Saturday, April 30, 2011

Todman talks about fall to 6th round

Jordan Todman, as you can image, struggled as the NFL Draft trudged on (and on and on and on) today. "It was crazy," Todman said. "It's difficult to have to explain it. I did lots of pacing around my house, lots of trips up and down the stairs; I went out and played some basketball; whatever it took to stay sane."

The information Todman received in the weeks leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, he said, were that he could be a third or fourth round pick. ESPN's Todd McShay, in his final mock draft Thursday, had him going in the fifth round. So it was a shock that Todman fell all the way to the 18th pick of the sixth round (183rd overall) when San Diego finally picked him.

"At felt with my ability that at the Combine I could raise my stock," Todman said. "I performed well at the Combine. This year, the running back class, I guess we all thought it was nothing too crazy. Therefore, every running back just about, entered the draft giving it more competition with all the running backs who could be taken before you. It was a weird situation. But I have confidence in myself and my ability."

Asked if he regrets his decision to forgo his final season of eligibility, Todman said "I feel coming out was the right thing to do. Going into it, you never know how things are going to unfold. Once you declare, there's no going back. I stuck by my decision, I'm happy with it, and I'm a Charger."

Sherman talks Arizona

Anthony Sherman said he was confident in the projections that had him pegged as a fifth-round draft choice, and that's right where he landed. Arizona made him the fifth pick of the fifth round.

He interviewed with the Cardinals at the NFL Combine, and it went well. "I had a great conversation with the running backs coach at the Combine," Sherman said. "I spoke to him again a little while ago, and he said I made an impact on him. That's the biggest thing when you go to the Combine. All you have to do is have one team fall in love with you; one team to know that you're the guy they want. That's what I did with the Arizona Cardinals."

The Cardinals use the fullback on a regular basis, and are in the market for one due to injuries and other issues. The lockout leaves him in a holding pattern for now, but Sherman said he'll be ready when things are settled.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Guilford's John Moffitt leaves 'em laughing

Guilford’s John Moffitt wasted no time making an impression in Seattle. He already has the media in the Rainy City eating out of his hand.

On a conference call shortly after he was taken in the third round (75th overall) of the NFL Draft by the Seahawks Friday night, Moffitt was drawing big laughs. Asked if he was always one of the oldest kids in his class (he is 24), Moffitt deadpanned that he took a year off to join the Peace Corps.

When a reporter asked a follow-up question, Moffitt had to come clean.

“I’m kidding. I didn’t join the Peace Corps. You know what happened, I transferred high schools and I repeated a year in high school. I didn’t want to tell you I’m like Billy Madison. The Peace Corps thing sounds so much better, so if you guys want to print that, feel free.”

So much for being nervous.

Moffitt, a 6-foot-4, 323-pound All-American offensive lineman at Wisconsin last fall, is the lone player with Connecticut ties taken in the draft so far. The first round was Thurday; rounds two and three were Friday. The seven-round draft concludes today (ESPN, noon).

Moffitt graduated from Notre Dame-West Haven in 2005, where he was a Register All-State selection.

The Seahawks, apparently addressing their weak run game, also took an offensive lineman – Alabama tackle James Carpenter – with their first-round pick (25th overall) on Thursday. Seattle ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing last season. It traded its second-round pick to Detroit earlier Friday, so Moffitt was the team’s second pick in the draft.

At Wisconsin, Moffitt was a first-team All-Big 10 Conference selection the past two seasons, and an Associated Press first-team All-American last fall.

He started 36 of his final 37 games for the Badgers, including all 13 last season, and was a key part of an offense that ranked fourth in the nation scoring 45.2 points per game, the second highest in Big Ten history. Wisconsin ranked 12th in the country in rushing behind Moffitt and Badgers tackle Gabe Carimi, taken by the Chicago Bears in the first round.

Among the players with the best chance to be drafted today are UConn tailback Jordan Todman, linebackers Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus, offensive lineman Zach Hurd and fullback Anthony Sherman. New Haven’s Martin Parker, a defensive lineman at Richmond, is also expected to be selected.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New turf at the Runway


EAST HARTFORD, CT (April 26, 2011) - Beginning the week of April 25, 2011, the turf at Rentschler Field, the 40,000-seat stadium that serves as the home of the University of Connecticut Huskies football team, will be replaced. After eight seasons of athletic use, including football, soccer, rugby and ice hockey games, coupled with normal wear and tear, the field is ready for a replacement.

