Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rainy days and Tuesday practices...

When did New England turn into the Pacific Northwest? It's been raining for two months solid. News and notes from Tuesday's practice session.

  • Kijuan Dabney and Andrew Opoku arrived at the morning meetings to find they would be switching positions. Dabney is back at safety, Opoku moves up to outside linebacker. The moves were made after a thorough review, Randy Edsall said. "Safety is a better fit for Kijuan, and Andrew is better served as an outside linebacker," Edsall said. "We watched a lot of film from earlier practices, we watched the personnel as a staff. I don't see any other moves coming."

  • Dabney doesn't mind the move at all, and understands the coaches simply want the best players at the best spots. He thrives on knowing the ins and outs of as many positions as possible. “Being a guy that plays multiple positions, you can give pointers to the other guys," Dabney said. "I even take time to learn the D-Line stunts and I learn the inside backers and what the corners are doing. The more you understand the defense the more plays you can make because you know whose doing what instead of just what you can do yourself. When guys go to the NFL, they come back and tell us the scouts are impressed how much they know about football because our coaches coach us up real good. It’s definitely good to know as much as you can to be as valuable to your team as you can."

  • Chris Lopes, who was moved from cornerback to safety last week, was hit by defensive teammate Markeith Cirinna late in practice today and remained down. Lopes was helped off the field, but was limping under his own power later on the sideline.

  • Lawrence Wilson was barred from practice today and Thursday by Edsall. "He needs to take care of his academics," Edsall said.

  • Kendall Reyes left practice early and spent considerable time with his ankle elevated and iced.

  • Kashif Moore avoided a potential serious injury trying to make a juggling catch near the sidelines. He took a late shove, and crashed head first into the wall. If it was a hockey game, it may have been a 5-minute major for boarding.

  • Jonathan Jean-Louis had a long touchdown run, Malik Generett made a couple of long catches today.

  • Hey high schoolers. Are you a borderline college player looking to get some playing time? Or are you buried on the depth chart on the college roster and looking for a way on the field? Become a long snapper. Coaches go gray trying to fill the slot, and won't hesitate to offer up a full ride to someone who can long snap well. Derek Chard will spend this season filling the role again even though he is graduating. He'll enroll in UConn's graduate program with an eye on a business career. "It's hard (to find long snappers)," Edsall said. "It's one less worry having him back. That's why he's not playing tight end anymore. We don't want him to get hurt."

  • Mark R. Shenkman was in the house that he helped build today. Randy Edsall spent a while chatting him up, perhaps thanking him once again for the donation. Football practice isn't very effective outside on days like today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pro Day postulations

Another Pro Day is in the books. A total of 30 scouts showed up, though that total includes Chris Palmer and four of his assistant coaches for the new UFL team. So it was 25 NFL scouts representing 21 teams.
  • Robert McClain had quite a showing, at least before tweaking a muscle after the 40-yard dash. But his 4.43 40 time, 38.5-inch vertical and 23 reps of 225 pounds was impressive and may have created a little buzz.

  • Lindsey Witten ran a 4.65, which is impressive considering Brad Kanuch turned in a 4.62. Of course, Kanuch wasn't planning to participate today until the Eagles called him a couple of weeks back. Kanuch told the team he hadn't been working out and was spending most of his time playing basketball and volleyball, but he did his best to get ready on short notice.

  • Witten also had a 36.5-inch vertical, while Marcus Easley went 37.5. Dahna Deleston, back looking to secure a free agent deal, was also impressive with a 4.49 40 and 40-inch vertical. Deleston is in contact with several NFL teams, but he definitely has at least one option. Chris Palmer was very interested in Deleston, and the two exchanged numbers. Deleston said the UFL will be an opportunity to put some game action on film, one of the big factors holding him back, now. "I can run this and jump that, but I can't show them what I can do in a game," Deleston said. "I don't have any (recent) film."

  • Mike Hicks has spent the last seven weeks training in Lancaster, Pa. -- the heart of Amish country. He didn't arrive in a horse and buggy, but Hicks was noticeably slimmer at 313 pounds, down about 15 since January. "I haven't weighed 313 since high school," Hicks said. Hicks said he's spoken to NFL teams, and worked out for some. Randy Edsall believes both Hicks and Dan Ryan will at the very least be invited to an NFL camp.

  • Andre Dixon did limited work today, comfortable to let his previous work stand on its own. Part of that is because Dixon is nursing an arm injury, and didn't want risk devaluing his stock. Dixon passed on all the physical tests, running drills only. "I'm a player," Dixon said. "Put me in pads and put me on the field."

  • Marcus Easley is looking more and more like he'll be a mid-to-late round pick. He's got the size, speed and hands for the NFL. Easley didn't run the 40 today, standing firm on the 4.39 he ran at the Combines. He spent a while running routes with Jets wide receivers coach Henry Ellard -- a fair NFL receiver himself once -- and finished with a couple of one-handed grabs.

