Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Suspensions and injuries

It's never good news when Randy Edsall comes over to address the media in the middle of practice. So when he ambled over Tuesday morning with a list to talk to us, we knew something was up.

Jimmy Bennett was already sitting in the medical tent with his leg heavily bandaged and in a brace. He'd been injured during Saturday's scrimmage, and the news was bad. He'll have surgery and is finished for the year. Tough break, as Bennett was a promising young talent who as a redshirt freshman gave fifth-year senior Dan Ryan a run at a starting tackle spot. With Bennett done, Adam Masters is now Ryan's back-up, while Mike Ryan will flip over from the right side in a pinch. Sophomore back-up safety John Yurek will also endure season-ending knee surgery.

We also learned tight end Yianni Apostostakos is finished with football due to a degenerative hip condition. Yianni, a third-year sophomore, had talent but has been plagued by injury since his arrival at UConn. He was at practice Monday. "Lead us off, coach Yianni," someone said as the tight ends finished post-practice stretching. So he jogged off the field with his teammates following. Nice gesture.

The bad news didn't stop there. Edsall told us safety Aaron Bagsby and defensive tackle Beau Brunelli were suspended indefinitely due to a violation of university athletic department policy.

With Bagsby out for an undisclosed period, and Harris Agbor shelved for "five or six weeks" (another Edsall update), safety is now quite thin. Kijuan Dabney was moved to strong safety and receiver Marcus Aiken is now a free safety. David Kenney, moved up from safety to linebacker last week when Dabney injured his shoulder, will remain at linebacker. Dabney practiced Tuesday, albeit in a red jersey.

Some other updates:
  • The team practices again later tonight, and finishes training camp Wednesday with a scrimmage. Edsall said the team needs the work, but will limit the total number of plays to help preserve the Huskies' health.

  • Among the players who came to camp in great physical condition were Jasper Howard and Lawrence Wilson. Howard has emerged as a leader on defense while Wilson, who rarely talks, knows what's expected of him.

  • Darius Butler had a day off with the Patriots Saturday and drove down to see UConn practice. Edsall said he spoke to the team and delivered "a great message" about the importance of hard work and such.

  • If it seemed like Mike Hicks' was on the verge of losing his starting job for four years running, that was part of Edsall's motivational plan. "It's just trying to light a fire under his butt," Edsall said. "Make him feel his job isn't secure. The one thing is, Mike always responds. Not that he can't do it on his own, but when you put a little more pressure on, he cranks it up a bit."

  • Jordan Todman is a tougher runner with added strength, but Edsall expects to use Andre Dixon and Robbie Frey often in his running back rotation. Part of that is needing fresh legs in the new offense "we don't have a guy built like Donald Brown, with the strength Donald had", Edsall said. It's also because all three have the ability to make big plays.

  • Lindsey Witten and Mike Cox are set on one end of the defensive line. It looks like Jesse Joseph may have a slight lead on the other starting end spot, with Trevardo Williams and A.J. Portee battling for reps.

  • Edsall said Michael Smith "has improved dramatically sine last year. He runs crisp, sharp routes and is playing a lot better."

  • Michael Box is locked in as third-string quarterback for now, though Edsall likes what he's seen of the true freshman. It sounded like Edsall thinks Box could move into the backup role as the season progresses. Edsall plans to take all of his QB's on the road.

On an unrelated note, I spent Monday working at the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven. My assignment for the day was a sidebar on Marcos Bahgdatis, but I had a tough time concentrating on the match because of a celebrity sitting two rows in front of me. Yep. Judge Wapner was there checking out the action. At least that's what I assume. The name plate on the reserved box seats read "Joseph Wapner". At a stuffy event like the Pilot Pen, where 90 percent of the crowd comes up from Westchester and Fairfield County? No chance it was a coincidence. But the elderly man and woman sitting there were both in cognito with their massive floppy sun hats and giant sunglasses, so I never got a great look at his face. I thought about pulling a Kramer and making a commotion to get him to turn around (i.e. the Joe DiMaggio sighting in Dinky Donuts). But they demand silence at tennis matches and I figured they'd throw me out of the stadium if I kept yelling "10 minutes to Wapner".

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