After annual testing of the rootzone layer (the sub-base organic layer between the grass and the base layer of sand), it was determined for proper grass strength and growth, as well as drainage and health of grass surface, Rentschler Field should reduce this layer and restore the field to its original levels.

“The State has invested over $92 million in the Stadium and it is critical that we continue to maintain the facility in first-class condition and to attract the very best in sports and entertainment events,” said James Abromaitis of the Office of Policy and Management / Capital City Economic Development Authority. “In these tough economic times, we are fortunate to have a modest capital reserve account in place to cover the cost of this work.”

"We appreciate the continuing commitment shown by OPM and Bushnell Management Services to provide our football team with an outstanding playing surface and one that is safe for all who utilize Rentschler Field,” said UConn Director of Athletics Jeffrey Hathaway. “With seven home games in the upcoming 2011 season, we are looking forward to an exciting year of UConn Football under the leadership of head coach Paul Pasqualoni."

Michael Fresher, Chief Operations Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Bushnell Management Services said, “Rentschler Field has developed a reputation as one of the finest playing surfaces in the country. Now is the perfect time to make sure the field continues to be one of the best.”

Rentschler Field, through its consultant Millennium Turf, has secured sod from Tuckahoe Farms in Hammonton, New Jersey. The contractor is Carolina Green Corp. of Indian Trail, North Carolina.

The project is scheduled to take approximately two weeks and will need an additional six-to-eight weeks of growing time to be ready for play.

Bushnell Management Services is a venue management arm of The Bushnell, and is contracted by The State of Connecticut to serve as building manager for the 40,000-seat Rentschler Field stadium.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ugly weather, ugly spring game

Not the prettiest of spring games, but are they ever pretty? Cold, wet weather doesn't help, but here's what they players and coaches had to say.

  • It was the first day outdoors this spring, and just the third time UConn scrimmaged. The first two scrimmages, the setting was still on install, so today was the first dry run. And everything was basic. Base offense, base defense. The next step is reviewing and studying the playbook over the summer, and the process begins all over again for the preseason...but with a better understanding. "They're learning it and doing a great job with it," Paul Pasqualoni said. "They'll have it."

  • There's still no pecking order in the quarterback competition. Good thing, as the most productive guy today was fifth-string walk-on Blaise Driscoll, who threw the game-winning touchdown as time expired. None of the four had very good days, at all, but Pasqualoni isn't worried. Here's what he said about each of the four. On McEntee (6-16 passing, 51 yards, two interceptions), "Johnny got the ball out of his hands quick today." On Box (0-for-4, interception), "He didn't have many opportunities (to throw). On Nebrich (2-5, 10 yards), "He moved around pretty good. You saw what he could do with his legs." On McCummings (1-9, 8 yards), "He needed to settle down. The more he played, the better he got. He needs to play more, Nebrich needs to play more."

  • Pasqualoni brought up a good point when asked about having four quarterbacks in contention for the No. 1 job. "The year (Donovan) McNabb ends up playing, everybody in the press had Kevin Johnson until the last scrimmage of the year as the starter (for the season opener) at North Carolina," Pasqualoni said. "When McNabb started, I think everyone was in shock, because all the people watching the practices had the other guy." Most of us in the media have seen McCummings as the best of the four in the spring, so, take that for what it's worth. Still a whole preseason camp left, though.

  • Driscoll, who spent two seasons at Division III Trinity before deciding to transfer and walk-on at UConn last fall, completed 2-of-3 passes for 43 yards. The first was a 41-yard bomb to Nick Williams (who made a great catch going over a defender), and then the winner to Ted Baker as time expired to give the Blue team the win. Driscoll got close to no reps all spring, and certainly won't ascend past scout team quarterback unless there's some major injuries. So, he was pretty excited. "It was awesome," Driscoll said. "We were joking on the sidelines that we were down four, and I was going in for the last drive that maybe something would happen. I never thought it would actually happen."

