Saturday, August 06, 2011

We've got a quarterback competition

Day 2 of practice is in the books (Day 1 for we ink-stained wretches of the media). Priority No. 1 for this team is to find a quarterback, and it's a true four-man competition (sorry Blaise Driscoll fans...looks like he's no longer an 'OR'). I have no idea where the four stand (and coach Pasqualoni says he doesn't either), but I can say this with confidence. It's going to be entertaining.

Some notes from the day.

  • The four quarterbacks are rotating in live drills, and apparently that is changing from practice to practice. Today it seemed to be Box, McEntee, McCummings, Nebrich. "Just so everybody knows I'm telling the truth," Pasqualoni said with a laugh. "If you guys can tell them I'm telling the truth. But if you can figure out the rotation of who's in when then God bless you, because I can't."

  • Each of the quarterbacks brings his own personality to the position and approach. It would be unfair to state my opinion off each because, well, I don't really know these guys yet. But it's safe to say that, at least today, Mike Box was the most intense interview. He scooted off to throw a few more balls while the others were chatting with various media, and then was all-business in his interview. Intense, focused and confident with every answer. He's certainly acting like he believes he's going to be the starting quarterback. "I'm going to put my best foot forward and continue to prepare myself like I am the starter," Box said. "I expect all three of them to do the exact same up until the coaches all decide one of us has separated ourselves from the pack and is worthy of the starting job. But it will not be given. It will be earned."

  • In the spring, I wasn't sure if Mike Nebrich would be a serious contender for the starting job. Now, I believe he has a real chance to see the field. He's put on 20 pounds (20 good pounds, of course) and no longer looks like a high school player. At 205, he has the body more suited to take the physical pounding. Important, since he's a threat to run. "I got a lot stronger in my legs," Nebrich said. "One of the big things they've helped me with is to get stronger in the legs and not lose speed. The extra weight brings more force with the speed." Nebrich didn't expect to be in this situation right away, mostly because of Cody Endres, but knows he's in the thick of the race at this point. "It took me a bit to get my head wrapped around it," Nebrich said. "I knew I had a lot of work to do and time to spend getting better on the field and with the playbook. Once I got going, I realized I can do this if I push myself."

  • Johnny McEntee may not be at the same athletic level of the other three -- he's the least mobile of the group -- but he throws a tight, accurate ball and certainly understands what's going on out there. He's also lacking one other thing the other three have. A scholarship. Still a walk-on, McEntee has proven himself a viable candidate. "I have no idea where I stand. I could be first, I could be fourth," McEntee said. "We all have our different advantages. It's just a matter of who will come out on top and where (the coaches) want to go with the offense.

  • Scott McCummings said a better understanding of the offense has made a world of difference in the preseason, as compared to the spring. "It feels slower out there, and that comes with better understanding," McCummings said, who added the competition has been exciting. "You try to make your best play every play. You get disappointed with a bad play, and you can't wait to get back out there. It's kind of hard not being able to get into a rhythm because they switch plays."

  • Despite taking a big hit to the receiving core -- Michael Smith can practice, even though he's ineligible -- even thinner with the recent losses of transfers Dwayne Difton and Leon Kinnard, things don't seem bleak at the position. Perhaps that's partly because with the exception of Marcus Easley in 2009, there's been no breakout star receiver at UConn since, well, ever. But Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones continued to show they are ready to contribute after solid springs. Davis had a particularly impressive day, including a full-extension dive for a grab on an out pattern. Malik Generett is also on his way. The recent losses have put Nick Williams back into the equation. "He was the leading punt returner in the nation last year," Pasqualoni said. "We'd like to get his hands on the ball more."

  • D.J. Shoemate is atop the depth chart at tailback, with Lyle McCombs at No. 2. But Jonathan Jean-Louis (now wearing Difton's old No. 1) is looking like he could open some eyes for consideration, too. In fact, he may well already be knee-deep into the discussion. "(Every year) there's a fifth-year senior somewhere in college football who will step up and so something," Pasqualoni said. "We're optimistic that maybe we have one who will step up and contribute and it might be him."

  • You would think that at some point, sooner rather than later, the quarterback competition will have to at least be trimmed from four. Quarterback coach Joe Moorhead didn't want to speculate about that. But the team will hold it's first live scrimmage next week, and we could see some separation following the breakdown of that film.


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