Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Back to spring football

College hockey season is over -- Yale missed the Frozen Four by one game for the second year in a row -- and I'm back to finish spring football practice at UConn. After a quick stop by men's basketball's media session, it was off to the Shenkman Center for practice No. 7 of 15. Here's a few notes and observations.

  • Wide receiver Isiah Moore was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, Pasqualoni said today. Pasqualoni said it's been in effect for "a couple of weeks", though there was no formal announcement. It was only when Desmond Conner, John Silver and I noticed he wasn't out there that we inquired about Moore. To be clear, we checked and there were no arrests or incidents at the UConn police involving Moore.

  • Ryan Griffin catches every ball that's thrown in his direction. Everything. The one ball he didn't catch today was because a defensive back slashed his arm well before the pass arrived in a clear interference call. He reminds me of another wide receiver I used to cover when on the Yale football beat about 10 years ago. Eric Johnson had the best hands I've ever seen. They were like Velcro. He spent several seasons as a tight end in the NFL. Now, he's engaged to Jessica Simpson. Those hands have served him well. Griffin isn't quite as good as Johnson, but it's close. (And I'm talking football, here).

  • Some pretty interceptions by the defense, which seemed to get the best of the offense today. Taylor Mack had a great one, skying high to snag it over a wide receiver.

  • I spent half the practice watching defensive coordinator Don Brown. It's impossible not to. The man is a screaming, gyrating ball of energy. I wish I could describe that high-pitched yell. Harris Agbor seems to have it down. At one point, he chased down Byron Jones, who had just made an interception for a TD, screaming about ball security. He made his point, emphasizing it with a couple of whacks to the ball Jones was carrying, then hollered, "THAT'S MY LIVELIHOOD!!!" He has to have some Italian in his blood. He'd certainly fit right in at one of my family's high-intensity summer barbecue bocce matches.

  • There's no leader at quarterback, both Paul Pasqualoni and Joe Moorhead said today. All four are getting even reps in a spring-long competition. But if you ask me, Scott McCummings just might have a slight edge on Mike Box. He's got size, can move out of the pocket, and throws a nice, tight spiral. He's also got a 4.0 GPA, and is leaning toward a business major over biology.

  • Michael Nebrich is an athlete, no doubt. But he's not quite ready and is behind Box and McCummings, at least from what we saw today. "He comes out of a sophisticated passing attack down there at Lake Braddock,” Moorhead said. “From that stand point, he’s a little farther progressed than the normal freshman in that he’s done some things in the passing game in high school. That said, he’s making a transition to a college style system now, which is a big step for him."

  • Moorhead said the accuracy from the quarterbacks isn't quite where the coaches would like at this point. But, he said, it's expected considering there's been so much installation in the new offense. The focus has been on execution, and he hopes the accuracy comes with time. "They're going against a new defense," Moorhead said. "We have a high expectation level. It's something I expect them to improve upon every day. We want them to be 65 percent or higher, and we chart everything they do, and we're going to keep working til they surpass that goal."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring game time change

The University of Connecticut Blue-White Spring Football Game will begin at 5:00 p.m. this year, in a change from the traditional noon start. The game will be played on Saturday, April 16 at Rentschler Field and admission and parking are free. Parking lots will open
at 2:00 p.m. with gates to the stadium opening at 3:30 p.m.

"As we prepared for spring football and our annual Blue-White Game, we felt
that moving the start of the spring game to 5:00 p.m. would make it more convenient and appealing for our fans," says UConn Director of Athletics Jef frey Hathaway. "It's a busy time of the year with youth sports taking place and other spring time activities as the weather improves.

"We are hoping that our fans can use the morning and afternoon of an April
day and then join us at Rentschler Field for a kickoff at what we believe is a fan-friendly time. I encourage all fans to come out and support coach Paul Pasqualoni and our Huskies."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

First day of spring (football) arrives

Spring practice is here. With the new regime, new faces, and endless football team-related news since the season ended, it feels like the Fiesta Bowl was about nine months ago.

I'm up in the Shenkman Center today, and here's a few notes and observations from Day 1 of the Pasqualoni era in Storrs.

  • Johnny McEntee is getting a good look at the quarterback position today, as did the rest of the QBs on the roster. Pasqualoni said afterward that's simply his style. "That's a conscious effort," Pasqualoni said. "That's just the way I've done it all my life. It's not anything unique to this job because its our first day here, it's just the way I think we're supposed to do it. We're coaching every player, there's no compromise on that regardless of if you're a first team player or one of four entering freshmen."

  • The quarterback and tailback jobs are wide open, Pasqualoni said. It will be a spring-long competition, and that will continue to the preseason.

  • D.J. Shoemate got plenty of work with the first-team offense at tailback. Lyle McCombs was not at practice, and is still suspended.

  • Lots of number changes this spring, which is always confusing. Sio Moore is now No. 3. Kashif Moore has the No. 6. Leon Kinnard is No. 8. Gratz is No. 7.

  • Mike Ryan and Adam Masters not dressed and watching from the sidelines. Ryan is still recovering and will be out a while, Masters is expected back shortly.

  • George DeLeone has quite a presence in practice. Don Brown, too. He pulled a Fred Sanford-esque "this is the big one" after a missed interception, even falling to the ground in mock desperation. The players noticed, and it made an impression. "You see coach Brown rolling around on the ground," Blidi Wreh-Wilson said. "It shows the kind of guy he is. We're just out here trying to contest every throw, and he's letting us do it the way we feel comfortable doing it."

  • The players are comfortable with the coaching changes. Practice had a different vibe than an Edsall-run practice, and it was something even the media could feel. "For me, when the new coach came, it was change for me and change is good," Wreh-Wilson said. "The only real difficult part is the terminology and getting used to the signals. But seeing the way Maryland played (under Brown), those kids were just out there playing," Wilson said. "You don't have to think about anything, you just get the call and go. It takes all the thinking out of football and it makes you play fast."

  • Saw lots of Jerome Williams playing alongside Sio Moore at linebacker, with Yawin Smallwood at the other backer spot.

  • D.J. Shoemate understands not only the opportunity this spring, what with the starting tailback slot there for the taking, but that this is his last chance to be a real contributor -- something he says he hasn't felt like he's done since his high school days. He said he spoke with a lot of family, friends and even picked the brains of ex-teammates at USC to see how they prepared and how he could best prepare himself mentally as well as physically. "My dad told me 'you've been at the top, you've played in the Army (high school All-American) game, you've played with some of the best at SC. There shouldn't be a reason why you can't compete, and contribute and be the guy here," Shoemate said. "Going back to high school is one of my cherished moments in life, where I felt like yeah, I'm actually contributing, I'm actually putting the team on my back and trying to lead my team. So I'm trying to get back to that point."