  • The defense is clearly ahead of the offense, as has showed all spring. But the UConn defense is experienced, big and will be very good. The offense still has no quarterback, must replace the starting tailback and had a few injury/suspension issues to deal with.

  • Jesse Joseph (ankle) and Dwayne Gratz (hamstring) didn't play Saturday after suffering injuries on Tuesday. No Teddy Jennings (shoulder), either. Shamar Stephen left in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury.

  • Both George DeLeone and Pasqualoni liked what they saw out of D.J. Shoemate, at least in the second half. Shoemate runs hard, and even broke some tackles and got yards after initial contact. Lyle McCombs showed promise as well, especially having only practiced the last week and a half. I wouldn't be surprised to see a thunder/lightning platoon in the fall, similar to what UConn used with Todman and Andre Dixon two years ago.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Final (open) spring practice in the books

Last open practice for the media just ended. I can assure you I'm not going to miss the drive from New Haven to Storrs for the next few months. Here's some notes and quotes from the afternoon.

  • The format for the spring game is set. There will be regular 15 minute quarters in the first half, and then two 20 minute quarters with running time in the second half. Regular scoring. Now if only the rain forecast for Saturday pushes out to sea.

  • A couple more injuries today could put some more starters on the shelf for the spring game. Jesse Joseph went off with an ankle injury. Dwayne Gratz appeared to tweak his hamstring. Teddy Jennings left practice and had his shoulder wrapped in ice. None of the injuries appeared too serious, but could be enough for them not to play. We won't know their status until Saturday.

  • Among those definitely out for Saturday are Jerome Williams, on crutches and with a heavy brace on his knee after being injured last week. Paul Pasqualoni said Williams should be back during preseason camp. Tailback Martin Hyppolite is also out for the spring game, though the extent of his injury is still unclear.

  • Gilbert Stlouis caught much of Don Brown's wrath today. If there was any frustration, he got it out with a monster stick on Malik Generett after a throw over the middle.

  • The entire offensive staff at Duke was at practice today to observe. Just seemed odd, but apparently it's common practice as long as the teams don't play any common conference opponents that season.

  • Expect to see a lot of D.J. Shoemate, Lyle McCombs and walk-on Jordan "Heathcliff" Huxtable at tailback on Saturday. UConn has no other options with Hyppolite and Jonathan Jean-Louis on the shelf with injuries. "We're impressed with the way those guys have hung in there," UConn offensive coordinator George DeLeone said. "It's hard in Division I football to run a practice with sometimes only two tailbacks when you're going 70-80 plays a practice. It's been grueling on them, but I like what I've seen from them. The best deal is made in the hottest fire, and you see who can handle the pressure, who's going to get up and go every rep, not beg out of a drill, and we really feel strongly that we've got a great evaluation on these guys." Shoemate is the only scholarship player to get through the whole spring, and he's looked strong.

  • Once again, a load of high school coaches made it up to practice. The UConn staff has employed their own open office hours for any high school coach who wants to stop by and talk football and trade ideas. "The door is open from 7-9 every morning and 7-9 every night," DeLeone said. "The response has been overwhelming." Referring to himself and Pasqualoni, he said, "We're men of the people, and our people are high school coaches. We love high school coaches, what they do and what they stand for."

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Spring injuries, special teams and good days for the young guys

A few notes from the last Saturday practice before the spring game next week.

  • A couple of notable injuries happened during Tuesday's practice. Linebacker Jerome Williams, who had been working with the first-team defense, went down with a knee injury. Pasqualoni said he it looks like he'll be back "by September". Coach P said the same of offensive lineman Mike Ryan, who has been out all spring recovering from his knee injury. Tailback Martin Hyppolite, whose injury appeared serious, is "banged up". Pasqualoni said he'd know more about him on Monday. For now, UConn is down to three healthy tailbacks, one of whom participated in his first practice off suspension this week (McCombs) and the other is a walk-on (Huxtable).

