:

  • Alex Polito (ankle surgery) is out for spring practice. Zach Hurd (ankle) had minor surgery to clean some things out, and will be limited this week. He should be back as a "full-go" next week. Freshman Casey Chambers (wrist surgery) will be limited. Everyone else set to participate in full.

  • Lindsey Witten's grandmother passed away Saturday. He is with his family this week.

  • Position changes: Moe Petrus moved to center. Alex LaMagdelaine is now at guard. That's it. "On the offensive line, it's trying to find the five best guys and put them into the positions they're best suited for," Edsall said. "We evaluated Alex at center and guard, and he was more productive at guard. Moe was at center last spring. We thought he has the athleticism and intelligence and does things at center we like. And he's all for it. He said he'd rather play center than guard." Dan Ryan and Jimmy Bennett are the top two at left tackle now.

  • All practices will be under the ideal weather conditions indoors at the Shenkman Center.

  • Edsall likes his defensive ends. Witten has a "chance to develop into his own, and become an every-down player. Marcus Campbell got a lot better. He's the fastest we have as a defensive end, faster than Cody (Brown) or Julius (Williams). Mike Cox is getting stronger each day." Young players A.J. Portee, Teddy Jennings, Trevardo Williams, Chambers, and Jesse Joseph are "all athletic, and have some ability. It's a matter of teaching fundamentals and getting them reps."

  • Zach Frazer got a little too enthusiastic speaking about UConn's new offensive scheme with the media earlier in the month. Edsall, of course, had the quotes come across his desk and called his quarterback into his office for a sit-down. "It's great to have confidence," Edsall said. "But there's a right way and a wrong way to handle those situations. Zach's done a great job to get his weight down, and worked to be a leader, and done all the things you want from a quarterback. But you have to temper things. Be enthusiastic, but let the production prove it rather than you speaking before the production. He's just excited about the opportunity he has to get on the field. It's something he's familiar with, that type of offense, because he played it in high school."

  • While Frazer seems to have the inside track on the starting quarterback job, Edsall said it's still an open competition between all four on the roster. "Nobody has the No. 1 position sewn up," Edsall said. If someone does enough to win the job during the spring, Edsall will anoint him. If not, the competition will continue to preseason practice.

  • Here's Edsall's list of what needs to be accomplished over the next month of spring ball. "Offensively, we've got to learn the offense. We need to improve the passing game. We have to get better in the tight red zone and score TDs than field goals down there. We have to do a better job of ball security. Coming out of the spring, the team has to know we can have balance in our offensive attack. Defensively, we need to do a better job creating turnovers. We didn't create enough turnovers last year. We have to get better with fundamentals and technique, we have to get more physical and tougher on defense. We have to get better in the tight red zone on defense, and get off the field on 3rd down. We need to improve the punt protection, solidify the snappers, and returners, and eliminate all the bad judgements in return game." Other than that, everything's peachy.

  • It's an open competition for the wide receivers. "We're excited to get all those guys out there, not just the redshirt guys but the guys who've been around. ... There's more talent, more speed and athleticism than we've had."

  • Look for Robbie Frey and Meme Wylie to push Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon at tailback. Should be tremendous competition there, too. "Jordan showed some things last year, Andre is back, you could see him with his work ethic this winter," Edsall said. "Frey and Meme had productive offseasons. What it does is it gives a lot of options with those guys. I'm satisfied with what all four have done. Now, it's how to incorporate them and who performs best at that position."

That's all. See you all at practice practice. Well, I won't see you there, but you know what I mean.

Friday, March 06, 2009

'09 Sked is official

2009 UConn Football Schedule
Sept. 5 at Ohio Peden Stadium, Athens, Ohio TBA TBA
Sept. 19 at Baylor Floyd Casey Stadium, Waco, Texas TBA TBA
Oct. 10 at Pittsburgh* Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa. TBA TBA
Oct. 24 at West Virginia* Moutaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va. TBA TBA
Nov. 7 at Cincinnati* Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio TBA TBA
Nov. 21 at Notre Dame Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Ind. 2:30 p.m. NBC
* - Denotes BIG EAST Conference game
Home Games in BOLD CAPS
All Times Eastern
Dates are subject to change
Game times and additional television information will be announced at later dates, often on 12-day windows prior to the contests.