  • Deleston, Aaron Bryant and Terry Baltimore were among the ex-UConn players who came back to show their stuff. Former UConn assistant Norries Wilson was also there with a player -- Newington's Austin Knowlin, a receiver for Wilson at Columbia.

  • Among the UConn alumni in the house were Terry Caulley, Darius Butler and Rob Lunn. Caulley, still a dead ringer for Carlton Banks, chatted with Chris Palmer and is looking at the UFL after spending the past three seasons playing in Canada. Butler used the time to catch up with old friends. Lunn is now dominating the blogging industry with his FWG franchise, which he's expanded to separate sites for the NFL and soon-to-be-launched Major League Baseball. Rob is also sporting a jet-black Hollywood Hogan beard, which may or may not be spray-painted.

  • Here's a list of the scouts on hand today: Rich Long (Browns), Frank Dorazio (Bucs), Tom Gibbons (Chargers), Jay Muraco (Chiefs), Jamie Moore (Colts), Anthony Hunt (Dolphins), Chris Petit (NYG), Louis Clark (Jags), Jo-Jo Wooden (Jets), Matt Bazirgan (Jets), Dave Uyrus (Lions), Lee Gissendander (Packers), Jeff Beathard (Panthers), William Thomas (Raiders), Jason Barnes (Seahawks), Will Lewis (Seahawks), Chris Palmer (UFL), Rob Quinn (Pats), Ahmed Russell (Eagles), Davonne Jones (Saints), Jim Hostler (Ravens), Henry Ellard (Jets), Dan Gregory (Panthers), Rex Hogan (Bears), Robinson Payne (Falcons), Richard Shelton (Titans), Frank Housen, Tony Sparano Jr., Oji Fogan and Shane Waldron (UFL Hartford).

  • I could have included Neill Ostrout of the CT Post on the list, as he brought his own stop watch (and yes, I wish I had thought of the same thing). The day concluded with a media grudge match spring between Joe Perez of the Norwich Bulletin (and his freshly-shaved head) and Zac Boyer of Rivals.com. Neill revealed the 40 times and they were, well, they weren't great. But the foundation has been laid for next season's media Pro Day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Welcome to college football"

College hockey has been keeping me busy, but was able to slip in today's practice before heading up to Worcester, Mass. for the weekend to cover Yale against North Dakota in the NCAA tournament. Oh yeah, I'll be at pro day Wednesday, too.

A little from today's practice:
  • Linebacker Emmanuel Omokaro injured a knee on Saturday, and will have surgery Friday. Omokaro, a redshirt junior from Danbury, is questionable for August. Randy Edsall said he'd know more after the surgery.

  • Linebacker Sio Moore missed practice, but it wasn't anything serious, Edsall said. He'll be back by Saturday's practice.

  • Pads and helmets for a contact practice Tuesday, and a couple of the true freshmen in camp for the first time learned valuable lessons. Safety Andrew Opoku seems to have a bright future, and got work with the first unit today. And there were a couple of teaching moments as well when Jordan Todman made Opoku look...well, like a true freshman on consecutive plays, including faking him out of his shoes on one move for a touchdown. Ditto linebacker Mike Osiecki, who was literally run over by Meme Wylie on one play when Osiecki didn't get square his shoulder pads to the tackler. "You OK Mike?" defensive coordinator Todd Orlando asked Osiecki, a little slow to recover after the play. When he indicated he was fine, Orlando said, "Welcome to college football."

  • Said Edsall of Opoku and the young secondary, "The secondary, I'm not disappointed with any of those guys. Hey, Donald Brown didn't look good as a freshman after three days. And that's a hard position. It's just a matter of them getting repetitions, and the more they see the better they get. They're going to make mistakes. I'm expecting them to make mistakes."

  • Edsall says he sees receivers Michael Smith, Isiah Moore and Kashif Moore playing with a lot of confidence. It's not quite there for the younger receivers, namely Nick Williams, Dwayne Difton, Mike Lang and Malik Generett. "They have to get repetitions to gain that confidence," Edsall said. "This is what spring practice is all about."

  • Jerome Junior went through some very prominent growing pains on the field last season as a freshman, but the coaches are now looking to him to be a leader in a secondary with very little experience at the moment. Gary Wilburn and Harris Agbor are fourth-year juniors with little game action, and Blidi Wreh Wilson is out for the spring. Just about everywhere you look in the secondary, there's a new face. "I think what took place in the bowl game, the light went on with him," Edsall said of Junior, who played his best game against South Carolina back in January at the Papajohns.com Bowl. "He understands it now."