  • Most memorable moment today was a terrific throw by Scott McCummings, who had been chased out of the pocket and threw while on the run, to tight end Ryan Griffin 40 yards down field. It was a great throw and catch, but Griffin was a little too enthusiastic. He unleased an epic spike, sending the football about 100 feet in the air, and drew a flag from the referees. Now, Randy Edsall would have chewed Griffin out in front of the whole team, media, alumni and recruits, and likely sent Griffin to the showers early. Pasqualoni waited for the play to finish (an extra point was kicked), then used it as a teaching moment. He called the team together and had the referee explain the rules on taunting. Pasqualoni was firm, but doesn't feel the need to put on a public show.

  • It's still a quarterback competition, but to me McCummings is ahead of the pack at this point. He has size, can move, runs extremely well and throws a good, accurate ball. His one problem in the spring has been his ability to hang onto the ball, snaps specifically.

  • A good day for young receivers Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones Jr. The passing game was clicking today, and those two made quite a haul. Davis is a big, strong target. Jones has good hands and feet and is fast. Then, as seems to be their custom, the two, who have become good friends, spent time after practice doing extra work with quarterbacks and then the tennis ball machine.

  • Davis was a high school basketball teammate of current UConn freshman Jeremy Lamb, at least until Davis gave up the sport to concentrate on football after his sophomore year. Davis said he was a a decent baller "a defensive specialist and spot-up shooter. Jeremy was a scorer. We looked to him to get all the points."

  • Tebucky Jones is looking to bulk up a little more. "I was a string bean in high school," he said of his days at New Britain High, where he weighed just under 170 pounds. He's listed at 179 in the spring media guide, but says he was at 188 today. He'd like to get to 200.

  • Big East refs working today's live scrimmage appeared to be in mid-season form. Teddy Jennings beat his man on a speed rush, then sacked quarterback Johnny McEntee from behind with a big hit. A flag was thrown, and Jennings was beside himself. The ref spoke to Jennings for a moment, then put his hand on the crown of his helmet as if to say "don't lead with this." But it was a brutal call. Jennings laid a clean hit.

  • Pasqualoni spoke a lot about special teams after practice, with a couple of good stories about Tebucky Jones Sr. ("a human highlight film on special teams") and David Tyree. More on Tyree later. Pasqualoni has been big on special teams since Syracuse, and said UConn will be using their best players on special teams in addition to their roles on offense and defense. There will also be a core of other players who will be used on all four special teams.

  • Pasqualoni told the story of his recruitment of Tyree, and how how he sat in the Tyree family living room and went back and forth with Tyree about what position he'd play at Syracuse. Tyree wanted to be a receiver, Pasqualoni saw him as a strong safety. The deal the pair made was Tyree could play receiver as long as he played all four special teams and vowed to do it all four years. "I don't want you to come to my office and tell me you're sick of special teams," Pasqualoni recalled. Tyree eventually made the Giants as a special teams player, though his "craft" was receiver. When injuries pressed him to duty at receiver, he wound up making one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history.

  • Look for UConn's defense to use plenty of 4-3 and 3-4, as they've set up for most of the spring.

  • Sio Moore is wearing No. 3 this season, a number he's worn since high school. Moore said he took No. 46 when he got to UConn because Brad Kanuch had No. 3. Last season, Sio wanted to change but Edsall wouldn't allow it. I joked that opposing coaches watching last season's game film might be thrown when there's no No. 46 out there this fall. "They'll know who No. 3 is soon enough," Sio said.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Isiah Moore, McCombs return

Lots of traffic outside Gampel Pavilion today. Is something going here today? A few notes and observations from today's football practice, which I'm sure is high on the list of priorities for UConn fans today. Let's get after it.

  • Isiah Moore and Lyle McCombs returned to practice today from indefinite suspensions. Both have been on the shelf since January. And when Paul Pasqualoni tells players a suspension is indefinite, he means it. Neither player had any idea when they'd be allowed back. "I started thinking it might be the whole spring," Moore said. McCombs wasn't sure if he'd be welcome back at all following his January arrest for possession of marijuana. "The longer and longer it went, I was thinking this is it for me." Both got phone calls last night that they could return. McCombs was finally given a playbook. Moore had one. But neither could enter the building for anything other than academic support.

  • Said Pasqualoni of the incident, "I think they clearly understand what the policies and standard of the program is going to be. We're not going to lower those standards. No one has a license to lower those standards in the program."