And the rest of the Big East...
2009 BIG EAST Conference Team-By-Team Football Schedules

Sat., Sept. 5 at RUTGERS
Sat., Sept. 12 Southeast Missouri State
Sat., Sept. 19 at Oregon State
Sat., Sept. 26 Fresno State
Sat., Oct. 3 at Miami ( Ohio )
Thu., Oct. 15 at USF (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Sat., Oct. 24 LOUISVILLE
Sat., Oct. 31 at SYRACUSE
Fri., Nov. 13 WEST VIRGINIA (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Sat., Nov. 28 Illinois

Sat., Sept. 5 at Ohio
Sat., Sept. 12 North Carolina
Sat., Sept. 19 at Baylor
Sat., Sept. 26 Rhode Island
Sat., Oct. 10 at PITTSBURGH
Sat., Oct. 17 LOUISVILLE
Sat., Oct. 24 at WEST VIRGINIA
Sat., Oct. 31 RUTGERS
Sat., Nov. 7 at CINCINNATI
Sat., Nov. 21 at Notre Dame (2:30 p.m., NBC)
Sat., Nov. 28 SYRACUSE
Sat., Dec. 5 USF (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2)

Sat., Sept. 5 Indiana State
Sat., Sept. 19 at Kentucky
Sat., Sept. 26 at Utah
Fri., Oct. 2 PITTSBURGH (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Sat., Oct. 10 Southern Mississippi
Sat., Oct. 17 at CONNECTICUT
Sat., Oct. 24 at CINCINNATI
Sat., Oct. 31 Arkansas State
Sat., Nov. 7 at WEST VIRGINIA
Sat., Nov. 14 SYRACUSE
Sat., Nov. 21 at USF
Sat., Nov. 28 RUTGERS

Sat., Sept. 5 Youngstown State
Sat., Sept. 12 at Buffalo
Sat., Sept. 19 Navy
Sat., Sept. 26 at North Carolina State
Fri., Oct. 2 at LOUISVILLE (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Fri., Oct. 16 at RUTGERS (8 p.m., ESPN)
Sat., Oct. 24 USF
Sat., Nov. 7 SYRACUSE
Sat., Nov. 14 Notre Dame (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2)

Sat., Sept. 5 CINCINNATI
Sat., Sept. 12 Howard
Sat., Sept. 19 Florida International
Sat., Sept. 26 at Maryland
Sat., Oct. 10 TBA
Fri., Oct. 16 PITTSBURGH (8 p.m., ESPN)
Fri., Oct. 23 at Army (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Sat., Oct. 31 at Connecticut
Thu., Nov. 12 USF (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Sat., Nov. 21 at SYRACUSE
Sat., Nov. 28 at LOUISVILLE

Sat., Sept. 5 Wofford
Sat., Sept. 12 at Western Kentucky
Sat., Sept. 19 Charleston Southern
Sat., Sept. 26 at Florida State
Sat., Oct. 3 at SYRACUSE
Thu., Oct. 15 CINCINNATI (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Sat., Oct. 24 at PITTSBURGH
Fri., Oct. 30 WEST VIRGINIA (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Thu., Nov. 12 at RUTGERS (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Sat., Nov. 21 LOUISVILLE
Sat., Nov. 28 Miami ( Fla. )

Sat., Sept. 5 Minnesota
Sat., Sept. 12 at Penn State
Sat., Sept. 19 Northwestern
Sat., Sept. 26 Maine
Sat., Oct. 3 USF
Sat., Oct. 24 Akron
Sat., Oct. 31 CINCINNATI
Sat., Nov. 7 at PITTSBURGH
Sat., Nov. 14 at LOUISVILLE
Sat., Nov. 21 RUTGERS
Sat., Nov. 28 at CONNECTICUT

Sat., Sept. 5 Liberty
Sat., Sept. 12 East Carolina
Sat., Sept. 19 at Auburn
Thu., Oct. 1 Colorado (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Sat., Oct. 10 at SYRACUSE
Sat., Oct. 17 Marshall
Fri., Oct. 30 at USF (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Fri., Nov. 13 at CINICNNATI (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Sat., Dec. 5 at RUTGERS (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2)