  • In speaking about pro day and the potential for the UFL to be another option for his graduating players, Edsall said he's changed his mind about switching to field turf for Rentschler Field. Edsall had mentioned he wanted to see turf at Rentschler often, but now with the new UFL team openly campaigning to help pay for a switch, Edsall has changed his tune. "I think the grass gives us an advantage," Edsall said. "I'd rather keep the grass."

Hope to see you back tomorrow for Pro Day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring (football) is in the air

Now it feels like spring. It finally stopped raining, the weather is phenomenal and the UConn campus is buzzing with activity. The baseball team was playing Boston College, spring football practice opened, and from the bowels of Gampel Pavilion, you can hear dozens of fans getting psyched up for tonight's NIT game with Northeastern.

Here's a few observations from the official start of a new football season:
  • Almost everyone who was supposed to practice today did. Martin Hyppolite is out for a little while with mono, and Michael Lang tweaked a hamstring. He should be ready by Saturday.

  • I won't get too much into who looked good and who didn't today. There were no pads and guys playing in shorts, and as Randy Edsall said today, "everybody's an All-American in shorts". However, Mike Box flashed a strong arm, Marcus Campbell looked very, very fast and new tailback Jonathan-Jean Louis looked like, well, someone new to the tailback position. Edsall says he'll get a lot of repetitions this spring.

  • Campbell is thrilled to be back after missing last semester due to academic dismissal. He took two classes at UConn's Hartford campus and had to reapply like any other student. And while he made the short drive from Bloomfield often to visit teammates, he said he couldn't bear to watch any games at Rentschler Field. "I was too ashamed," Campbell said. "It would have felt wrong, guilty, because I know I should have been out on the field helping the team." Campbell often repeated how grateful he was for the opportunity to be back, and how he wasn't about to let himself slack off in the classroom or on the field. That was evident. Campbell had a good practice, displayed his sprinter's speed (I think I can still run a 10.8 [100 meters], he joked), talked trash with Zach Frazer ("Frazer, you're too slow) and blocked a few passes.

  • Edsall said UConn has never had a pair of defensive ends with the kind of speed Campbell and Trevardo Williams bring. Heck, they were two of the best high school sprinters in the state a few years ago. "Now, it's about fundamentals and technique, so that speed is better utilized," Edsall said. Campbell, at 230 pounds, is targeting 245 for the fall.

  • The Huskies have several returning wide receivers with game experience, and Edsall wants as many as possible who can contribute. One he's looking at is Dwayne Difton, coming off a rough freshman season. "He learned a valuable lesson last year," Edsall said. "It's not easy to go from high school to college. That's why the stars (rating system) aren't fair to young people. The big thing with him is to improve each and every day."

  • With Lutrus a full-time middle linebacker, Edsall expects a strong competition for the Husky backer spot between Kijuan Dabney, Jory Johnson and Emmanuel Omokaro.

  • Frazer bulked up from last season, and says he's about 13 pounds heavier this spring at around 238 pounds. Frazer said there's not much difference with the added weight -- though its not really added weight...he dropped weight last season to get sleeker. It should help him absorb hits.

  • A fair amount of coaches watching today. I wouldn't say there were more there than usual, but not a bad showing.

  • I'm running out of movies on Netflix, so I added a bunch of "classics" I've never seen before to my list. I watched "Citizen Kane" last night. Did it live up to its billing as the greatest movie of all time? Pffft. Not on my list. Your still untouchable at the top, "Cannonball Run".

Monday, March 08, 2010

Gearing up for spring practice

Randy Edsall held a conference call to preview spring practice, which begins next Tuesday. A few notes.

  • Greg Lloyd's progression off surgery hasn't been as smooth as Edsall hoped, and there is a chance he may not be ready by August. If that's the case, Edsall said Lloyd will be red-shirted for the season. "We're not sure he'll be ready come August," Edsall said. "He's not as far along as we anticipated at this time. To me, he needs to be 100 percent ready (by August) if we're going to get anything out of him this season."
  • Zach Frazer is the No. 1 quarterback heading into the spring, a decision Edsall made based mainly on the way Frazer ended the year. "He knows it's his job to lose," Edsall said. Frazer has done little to dissuade his status, putting in hard work in the offseason. Edsall said he's now 238 pounds, runs a 4.8 40 and has added 53 pounds to his lift totals.
  • Jesse Joseph, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Mike Ryan, Jimmy Bennett and Robbie Frey will all miss spring practice to receiver from various injuries. Edsall said Ryan is expected to be ready by the end of April, Bennett by June 1, and are expected to be full go by the summer.
  • Chad Christen and Cole Wagner will battle for the punting job. "Right now, Chad has the edge over Cole," Edsall said. "Chad has a stronger leg than what Desi had, and he'll be doing double-duty working on PAT and field goal behind David (Teggart)."
  • Alex Folsom is no longer with the team, having left to deal with personal issues.