  • A.J. Portee was among those who wasn't practicing today. Jerome Williams left early after a leg injury, same with Steve Greene. Martin Hyppolite was shaken up early in practice, seemed to have the wind knocked out of him, then returned. But in the final period of the day, he appeared to catch his foot in the turf and was hurt. He had to be helped off the field.

  • It's official. D.J. Shoemate has breakaway speed. He broke loose on a run, and left Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Jerome Junior in his wake on one run.

  • Andrew Opoku is a beast. Since arriving at UConn last year, he's been bounced around from safety to tight end to linebacker. But it looks like he's found a home. Opoku has size, speed and a mean streak. During a fumble return during practice today, he de-cleated Leon Kinnard. Count Don Brown among those very excited to see Opoku develop over the next few months.

  • Gary Wilburn intercepted a deflection, and returned it for a touchdown. Lots of big hits from the defense.

  • The sign just off Exit 68 off I-84 was already updated to declare UConn as the 2011 men's basketball national champions. Wish they'd be that efficient in the southern part of the state. Around New Haven, Yale's athletic billboard hasn't been switched out since 2006. And Southern's are just out of whack, declaring the football and track and field teams as 2009 NCAA Division II champions even though they only won Northeast-10 Conference titles.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Practice report: Two weeks to the spring game

Some notes and quotes from today's practice.

  • The team spent most of the day scrimmaging, and were able to work in just about every situation and phase, and it was a chance for the coaches to let the players work some things out on their own. "There's no lifeguard on duty today," Paul Pasqualoni told his players before practice.

  • The quarterbacks remained in even rotation, even through the scrimmage. Lots of ball security issues, be in with snaps of at the end of runs. Scott McCummings in particular seemed to have the most trouble today. He also had a pass deflected that went for a pick-6 for about 60 yards. The interception was by Alex Kantor, who isn't even listed on the numerical roster. He wears No. 38, and for a split second I thought Dave Teggart was playing in the secondary.

  • Adam Masters was dressed and participated in the scrimmage.

  • Sio Moore went from the "new" guy in the linebacker rotation to established veteran in the span of, what, two months? He's taken on a visible leadership role, and was very vocal on the sidelines while the backups were on the field. He's serving as a mentor for the younger backers now, and was on Mike Osiecki a bit during the scrimmage. "He knows his place," said Osiecki, who is sporting a Mohawk. "If I have any questions, I go to him."

  • Moore and Osiecki both went on and on about how much they love the new coaches, in this case defensive coordinator Don Brown, and the new defense. "When we go, we go," Moore said. "It's like what coach Brown says, solve your problems with aggression and get to the quarterback. With this defense, we're coming and we're coming from everywhere. It's a little different from last year as far as pressure goes. This is more of an in-your-face defense. It's definitely high energy and fun to play, especially when you've got big people up front like that behemoth monster (points at Kendall Reyes) and Shamar, and Jesse, and Twyon. They just eat up blockers and it's like candy out there for the linebackers."

  • Pasqualoni did have to pull Moore aside and reign him in a bit after he got a couple of licks on quarterback Michael Nebrich on consecutive plays. The first was a late shove just after Nebrich unloaded the ball, which drew a brief lecture from the referee. The next play, Moore blitzed and hit Nebrich hard. That's when Pasqualoni stepped in. "When you're practicing against each other, there's the notion of taking care of each other," Pasqualoni said. "If somebody's got a clean shot at somebody...we don't have to be killing our own guys. You can go in and hit them, just don't drive them into the ground."

  • Lots of players putting in extra work post-practice. Special teams coach Clayton White worked with D.J. Shoemate and Sio Moore on long snaps, which was likely for fun. But Tebucky Jones spent time catching tennis balls out of the machine, and then ran routes with McCummings. Gus Cruz was also doing extra drills.

  • Several recruits on hand, including Casey Cochrane and his father, Jack as well as a few guys from St. Peter's Prep in New Jersey. Pasqualoni was late speaking to the media because there were so many high school players and coaches to talk with.

  • Pasqualoni ended his post-practice speech to players by reminding them not to "get crazy" after tonight's Final Four game. "We don't do that. WE don't do that," he emphasized.